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What to do when your bitch comes into season (heat)

A female dog is a wonderful addition to any family home. They are often more nurturing, easier to train and less easily distracted than their male counterparts. However, it is important to remember that a female dog that has not been spayed has a fertility cycle (a bit like a female human, although it is usually 6-8 months long rather than one month). Proestrus is the time during which a bloody discharge from the vulva of the bitch is first noticed. Oestrus is the period following this when the bitch will become receptive to male dogs and when breeding can occur.

Some bitches will cease bleeding when proestrus ends, others will continue to produce a bloody discharge throughout the full oestrus period. The diagram below breaks down the science-y part of your bitch’s cycle. Every bitch is different, but in general standing heat (when the female will let the male mate her) is from 7-10 days after the start of bleeding, and lasts for 7-10 days.

Understanding your pup’s cycle is incredibly important as is making an informed decision about whether you intend to allow your pooch to breed. However, regardless of your intention during the first season it is advisable to avoid breeding. Your bitch will not yet be fully grown or developed and therefore at a higher risk of dystocia (difficulty during whelping, that often necessitates a caesarean). They are also less likely to be attentive mothers.

 
If your bitch has caught you by surprise by coming into season earlier than expected, and you have already decided against breeding from her, it is wise to speak with your vet about the earliest date that the vet will be comfortable performing the sterilisation surgery (“spay”) and make an appointment to have it done as soon as possible. Most vets in the UK will not be comfortable with the increased risk associated with spaying a bitch whilst she is in oestrus and will usually recommend that the surgery is done 6-12 weeks after the bleeding stops, as this will be in the middle of her next reproductive cycle.
In case of your pooch maturing early or to avoid a young pregnant pup we have listed five easy and effective methods of preventing breeding.

  1. Avoid other dogs - walk your bitch at different times to other dogs, keep her on a lead and in less popular dog walking areas. It is also advisable to keep your garden gate securely locked to ensure she can neither escape nor can dogs male dogs reach her.
  2. Keep the peace in your home - If you have an unneutered male dog (even if they are litter mates) in your house, you need to separate them for at least 28 days to prevent breeding.
  3. Bitch Spray - This can help mask the smell that makes the bitch attractive to male dogs during oestrus.
  4. Minimise Mess - To avoid mess in your house, where possible try and confine your pet to easy-to-clean floors
  5. Hygiene Pants - These are available for dogs of all sizes and help to stop furniture and carpets becoming stained by the discharge (especially during the bloody stage).  These are made from stretch nylon for easy washing and have adjustable straps.  You simply apply a replacement pad inside the pants, just like a sanitary towel.
 
If you suspect or know that a male dog may have managed to get to your female dog, despite your best efforts, see your vet immediately. It is possible to terminate a pregnancy, or spay her in the very early stages. Your vet will advise you on the best option depending on your circumstances.

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