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What happens when my bitch is in season?

10/03/2022 - Puppy & Dog Training Advice

What happens when my bitch is in season?

The average dog will have around two seasons per year, though this can vary – with some smaller breeds having three seasons per year and some larger breeds having just one. Seasons can happen at any time of the year. There are four main stages to a dog’s reproductive cycle: proestrus; estrus; diestrus; and anestrus. Each one brings with it different hormonal, behavioural and physical changes for our dogs.
The first stage is proestrus, and this is when we would say that the dog is “in heat.” Proestrus lasts, on average, around 9 days – however, it can vary from 0-27 days. At this point in the dog’s cycle, male dogs will be attracted to the female dog but she will not be receptive to him. Our female dog’s estrogen levels will be at their highest during this phase, and you may notice her vulva being slightly swollen, as well as some blood-tinged or straw-coloured discharge (this is not the same as humans menstruating, as dogs don’t actually do this!). 
The next stage is estrus, and this is when the female dog will be receptive to a male dog. This stage, again, will typically last around 9 days (but may vary from just 4 days all the way up to 24 days). This is when the female dog is fertile. You may notice less blood in your dog’s discharge during this stage.
After estrus, our dogs enter diestrus – this lasts for around 2 months, during which estrogen levels drop and progesterone peaks, before falling again. This will peak and drop of progesterone will happen whether or not the dog is pregnant. 
The final phase is anestrus, and lasts around 4 months or longer, depending on the breed of dog. There is no swelling during this phase and no discharge. During this stage, the uterus is preparing itself ready for the next reproductive cycle to begin.

What changes can you expect from your dog during her cycle?

The severity of symptoms can vary between individual dogs, but some common signs of your dog coming into heat include:
  • Your dog may become more affectionate, and possibly even seem “clingy” or “needy.”
  • She may also show more grumpy or aggressive behaviour at times, particularly towards other female dogs.
  • She may lose her appetite and eat less.
  • You may notice restlessness, agitation and “nesting” behaviours.
  • You may notice your dog tucking her tail more than she used to – especially when other dogs approach her. This is a sign of proestrus.
  • As she reaches the estrus phase, she is likely to become more “flirty.” She may turn her back end towards other dogs and now lift her tail rather than tucking it.
  • You may notice your dog urinating more frequently.
  • You may also notice her grooming her genitals more often.
  • You may notice her vulva is somewhat swollen and there may be red- or straw-coloured discharge.

What are signs to that you may need to call your vet?

While we know our dogs will be going through some physical and behavioural changes during this time, we need to be aware of what changes are a cause for concern. Some signs that you should call your vet include:
  • Your dog not eating at all. While their appetite can drop during the estrous cycle, it’s important our dogs are still eating and it’s worth calling your vet if your dog is completely off her food.
  • Smelly discharge or excessive bleeding. Dogs typically produce a small amount of discharge and you may notice “spotting” on surfaces and fabrics around the house, but this should be small amounts and should not smell. Remember, dogs do NOT menstruate like us humans so a significant amount of blood is NOT normal.
  • Unusual behaviour. While there are some expected behavioural changes which we have discussed above, any extreme behavioural changes or unexpected ones are worth speaking to your vet about, as they could be a sign of illness, infection or pain.
Never be afraid to call your vet – it is always better to be safe than sorry and your vet should always be more than happy to reassure you that something is not a cause for concern. This is much better than the alternative scenario! So, contact your vet ASAP if you are at all worried about your dog. Even if your dog is “fine,” your vet may be able to give you some advice to help her feel more comfortable and happier during her cycle!

Signs of Pyometra

Pyometra is an infection of the dog’s womb. It is somewhat common in unneutered female dogs and can be potentially life threatening. The quicker we catch and treat pyometra, the better our dog’s prognosis. As this condition can quickly become incredibly serious and can lead to death, it’s important we know the signs to look for so we can act quickly if we are concerned. If you suspect your dog has pyometra, call your vet immediatelyas this is an emergency and they will need to see her right away. Pyometra is most likely to develop four to eight weeks after your dog’s season. It is most common in older dogs, but can happen in any unneutered dog. Symptoms can include:
  • Excessive drinking.
  • Lethargy.
  • Not eating.
  • Vomiting.
  • Pus leaking from the vulva/vagina.
  • A bloated stomach/abdomen.
  • Panting and weakness.
  • Excessive urination.
  • Collapse.
Your dog may not exhibit all of these symptoms – for example, there is not always visible discharge. It’s therefore important to take any symptoms seriously, and speak to your vet right away if you have any concerns. As we’ve mentioned above, the quicker we treat pyometra, the better the chance of survival is for your dog. 

Why Can’t My Dog Come to Classes During Her Season?

As we’ve discussed above, our female dogs may not be feeling their best throughout their season. They may be “grumpier” and less comfortable around other female dogs, and male dogs will be well aware that she is in season and hassle her if given the chance. We don’t allow in-season dogs in our group classes because this can be stressful for all the dogs as well as disruptive to the class and the dogs’ learning. Even neutered male dogs, let alone intact ones, can be easily distracted and can sometimes be quite obsessive towards females in season. Your dog may not be feeling wonderful anyway, and may feel particularly uncomfortable and defensive in a group class setting.
Our classes also typically include young, intact dogs who are at various stages in their training journey. While intact male and female dogs can certainly learn to stay engaged and focused on their owners, doing so while around a female who is in season is incredibly hard work and is a huge ask even of a well-trained dog.
We never want dogs or their humans to miss out on training. We strongly encourage owners to attend class without their dog if she comes into season, so they can see the training in action and speak to their instructor if they have any questions before applying the training with their dog at home. We also have our extensive Dogversity online learning portal and weekly online classes, which owners can take advantage of!

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