Anyone who has ever owned a female puppy knows that sooner or later the dreaded heat cycle starts.
Your dog becomes agitated and restless and you realize you need to know how to calm a dog in heat.
In this article, we will discuss what a heat cycle is and provide you with some tips on how to calm a dog in heat.
What Does It Mean When A Dog Is In Heat?
A female dog that is in heat is fertile and ready to breed. This is the stage in the productive cycle when the dog is ovulating and can therefore fall pregnant.
During this stage, dramatic hormonal changes take place in the dog’s body, with very noticeable changes, as a result, some physical and some non-physical.
The hormonal changes are regulated by the endocrine system, which also regulates the dog’s metabolism, energy levels, mood, and brain functions.
When a dog is in heat, these hormonal changes can cause a dog to behave differently.
These changes in behavior are very noticeable to owners, and can lead to considerable anxiety, stress, and fatigue in dogs.
It’s clear that dogs don’t understand what’s happening to them and they become anxious and confused. They need your help to get through this confusing time.
How Do You Know Your Dog Is In Heat?
During a dog’s heat, you will notice physical and behavioral changes.
A female dog’s vagina is located between its legs near the tail. The outer opening to the vagina is called the vulva.
Normally, these are not visible, but when your dog is in heat they swell up and are very noticeable.
Bloody Or Yellowish Discharge
This is one of the clear signs that your dog is in heat. You will notice a bloody discharge that can make quite a mess on your floor and furniture.
Towards the end of the cycle, the color becomes lighter, and the discharge lessens.
Agitated, nervous, or aggressive behavior: In the first phase of the reproductive cycle, called estrus, your dog may become skittish or nervous and seem confused. Know that your dog might even exhibit aggressive behavior towards humans and other pets in the home.
Excessive licking of the genital area: This kind of behavior is another sure sign of being in heat.
Excessive urinating: The increase in urinating is part of nature’s way to alert male dogs to a female dog that is in heat.
Welcoming to male dogs: As estrus progresses, the dog will get into the swing of things, so to speak, and welcome male dogs approaching her.
She will allow male dogs to mount her, and don’t be surprised if she tries to mount other dogs or other household pets.
Tail position changes: While a female dog may protect its genitals in the beginning of the heat cycle by keeping the tail tucked under, as the cycle progresses, you’ll notice that she moves her tail out of the way, clearly indicating that she’s receptive to mating.
Stages Of The Female Dog’s Heat Cycle
A female dog’s heat cycle has four distinct phases.
This is the first stage of the heat cycle, signified by the following changes:
- Swollen vulva
- Blood-tinged discharge
- Tucked in tail
- Excessive licking of the genital area
- Needy behavior
- Aggression toward male dogs
This is the active mating phase, where female dogs are willing to mate. They indicate this willingness by
- Urinating more frequently than normal, leaving her mark to signal her willingness to mate
- Approaching male dogs with her tail held to the side
- Showing aggression towards female dogs
At this stage, the vaginal discharge will slow and the color may become lighter.
After the active heat phase, the dog’s body slowly returns to normal with the swelling of the vulva going down and the discharge disappearing. Either that, or your dog may be pregnant.
Anestrus is sort of a non-phase as there is no indication of any hormonal changes and sexual behavior has ceased.
When Does A Dog Experience Its First Heat Cycle?
In most breeds, female dogs experience their first heat when they are about six months old. For some smaller breeds, it can be as early as four months.
On the other hand, some of the giant breeds may only experience a first heat cycle when they are 18-24 months old.
Dog breeders generally agree that it’s not advisable to allow a female dog to have puppies during her first or second heat cycle since at this young age, the dog hasn’t reached maturity and doesn’t produce top-quality eggs.
How Long Is A Heat Cycle?
Your dog will be in heat for about three weeks. It can be as short as two weeks or as long as four weeks. However, your dog will not be fertile during the entire time.
Her most fertile time will be only about five days, starting around nine or ten days after her cycle has started.
Of course, this time could vary, but you will know from the appearance and disappearance of the different signs we have discussed, where she is in her cycle.
It’s best to keep a watch on her right to the end of her cycle if you don’t want her to become pregnant.
How can you calm a dog in heat?
A dog that’s in heat needs special attention and support.
You can help your dog to navigate this phase by paying close attention and doing a few things that might make things easier for her.
1. Show You Love Your Dog
What your female dog needs more than anything else is love and emotional support during this time, especially if it’s her first cycle.
The best thing you can do is spend more time with her. She doesn’t know what’s going on with her and that makes her anxious and unpredictable.
