A female dog will have her first estrus cycle, or what is commonly referred to as “in heat”, once they reach puberty. On average, puberty is reached around 6 months, but this will vary by breed. Larger breed dogs may not reach puberty until 18 months to two years of age, while smaller breed dogs may have their first period earlier than 6 months of age. This cycle can last around 18 days, or 2-3 weeks.
It can take up to two years for a female dog to regulate their cycles, but most dogs come into heat about twice a year. Some smaller breed animals will cycle more often- three times a year, while giant breed dogs will cycle much less, around every 12-18 months.
- Swelling or engorgement of the external vulva
- Bloody vaginal discharge- Sometimes not apparent until several days after estrus has begun. The color and appearance will change as the cycle progresses.
- More frequent urination
- Exhibit “marking” behavior
Believe it or not, they do make dog diapers for females in heat.
This topic causes a lot of emotion and passion for many pet owners and veterinarians. As with many important decisions regarding health, there are both positives and negatives.
- Greatly reduces risk of mammary tumors if done before 2.5 years of age (mammary tumors are the most common malignant tumors in female dogs)
- Nearly eliminates the risk of pyometra (a uterine infection that occurs as a result of hormonal changes in the reproductive tract)- which affects about 23% of intact female dogs
- Reduces the risk of perianal fistulas
- Reduces the risk of uterine, cervical and ovarian tumors
- Increases the risk of bone cancer (osteosarcoma) if performed before one year of age
- Increases the risk of liver and spleen cancer (splenic hemangiosarcoma) and heart cancer (cardiac hemangiosarcoma)
- Triples the risk of hypothyroidism
- Increases the risk of obesity
- Can cause urinary incontinence
- Increases the risk of recurring urinary tract infections
- Increases the risk of recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis and vaginitis, especially if performed prior to puberty
- Doubles the risk of urinary tract tumors
- Increases the risk of orthopedic disorders
- Increases the risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations
For female dogs, the number of health benefits from spaying may outweigh the potential long-term problems. Unfortunately, weighing these risks and benefits will vary from dog to dog. Breed and age are variables that must be considered when decided whether or not to keep your female dog intact. If you choose not to spay your dog, consider reading up on what medicines you may be allowed to give your dog for pain during their periods.
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