If you have a female puppy, you'll need to be prepared for her estrus cycle. It is similar to a woman's menstrual cycle except that it only happens twice a year. She can go in heat from as early as 6 months, so watch out for the signs.
Your dog can come into her first heat any time between 6 and 24 months. According to Webvet.com, small dogs come into heat sooner than larger breeds. Typically she will have two estrus cycles, or heats, a year, and each one lasts for between 18 to 24 days. She is likely to show signs that her heat is about to start by changes in her behavior. You could compare this with the kind of emotional ups and downs women go through monthly just before menstruation. Some of the signs are an increased clinging to you, restlessness and sudden signs of irritation with other pets. She will also start licking her vulva frequently. The seasonal timing of the two estrus cycles is typically between January and March and August to October.
The estrus cycle has four stages. The first stage is called proestrus. This lasts approximately 10 days and it is during this stage that your dog will bleed from the vaginal area. This is your dog's preparation for pregnancy phase, but she will not want to mate with a male during this time. As a pet owner there are a few ways you can cope with the bleeding and keep your home clean. Your dog will clean herself, but you may find that blood spots get sprayed everywhere if she shakes her body, or you'll find a trail of spots around the house. If you live in a home with wood or marble flooring, it is easy enough to keep a mop and bucket on hand to clean it up. You should put towels down for her, especially if she is allowed to sit on your furniture. You can also buy diapers for dogs, or make your own with disposable baby training pants and cut a hole for her tail.
The next stage is called the estrus, and this lasts between five and nine days. This is the tricky time when your dog is prepared to mate with any male, and every male in the neighborhood is trying to get to her. If you don't want her to mate, you will need to keep her securely in the house. If you let her out in the yard, don't leave her on her own or she may find an escape route under or over the fence. The diestrus phase follows this whether she gets pregnant or not, and lasts about six to 10 weeks. During this time the uterus walls thicken and some dogs may have a false pregnancy during this time. One sign of this are enlarged mammary glands and she may even produce milk. The anestrus phase lasts for about 15 weeks. During this time your dog will have no interest in mating, nor will she show any signs of hormonal changes, until she reaches her next proestrus.
A Lifetime Of Heat
Your female dog will go through estrus cycles for the rest of her life. There is no such thing as a dog menopause, although as they get older the bleeding, or estrus, phase lengthens. Spaying your female puppy prevents her from going through the estrus cycle. Webvet.com states that there is no good health reason for allowing a female to go through heat or have one litter of puppies. It adds that there are numerous health benefits to having your dog spayed before her first heat, such as preventing mammary cancer and uterine infections. Also, reducing her desire to mate stops her from running off and risking injury through a road accident.
- mother dog with puppy image by Phaedra Wilkinson from Fotolia.com