Heat in Female Dogs: Nix’s Experience

Right at the beginning of February Nix was in heat for the first time. We had been expecting it for a while because of the attitude of some male dogs towards her – they were very interested in her – and also due to her age (she was almost 11 months old at the time).

Manel and Nix having fun. This was taken a few days before she started her heat period. I love their face expressions!
Minor behaviour issues

Her heat period (i.e. the bleeding) lasted for two weeks, but we decided to keep her on leash for two more weeks, just to avoid any potential runaways with any unneutered male dog. During the first two weeks, she had some minor behavioural issues. Her dog sitter told us that one day she kept biting (with no skin contact and without meaning to hurt, but rather as a warning) another female dog who is similar in age and incredibly submissive and mellow; another day she misunderstood the intentions of a neutered male dog, who she is friends with, and warned him not to bother her by, again, using her mouth.

We did allow her to be unleashed for a while when we felt it was not dangerous. Still, it was risky, so it’s not something I can actually recommend doing.

Although the dog sitter was the first to acknowledge that this behaviour was probably due to the fact that she was in heat, I was worried anyway because I refuse to have an aggressive dog, for starters, and secondly, we cannot afford to have an aggressive dog, because this means that if we need to leave for long hours there is no one we she can stay with. So we contacted a dog ethologist. Asking experts is something that I heartily encourage whenever you have any issues or questions. They will help you manage the situation and avoid making it worse.

In our case, the ethologist came on a couple of days and she said she could not perceive any real aggression in Nix. The only thing she did notice was that she was a bit tense when meeting other dogs (her hair always stands on end) and that it seemed like Nix had to decide right then whether the other dogs were friends or foes. She recommended trying to minimize the importance of the other dogs and congratulating her when she moved away calmly.

Apart from the minor behavioural issues, she was also more cuddly and looking for affection. Nix is not a dog that is excessively affectionate: she loves being petted in the morning when she wakes up or whenever we’re away and come back, but she doesn’t usually come asking for cuddles.

Nix looking cuddly and using her food bowl as a head rest.
Bloody Discharges and Stains

In terms of how many left blood stains Nix left in the house, I have to say that it was more than I expected. I was not very favourable to using doggy knickers and pads/pantyliners to avoid the blood stains, but after about a week I started thinking that perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea. In the end we bought them and we used human pantyliners on them. As the discharges are light, there is no need to use pads, at least in our experience. Nix didn’t love the knickers but she tolerated them, and we saw an improvement in the cleanliness of our floor. Plus,

Doggy knickers. This one is made of 95% cotton and 5% polyester. The main issue is that dog hair tends to get stuck on them and even after washing stays there.

Note that whenever we left her home alone, we removed the knickers. I felt it was the better option to avoid her feeling uncomfortable while we were away and if she was unwell and wanted to relieve herself she’d be able to with no knickers bothering her. Fortunately this was not the case.

For this same reason we removed the knickers at night. This had an unexpected consequence. I should have imagined that she was staining her bed, but it looked fine so I thought that perhaps while she slept she didn’t bleed. I was wrong, as I discovered when I decided to wash her bed. After removing the covers I found that both the covers and the cushions were stained. So for next time, I think I’ll place some kind of absorbing pad between the bed cover and the cushion to avoid it getting stained.

I can’t remember how much we paid for the knickers, but I think it must have been somewhere between €5 – €10. For me, they were worth it, even if she just used them for a week. Note that they come in different sizes.

An Overview of the Dog’s Menstrual Cycle

As I mentioned earlier,  the bleeding (i.e. the heat period) lasted for two weeks. This bleeding is not like human periods or menstruation. It’s some kind of bloody vaginal discharge that, in layman’s terms, signals the start of the fertile period. In human beings, the bleeding comes after the fertile period and corresponds to the uterus’ wall that breaks and is ejected from the body. Dogs do not eject the uterus wall, rather, it is reabsorbed by their own body.

To go into more detail, the bleeding may occur during the proestrus and the estrus stages of the dog’s menstrual cycle. During the proestrus the female dog’s body prepares itself for ovulation, but the dog won’t be receptive to males. On the other hand, during the estrus (not to be confused with estrous) stage, the dog ovulates and she becomes receptive to males. These are the fertile days. Both proestrus and estrus stage last in average 9 days each, although in practice proestrus can last any time between 3 and 17 days, and estrus between 3 and 21 days.

Dogs are usually in heat for the first time between 9 and 12 months of age, although it depends on the breed and on the dog itself. The larger the breed, the more likely it will reach sexual maturity later. Most breeds go through two heat periods per year, although some breeds only go through one or others through three.

Spaying – Worth it?

The next question that may come up is: is it worth spaying (i.e. removing their sexual organs) your female dog? It probably is, if you have no breeding plans and the dog lives with other dogs. A potential issue or side-effect of spaying is that the female dog may become more aggressive. Note that, according to our vet, there are no studies that actually prove this, but apparently there aren’t any that disprove it, either.

In our case, we have decided to wait a little bit. Nix is a German Shepherd, and German Shepherds are strong dogs which may have a bit of a temper. Since she had some minor behaviour issues during her first heat, we are worried that they may come up more frequently if she’s spayed. So we’ll see how she evolves and decide later on.

If you own a male dog, do note that aggressivity and dominance issues may be solved by neutering. Or, at least, it will contribute to their solution. Plus, the younger the dog, the more likely it is to help.

Sources

These are the sources that I checked to write this post:

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