What does 'in season' mean?
What is commonly referred to as being 'on heat' or 'in season' is actually part of the bitches estrous (reproductive) cycle. The entire estrous cycle is made up of 4 different stages; these are proestrus, estrus, diestrus, and anestrus. The bits that people are speaking about when they say their bitch is in season are proestrus and estrus.
Only entire (un-spayed) females can come into season, and it is the only part of a bitches cycle where a pregnancy can occur.
When do bitches come into season?
Most bitches will have their first season between the ages of 6-12 months on average, however some breeds mature slower and so it isn't uncommon for some bitches to not have their first season until 12-24months old. It is a good idea to find out if possible when your bitches mother/grandmother and other closely related female relatives had their first seasons as this can give you a rough guide of when to expect your bitch to come in season. If you reach that age and they still haven't come into season a vet visit is recommended.
Most bitches come into season once or twice a year, roughly every 6-10 months and this part of the cycle lasts about 2-4 weeks but does vary in different breeds and even from one bitch to another.
What are the signs?
The most common signs that your bitch is in or coming into season include;
- bloody discharge (may become lighter/pink in colour further through the cycle)
- swelling of their vulva
- swollen or very pink nipples
- marking more often on walks (with urine)
- behavioural changes such as being more or less clingy compared to usual
- appetite loss or increase
This list is not complete and every bitch is different. Some may have all, some or different symptoms to the ones listed. A bitch can also have what is called a 'silent season' which is when they show no visible signs of being in season at all, but if hormone levels were checked it would show they were in estrus.
How to manage your bitch when in season
Obviously it goes without saying that if you also have entire dogs at home that you need to keep them separate from each other except when under constant and direct supervision, and even then you may want to err on the side of caution. And yes... even if they are siblings/cousins/mother and son- unlike humans they don't know or care and can and will still mate if given the chance.
Most bitches do a great job of keeping themselves clean, but some struggle and even if they are clean they may still miss the odd drop.
To protect your floors and furniture you can get hygiene pants that look a bit like reusable nappies for your bitch to wear. Most bitches accept them well and as long as you give them time to air during the day and take them off for toilet breaks they're perfectly safe to use.
You can get hygiene pants from many places but I would highly recommend THESE as not only are they a great fit and seem the most comfortable for my dogs, but they also are a lovely eco friendly brand.
Another thing many people swear by are raspberry leaf tablets. These are thought to help reduce pain and can help to minimise the likelihood of your bitch having a phantom pregnancy.
They are a natural supplement rather than a medication but please speak to your vet before giving to your dog.
You can get raspberry leaf tablets HERE
Finally if your bitch really does seem to be struggling as some are a lot more painful than others, heat can really help to reduce pain, so hot water bottles if your bitch will tolerate you holding it onto them can help soothe them.
Exercise and training
Contrary to common misconception, you can still walk your bitch while she is in season- however it is important that you take extra considerations.
It is good etiquette to walk her in antisocial hours and to choose quiet areas to exercise them where possible to avoid any upsetting other dog owners. It is also recommended to keep her on lead where possible, as especially during the second week of their season some bitches may take it upon themselves to search out a mate, no matter how good their recall usually is!
In terms of training, many bitches are able to carry on training as normal, but some may need to slow down a little due to hormones making it difficult for them to focus as well as usual. Bitches should not attend group classes during this time but can still attend 1-to-1 sessions with special arrangement.
Estrus is most fertile stage of the cycle and although they can become pregnant during any part of this cycle, the most likely time for them to stand (accept mating) is ten to fifteen days from the beginning of the cycle.
If you plan to breed from your bitch then it is recommended that they are at least over 1year and have had one previous cycle before mating, most breeders believe 2+ years for first litter is the most appropriate to allow for mental and physical maturing. Under 1year is never acceptable and can be dangerous for both the bitch and any puppies if she was to conceive.
It is highly recommended that regardless of whether your dogs parents were tested or not; that you complete genetic health testing on your dog prior to breeding them. This is not the same as a visit to the vet for a health check. It includes swabs or blood samples being taken for genetic panels, hip/elbow X-rays for scoring and also eye and hearing tests. Which tests are recommended depends on the breed of dog and your breed society or the Kennel Club are a good place to start researching which tests would be required for your dogs breed.
Gold standard breeding practice also means making sure your dog is either a registered breed or you have a great working knowledge of heritage for purpose bred mixed breeds; this is because even with health testing their are some health issues that cant be tested for but could be passed on, or negative behavioural traits that can be inherited too. Knowing your dogs pedigree and family tree will help you to identify these.
It is also important to check that your dog is a good example of their breed, looking at structure and conformation, temperament and proven working talent or titles in sports.
Although puppies are amazing, breeding isn't a quick and easy way to make money when done properly and a good, responsible breeder can go through a lot of money, time and heartbreak to raise the perfect litter,
Bitches will have seasons for their entire life unless spayed as they do not enter menopause like humans.
They do become higher risk for some health issues such as hormonal related cancers if not spayed. However there are always pros and cons for spaying so don't rush this decision and speak to your vet, trainer and other professionals before going ahead to form your own opinion as there is no one right answer as each dog is an individual.
If you do choose to have your bitch spayed and they have already had at least one season, it is usually recommended to wait for 3 months after the end of their last season for health reasons.
We would love to try and help you to answer any other questions you have, please comment below or get in touch!
Cunningshot Dog Training