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Female dog laying down

Yes, female dogs do get a period — you may have had it referred to as a dog’s “heat cycle.” But this cycle is a different process than a human’s menstrual cycle.

Knowing more about your pup’s period can help you prepare and take the best care of your dog. Staying informed can help prevent unwanted doggie pregnancies, create a better plan for puppies if you do want to breed your dog, and avoid dangerous situations with your dog while they are in heat.

This guide will walk you through what you need to know so you can properly take care of your dog during their heat.

What is a ‘period’ in dogs?

If you have a female dog, they will go through what is called an estrus cycle — commonly known as “being in heat.” A dog’s heat is marked by an increase in estrogen levels, then a sharp decrease in estrogen and finally, the releasing of eggs from their ovaries followed by an increase in progesterone.

A dog’s heat cycle (menstruation cycle) determines when your dog can get pregnant.

👉 Generally, your dog’s estrus cycle will last about three weeks, but some dogs have shorter heats (two weeks) while others have longer heats (four weeks).

When do dogs go into heat? 

Dogs will start experiencing estrus cycles once they reach sexual maturity. Six months of age is the average time dogs have an estrus cycle for the first time, but keep in mind that each dog is different. Large dog breeds could take up to two years to reach puberty and get their first heat.

Once your dog reaches puberty and begins having estrus cycles, they’ll typically go into heat every six months. But just like with human menstrual cycles, it can take a while for your dog to develop a regular cycle.

Also keep in mind that there are a few factors that go into how often your dog will go into heat. Small dogs tend to go into heat more often, but large breeds and older dogs may go longer stretches between heats.

The four stages of dogs’ heat cycles

The overall cycle is called the estrous cycle. There are four stages:

Proestrus stage

The first stage in the cycle is the proestrus cycle, which lasts anywhere from three to 17 days — while nine days is the average. You may notice that your dog’s vulva is swollen and that there is light, bloody vaginal discharge that gets heavier as the days go on.

During the proestrus cycle, your pup may become more affectionate and clingy. But some dogs will get grumpy. While out on walks, you may notice that your pup tucks their tail and hides from male dogs, not wanting their attention.

Estrus stage

The next stage is called estrus, which is the period people call your dog’s heat. This is when your dog goes through ovulation, which means they become fertile and can get pregnant. Similar to proestrus, this can last anywhere from three to 21 days, with nine days being the average.

Pet owners will probably notice that your dog is more willing to accept male company, and you may notice male dogs giving them more attention because of the pheromones they’re releasing. Your pup may flirt with dogs by raising their tail and moving it to one side or the other (known as “flagging”) and raising their rear. Additionally, you should see lightened discharge and the swelling of their vulva subside.

Diestrus stage

The third stage is called diestrus, which is when the fertile period of their cycle comes to an end. If your dog got pregnant during their heat, this stage will last for the duration of their pregnancy until they birth their puppies (typically about 60 days).

Whether or not your dog got pregnant, you’ll likely notice that they becomes less interested in flirting with male dogs and that most of the swelling has gone down.

Anestrus stage

Finally, you have the anestrus stage. It’s the longest stage in the cycle, known as the “resting stage.” Generally, this will last anywhere from 100 to 150 days before the cycle will start over with proestrus.

Tips for when your dog is in heat 

If your dog is in heat, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Adjust your routines as needed

While in proestrus and estrus, your dog may need to be let out more regularly to urinate. But when you are outside, make sure to keep a close eye on them. Some female dogs will run away and hide around other dogs, or even become more aggressive.

Make sure that you’re only walking your dog on a leash or keeping them in a securely fenced area. There is a possibility that they’ll attract male dogs.

👉 Every dog is different! Some dogs may need more exercise while in heat to combat anxious energy, but others may feel lethargic and need less exercise than usual.

Be prepared for cleanup

While dogs tend to clean themselves during their heat cycle, your dog may need some extra cleanup.

Dog owners should have a designated blanket that they use around the house for sleeping, curling up on the couch for snuggles, and more. That way at the end of their heat, you only have one blanket that heads needs heavy cleaning.

Additionally, make sure you have some cleaning supplies around. Disposable wipes work for furniture and hard floors, but you’ll want to make sure to have a stain remover for carpets.

Doggie diapers for heat discharge

Something else to consider is doggie diapers, especially for primarily inside dogs. Having your dog wear a diaper during the bleeding and discharge stages of their heat could help prevent a mess around the house. Note that there are various types of doggie diapers:

  • Reusable diapers — These are the most budget and eco-friendly option. You can generally find them in hand and machine washable options.
  • Disposable diapers — These require the least amount of cleanup, but they are more expensive.
  • Full-body diapers — You can find antimicrobial full-body diapers for any pups who have a hard time wearing standard diapers. These are the most expensive options on the list, but could be worth it for your dog.

For washable diapers and other soiled items, we recommend  ‌Rockin Green Cloth Diaper Detergent. It’s made for babies, but this plant-based enzyme blend detergent is also great for pet stains.

Frequently asked questions

How can I prevent my dog from becoming pregnant?

The best way to prevent pregnancy is to spay your dog at the vet. If you know you don’t want to breed your dog, neutering is recommended before their first cycle — so before that six-month mark. However, you can also wait to have them spayed until after they have puppies if you do plan to breed them.

Research shows that spaying can actually help your dog live longer. In addition to preventing pregnancy or complications that can arise from pregnancy, getting your dog spayed can help prevent certain types of cancer and uterine infections called pyometras.

What should I do if my dog misses a heat?

If you suspect that your dog has missed their heat, it’s important that you call your vet to schedule an appointment. Your dog can experience a silent heat where they go through the heat cycle without showing any outward signs. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.

A missed heat could be a sign of a serious health issue such as hypothyroidism (a thyroid issue that can impact your dog’s metabolism), hyperadrenocorticism (also known as Cushing’s Disease), hypoadrenocorticism (also known as Addison’s Disease), diabetes mellitus, and cancer.

👉 Keep in mind that if your dog is spayed, they will not have a heat cycle.

Do dogs ever stop going into heat?

Unlike humans, female dogs do not go into menopause. Once they reach puberty and begin having heat cycles, they will continue having a heat cycle their entire lives or until they are spayed. However, there may be a longer stretch of time between their heats as they age.

Can I separate dogs while mating to prevent pregnancy?

No. It is very dangerous to try to separate dogs while mating. Because of the mating process, separating them could seriously injure both dogs.

If you do find your dog in the middle of mating, you’ll need to wait until the entire process is done (which can last up to 30 minutes).