Reassure her by being with her. Rub her where she likes to be rubbed to help her relax and talk to her in a reassuring voice. She might also enjoy it if you brush her coat more often.
You can also consider creating a safe space for her. Make sure that she has a comfortable bed away from bright light and a lot of foot traffic.
2. Distract Her
You can distract her by giving her attention and introducing a new toy. The trick is to find a toy that will distract her for a while and not just amuse her for a few minutes.
What you need is a puzzle toy that will challenge your dog to perform certain actions to get a reward, usually some sort of treat.
Get her a puzzle toy that requires her to engage with levers, buttons, holes, and other features to get a reward.
These types of toys are mentally stimulating and can distract her from her miseries for quite a while.
3. Give A Chew Treat
Dogs love chewing, and your dog will love a new treat to chew on.
There is a huge range of non-toxic organic chews available for dogs – from raw hide and kangaroo tails to ostrich bones and deer or elk antler chews.
These treats last a very long time and can keep your dog happily occupied during her heat cycle.
4. Use A Diaper
This tip is more for you than your dog. If you use a dog diaper, you won’t worry that your dog is messing on the floor or your furniture, which will make you more relaxed during this trying time.
Another benefit of a dog nappy is it will prevent your dog from spreading her scent in and around your house and so alerting male dogs of her status.
There are different size dog nappies available for different size dogs.
However, some dogs are very fastidious and will clean themselves meticulously, so they won’t need a diaper while on heat. Maybe your dog is one of them.
5. Secure Your Property
If your property isn’t walled in, you need a very secure fence around it.
Check every inch of it to make sure there are no holes in the fence or spots where dogs can dig a hole to creep through.
Male dogs will do their utmost to get to a female dog in heat, so make sure other dogs can’t get to her when she’s outside in the yard.
This also means making sure that dogs can’t jump over the fence or stand on something to get over the fence.
Keep you trash can secured, out of sight, and covered properly.
6. Hide Her Scent
If you take your dog out for a walk, it might be a good idea to use a bit of menthol on her tail to mask her scent. When walking outdoors, this may be a good trick to hide the scent.
The strong smell will cover up the scent she produces and prevent male dogs in the vicinity from realizing that your dog is in heat.
You can shop around for other scent-erasing products on the market as well. Most of them contain menthol and other ingredients that will hide your dog’s smell.
7. Keep Her On A Leash
Never, ever take your female dog that is in heat out for a walk without being on a leash. That is just looking for trouble.
Chances are that she’ll get involved in an altercation and won’t respond to you calling her because she is not her usual self.
During her heat cycle, it’s not guaranteed they she will obey your orders. And you have no control over the behavior of other dogs when you are out and about.
Even in your own yard, you should never leave a female dog in heat unattended.
8. Go For Frequent Short Walks
Like most people, most dogs feel calm and relaxed after a walk. It doesn’t have to be a long walk – frequent, short walks will do the trick.
The walk itself will distract your dog and afterwards she might be tired enough to take a nap.
Taking a stroll around the block or down the street a few times a day will do wonders for your dog if you can manage it.
If you can, try not to go to parks and other places where people regularly walk their dogs, or if you do decide to walk there, try to go at times when other dogs are unlikely to be there. This way, you can avoid running into other dogs.
Try to walk your dog at times when other people are unlikely to be walking their dogs.
9. Let Her Get Enough Exercise
Make sure your dog gets enough exercise. You can play fetch, or some other vigorous games in the back yard to tire her out and get rid of any pent-up energy.
Playing with her has many benefits – she gets much-needed attention, is happily distracted and gets tired, which will hopefully result in a nap afterwards.
10. Have Her Sterilized
The most permanent solution is to have your female dog spayed. This one step can spare your dog the ordeal of being in heat twice a year.
Spaying your dog has other advantages as well. Apart from preventing unwanted pregnancies, spaying prevents certain serious health conditions like cancerous tumors. It can also decrease aggressive behavior and anxiety in a dog.
Speak to your veterinarian about the best time to have your dog spayed.
11. Use Some Calming Aids For Dogs
Female dogs have a hard time with they go through a heat cycle. They tend to be anxious and confused and need to be reassured.
They need a calm environment and plenty of attention and exercise.
You can even consider some calming products developed for dogs.
There are dog calming aids in the form of tablets, sprays, drops, treats, and powders that you can try.
Many of these products are made from herbs and contain essential oils, and pheromones to induce a sense of calm.
You might have to try out a few before you hit on one that works for your dog.