Experiencing a Bitch in Heat.

I’m currently sat in my office at work, supposed to be doing admin (not my favourite thing in the world) and feeling hot. The heat got me thinking about a different kind of heat, the one that refers to when a bitch (female dog) comes into her fertile period; as well as ‘heat’ it’s also known as oestrus and season.

If you have recently become a fur-parent to a female puppy then there are a few things you need to know, and if you’ve acquired an older, unneutered bitch and never had one before, then this blog will be beneficial to you too. I hope that if you own a male dog that you will find what I have to say interesting as well.

Female puppies tend to have their first season anywhere between 6-12 months old

but this does depend on what breed they are. As a general rule, the smaller the breed the sooner it happens; it’s not unheard of for giant breed bitch pups (Great Danes for example) to not initially come into oestrus until they’re 18 months – 2 years old. The length of days and season of the year can also be factors in influencing that initial heat cycle, as can the presence of other females in season and having male dogs around.

It is widely thought that the behaviour of humping/mounting other dogs, human’s legs, toys, pillows, blankets etc. is sexually driven, but in actuality it is normally down to them asserting social dominance and/or practising and honing their social interaction skills. I guess, like us humans, they have to do daft things sometimes to learn!

You might not realise that your bitch is in season at first, especially if you’ve never experienced it before. There are a few clues to follow though and, obviously, the more it happens, the easier you’ll find it to spot them. A bitch’s heat can last between 2 and 4 weeks in total and the most fertile window, i.e. when they are most likely to get pregnant, is between day 8 and day 15. Most bitches have a season twice a year, so roughly every 6 months, but as they age the interval between them increases. Be aware though, that older bitches can get pregnant (just as juveniles can get pregnant during their first season), although it does get rarer as they age; they don’t go through a canine version of the Menopause.

As the season/oestrus progresses you may become aware of the following behaviours, although it does vary from animal to animal. Your fur-baby may experience the whole gamut of them (even developing a ‘phantom pregnancy’, in extremis) or she may ‘sail through it’, as it were.

Restlessness in general (mooching) and changes in appetite often signal the change in hormone levels, as does skittishness. When out on walks this skitty behaviour can manifest as poor recall off-lead when you try to hail them back – well, she has got other things on her mind…… and it’s not you! Sometimes the maternal instinct really kicks in and they ‘nest’ by taking soft toys into their bed or rest areas.

All dogs can piddle for Britain whilst they’re out, as we poor pet parents know only too well – usually when it’s absolutely tipping it down and we want to get home and dry – but bitches in season will literally widdle on anything and everything. This lets every dog in the area know that ‘dinner will soon be served’ to put it delicately, and canines have a very keen sense of smell.

In the first few days of oestrus, whilst your bitch is becoming more and more attractive to the chaps, she might not appear that fussed about them – and certainly won’t let them mount her yet. You maynotice your girl licking her genital area more than usual and her vulva will swell and redden more as her heat progresses. The degree to which bitches experience vulval bleeding and discharge varies hugely and some ladies are more fastidious about having a clean ‘foof’ than others. Laminate floors are easy to wipe (remember to use gloves and a fresh cloth every time), and doggy pants can be worth their weight in gold for protecting furniture and bedding from the blood and discharge – assuming your lady will tolerate them. If not, you and the washing machine will be getting even better acquainted than usual for a while!

When your bitch is fertile she will tease any poor male that approaches her: she’ll let him sniff her (whilst she’s checking him out at the same time, obvs!), will stand with her hind-end facing him and will provocatively move her tail to one side.

You may have gathered by now that the urge to mate is strong, so please watch your bitch closely when you let her out in the garden to do her ablutions. Failing that, make sure that the perimeter is like Fort Knox so that she can’t escape and find a handsome hound, and that any local wide-boys can’t get in to her. Mating can happen quickly – as little as 10 minutes is all it takes – so stay vigilant! Always walk seasonal bitches on the leash and if you don’t want to advertise her fertility to neighbourhood Romeos, drive to a walking spot rather than starting out from home. It makes sense, too, to walk at quieter times of day and along less popular routes whilst your girl is in heat.

If, unfortunately, your bitch becomes pregnant and it isn’t a planned mating, then please contact the Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre team as soon as possible. There are medications we can give to your bitch after the event, but they are time-sensitive.

I always say that prevention is better than cure and can not express enough the importance of having your bitch spayed.

So if you aren’t planning on breeding from your bitch then talk to us about spaying her. If you are breeding with her then get her spayed afterwards. The younger they are when we neuter them, the less likely they are from ever developing mammary (breast) cancer: win-win. Conversely, if you do plan to breed from your lady then please book in for a chat about pre-, peri-, and post- natal care of your bitch (and puppies) and the services we offer here at SLVC.

Until next time; stay safe (socially distanced and mask-wearing!), stay well, and be happy 🙂