The term menopause refers to the cessation of a female’s reproductive cycle and happens at the end of the childbearing period. It is the period where they can no longer experience menstruation, produce eggs or naturally get pregnant (unless induced with a donor egg).
How about dogs? Do female dogs go through menopause and can they still get pregnant at old age?
Learn whether dogs go through menopause like humans and if there’s an age when a dog is too old to get pregnant. For example, what is likely to happen if an aging female dog gets pregnant?
Do female dogs go through menopause?
Unlike humans, female dogs do not go through menopause. While their fertility decreases with age, old female dogs can still go into heat and even get pregnant until they die. However, pregnancy in older dogs carries multiple risks, and that’s why it’s advisable to spay old female dogs.
As dogs grow older, their heat cycles will occur less often. It’s important to note that female dogs experience heat cycles their entire lives, and if you notice your dog is no longer having cycles you should have them examined by a veterinarian.
Can a dog be too old to get pregnant?
Although female dogs can get pregnant throughout their lives, dogs 7 years and older experience heat cycles less frequently, reduced fertility, and each pregnancy will be difficult to go through. Litters also tend to be smaller and at a higher risk of being stillborn.
Dogs that get pregnant after 8 years of age are at a higher risk of developing pyometra, a life-threatening disease. In a nutshell, old female dogs’ heat cycles will yield low rates of successful and healthy pregnancies.
The prime time to breed female dogs is when they are between 2 and 6 years, a period when their fertility is at its peak. When they turn 7 they will experience fewer heat cycles and beyond that come life-threatening pregnancy-related risks.
When do dogs go into heat?
Small breeds go into heat when they are six months old while large breeds start to go into heat when fifteen to eighteen months old. Female dogs will go into heat about twice a year though some breeds will experience it once and others more than twice a year. During this period, the female dog can get pregnant if she successfully mates with a male dog during the estrus phase of the heat.
Understanding a dog’s estrus cycle
Most dog breeds begin their first estrus cycle (reproductive cycle) when they are six months old. Dogs go into heat once every few months. The length of the heat cycle and duration between cycles largely depend on the breed. Most breeds, though, go into heat once every six months (twice a year). The estrus cycle comprises three phases.
- Proestrus phase: When a dog goes into heat, the estrogen levels rise in preparation for ovulation. This phase is characterized by the swelling of the vulva and a blood-tinged vaginal discharge. This phase can last anywhere from one to four weeks.
- Estrus phase: This is the phase also known as “heat” and is a time your dog is ready to mate. Hormones will fluctuate, with progesterone rising and estrogen levels dropping in preparation for pregnancy. The period lasts anywhere from a few days to 21 days, the average being 9 days.
- Anestrus phase: It’s the phase where cycling ceases and estrogen falls back to its usual levels. Progesterone remains high for a little longer and if the dog did not become pregnant, the progesterone will drop to its normal levels.
How to tell if a dog is in heat
When a dog is in heat, there are a few telling signs that are easy to spot.
- Physical changes: There will be a continued swelling of the vulva and the blood-tinged vaginal discharge will gradually disappear or change in color. Your dog may also wag its tail sideways more than normal.
- Behavioral changes: The female dog will initiate courtship-like habits including postural changes, increased physical activity, releasing pheromones, urinating in the presence of a male dog, or entertaining male interest such as licking the vulva and sniffing.
You can also tell if a dog is in heat by doing a diagnostic test. Vaginal cytology is a simple, quick, inexpensive, and reliable in-clinic technique to evaluate the stages of the estrus cycle in female dogs.
How to care for a dog in heat
Pet owners have varying opinions on the best ways to care for a dog in heat. Here are a few important tips to help you out:
- Take care of its hygiene: Contrary to the common belief that a dog in heat should not bathe, it’s at such a time that they need more care to keep them clean and healthy.
- Keep it away from male dogs: If you do not want your dog to get pregnant, you should take the initiative to isolate it from male dogs. When a female dog is in heat, it releases pheromones that attract male dogs. So, if you do not need puppies, better to keep your dog at home.
- They need a quiet place to rest: Although a dog on heat will display heightened physical activity, it also needs quiet and to be in a place with less noise because they are more sensitive during such times.
Should you spay your dog?
If you do not want to see your female dog get pregnant, the most effective solution is to have them spayed. Spaying is surgical a procedure where reproductive organs, specifically the ovaries and uterus, are removed. The procedure is usually performed on puppies around six months of age. Once a dog is spayed it can never get pregnant.
There are a few benefits of having a female dog spayed. A dog that had a complete ovariohysterectomy (both ovaries and uterus removed) will not have heat cycles, will not experience vaginal bleeding, and cannot develop pyometra. Spaying also helps prevent uterine infections and breast tumors, and studies have indicated that spayed dogs live longer, healthier lives than unspayed dogs.
Although female dogs do not go through menopause, they can get pregnant at any age, with their prime being between 2 and 6 years. You should opt to spay your dogs to keep them healthy and safe from old-age pregnancy-related risks.