Navigating your young female through her first season

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navigating your dog through her first season

The latest scientific evidence shows that neutering your dog prematurely can affect their long-term health and wellbeing. However, if you have a female, choosing to neuter later means learning how to manage her through her first few seasons.

Depending on breed, females come into season every six months. Small breeds can be more regular, as often as three times a year, and the very large breeds may only cycle every 12-18 months.

Juvenile females often have a ‘silent’ season to start with. The season may not be obvious at all, with little in the way of physical signs. It can sometimes take well over a year for a female to develop a regular cycle. Each female is different, just like women, and development rates can vary.

How do I know when she is in season?

Let’s break this down into four bite-sized chunks so that you know what to look for when you are at home trying to fathom where your dog is in her cycle.

Stage 1: Proestrus is when your dog’s body is getting ready to mate. It averages 9 days but can last anywhere from 3 to 17 days. Her vulva will swell, and you may notice a bloody discharge. During this stage of the heat cycle, your dog will be attractive to a male, but she will not be happy to be mated.

Stage 2: Estrus this is the mating phase and usually lasts around 5 to 7 days. Blood flow will slow and then stop, and the discharge changes to a straw colour. Your dog will be open to being mated during this phase.

Stage 3: Diestrus follows Estrus and is the phase when your dog’s body will either proceed with the pregnancy or return to normal, as her vulva returns to its usual size and the vaginal discharge disappears.

Stage 4: Anestrus is the resting phase between seasons.

socialising puppies after lockdown

Seasons can be messy and shutting your dog away from the family to prevent unwanted mess can affect her mentally. During a time when she is feeling hormonal and anxious, she can feel excluded and confused. There are various sanitary products that you can utilise to keep your home and clothing clean while she is passing blood. (Insert product link?)

Will her behaviour change?

Estrus is the phase you need to spot, the middle phase in the season. You will see some changes in her behaviour, as well as the physical changes mentioned above.

Your bitch maybe clingy, flirtatious and even look to seek a mate herself. You will notice increased instances of anxiety, they can become worried about being left alone, and separation anxiety-type symptoms start to affect even the most confident of females. Aggression and intolerance towards other dogs are also common, and often females can have an increased appetite.

Remember, each dog is different, and each season can be different.

False or Phantom Pregnancy

A phantom pregnancy may occur regardless of whether she was mated during her season. You would likely spot the first signs a few weeks after her season when your bitch may display nesting behaviour and will often carry toys or random items around as if they were her puppies.

This can be a stressful time as often females will produce milk as though feeding puppies. Phantom pregnancies will generally resolve on their own after two to three weeks. However, when a female has suffered with this condition once it is likely it will happen again. Neutering is the recommended course of action.

Managing walking

Walking a female when she is in season involves planning around when and where there are no other male dogs around or it could become a challenge for both sets of owners. Keeping her on the lead is the only responsible course of action, remember, she may seek a mate herself! A good alternative for walks during this period is enrichment games, brain training games and scent work activities.

If your female is accidentally mated by a dog DO NOT try and separate them. If the dog has tied with her, you will injure them both. If this happens then seek veterinary attention for a course of mis-mating injections to halt the development of the pregnancy.

There are sprays available to put an entire male “off the scent” but an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy in an immature female is not worth the risk, so make sure you walk in a secure, dog free area and keep your in-season bitch on the lead.

How do I know when the season has passed?

You will know the season has passed and that it is safe to start walking again once her physical symptoms have passed, usually after three weeks. Her vulva will return to its normal size, the bleeding will stop, and all signs of the season will disappear.

Wouldn’t a litter of puppies be nice?

There is no benefit to the bitch having her go through a pregnancy because ‘it would be nice for her to have a litter before she is neutered’. There are plenty of unwanted dogs in rescue centres without adding to them! Breeding dogs is a huge responsibility and one that pet owners should swerve!

Spaying your pet when she is physically ready is the simplest course of action to avoid this micromanagement being an ongoing issue. Females can be spayed three months from the end of their last season. This is the safest time for the operation to take place as all the blood vessels to the reproductive organs will have shrunk back to their normal size reducing the risk of haemorrhage during surgery.

This article is a kindly contributed by Rebecca Walters of Pupstarts Breeders, dedicated to the promotion of ethical dog breeding practices. Originally published on Dogs Today‘s September 2022 edition.

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