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How Long Does a Dog Stay in Heat?

Every female mammal gets their period, and that is a fact! However, the way our pets’ estrus cycle works, its timeframes and the signs exhibited, significantly differ from humans… So just how long does a dog stay in heat?

From about six months onwards, female dogs and cats will experience estrus cycles. This means they will have several heats since their adolescence and throughout their entire lives. How long do these cycles last exactly? Well, you may be surprised to find that there is no simple answer… Let’s dive in!

When does the first heat take place?

Before we get into “how long does a dog stay in heat”, let’s start at the beginning. Dogs begin their heat cycles once they hit puberty (sexual maturity). Depending on the size of the breed, this can range from when they’re 6 to 24 months old. Giant breeds will reach puberty later than smaller dogs. Cats’ first heat, on the other hand, does not vary that much. However, it is still challenging to guess precisely when it will appear. It is safe to assume that around their 5th to 7th month of age, they might start this new journey.

It is strongly advised to breed female dogs only after the third cycle happens. Before that, neither them nor their eggs have reached full maturity. If you are planning on breeding your pooch, we are here to advise you on the most appropriate moment. Feel free to ask our Maven vets for any help you may need!

How often does a dog go into heat?

Canines will have 1 to 3 cycles per year, with the majority of dogs cycling twice a year. Unlike humans, female dogs will not experience menopause, which means they will have estrus cycles throughout their lives. As time goes by, the intervals between the cycles will get wider and that is it.

How long is each cycle?

Heat usually lasts for about 2 to 4 weeks – an average of 21 days. Early in the cycle, the female is usually  not receptive to the male. In the first days, it is likely for a blood discharge to be exhibited, even though this is not a golden rule for all dogs. When this vaginal discharge becomes less bloody and watery, usually 9 to 10 days after the heat starts, the fertility rate is at its highest.

Be aware that there is always a chance for dogs to conceive at any time during the heat cycle. It is also important to keep in mind that even if there is no bloody vaginal discharge after this 9 day period, the female can still get pregnant… Since they are more likely to let a male mate. If you would like to know more about pregnancy in dogs and cats, have a look at How long are dogs pregnant?.

What does heat look like?

There are a few alterations on the reproductive tract and overall behaviour:

  • The vulva becomes enlarged (it might not be noticeable);
  • A bloody vaginal discharge can be present and it will get watery with time. Once again, this is not a golden rule, as some dogs do not exhibit it;
  • The female usually urinates more often, to let males know that they are in heat;
  • When the female is willing to accept the male, they will raise their rump or hold their tail to the side.

What about cats?

Cats are seasonally polyestrous. This means that they have multiple cycles during the breeding season, which is clearly the opposite of dogs.

The breeding season will vary according to geographic and environmental factors such as temperature and the number of daylight hours. In the Northern Hemisphere, cats usually cycle from January until the late fall. On the other hand, the ones living in more tropical regions or that are mainly indoors, may cycle all year round. Fun fact, right?

The most perceptible signs of estrus in cats are related to their behavior. Most of them become very vocal, needy and demanding. They persistently rub against their owners, objects or floor as a means to seek attention. When stroked along the back or spine, they raise their rear quarters into the air and tread with the back legs. At that point, the only thing I can say is: be patient, and do not despair – it will come to an end!

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