• Hahnbee Choi, Cert. CN

What To Expect When You're Expecting... A Heat Cycle

Updated: May 7

More and more research is coming out with the benefits of keeping dogs intact until they are older, given that the owner can be responsible for making sure there are no unwanted pregnancies. Not only can heat cycles be messy but scary & intimidating, especially with all the physical, hormonal, and behavioral changes a female goes through (if you menstruate... you know the struggle).

Above all, feeling ill-prepared for anything as a dog owner equals a messy (and in this case bloody) ending. But with this guide, hopefully, some of your fears will be put at ease and arm you with the information you need to be a pro at heat cycles!

Intact vs. Fixed

I am not a licensed veterinarian, and any information I share is not intended to replace a holistic or integrative veterinarian's advice. This simply what I have learned through my experience and formal education.

Many vets across the world are advocates to spay and neuter pets at a young age. This is to prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as to avoid the disease of the reproductive organs. Vet school teaches the student only to perform surgeries where the sex organs are 100 % completely removed, which prevents reproduction and the reproductive hormones.

Science is endlessly growing and expanding, which means new information is discovered daily. And there has been a growth in research showing that early spay may not be the healthiest for our animals.

… [A]s we’re now learning,” writes veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly in an article for Veterinary Practice News, “preventing reproductive disease isn’t necessarily a good enough reason to remove organs; not if those organs offer more benefits than they pose risks.

Many small, breed-specific studies have been done on breeds such as Golden Retrievers to scope out the true pros and cons of fixing animals.

"We found in both breeds that neutering before the age of 6 months, which is common practice in the United States, significantly increased the occurrence of joint disorders – especially in the golden retrievers,” - Benjamin Hart.

This graph created by Dr. Karen Becker shows the whole picture of fixing an animal:

As seen above, you can see that by removing sex organs, you prevent all disease that has to do with them. But in exchange, you can see the chances of many of the most common health conditions being increased, such as obesity, CCL tears, hip dysplasia, bladder infections, several types of cancer, and more.

Just a reminder that if you are keeping the dog intact for breeding purposes, it's a completely different story! Just make sure to breed responsibly!

Overall, there are benefits and faults on both sides of the argument. But the most beneficial steps you can take is to research, research, research, and do what is best for you!

Learn more about spaying & neutering here:

What To Expect

My female dog is intact for health reasons even though she is a rescue. She was rescued off the streets, giving me a unique situation to rescue while still keeping her intact. Whereas if she were gotten from a shelter, she would have been spayed before I got her at 4 months of age.

Female dogs usually start maturing at around 6 months of age, but it may vary from dog to dog. Smaller breeds tend to have their first heat cycle much earlier than larger breeds who may not reach their first estrous cycle until 8 months to 2 years of age.

It's usually pretty obvious when a dog goes into heat as there are several behavioral and physical signs such as...

  • Swollen vulva

  • Bloody colored discharge

  • Excess licking in the genital area

  • Nesting

  • Receptive to male dogs (aka being flirty)

Spotting is usually a telltale sign. It's time to take out the panties. Keeping track of the start/end of their cycles can also be helpful. Apps such as Google Calendar can be useful for tracking.

During her heat cycle, your dog will experience 4 different stages that come with its own body and behavior changes.

1. Pro-estrus: This is the start of the heat cycle when the body is preparing to reproduce. This stage's signs are swollen vulva, licking of the genital area, red discharge, clingy behavior, & change in behavior towards dogs, particularly males. This stage lasts anywhere from 2-22 days.

For example, Stormy gets very cuddly and is attached to my hip, and gets very flirty✨ with other dogs when she usually wants nothing to do with them. It's a good idea to have at least 2 pairs of period panties to rotate through and stay secure. Just a reminder that every dog is different so that they may act differently in every stage, but these are just the "general" signs.

2. Estrus: Estrus is the stage where the female will be most flirty✨ with male dogs and will probably be urinating a lot more frequently to mark her spot to tell the boys she is ready to breed. At this point, the discharge will start lightening in color, and she will possibly present herself to male dogs, which basically means they shove their butt's into a male dog's face to say, "I'm ready!!!!"... Estrus lasts anywhere from 5-14 days.

This is the stage where Stormy is at her flirtiest of flirts and thinks that she is all that...

3. Die-strus: This occurs right after the "heat" stage and either allows the body to return to normal or prep the body for pregnancy. The vulva will return to its normal size, and discharge will fade. This phase lasts 60-90 days.