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Can My Senior Dog be in Heat?

Brown mother dog surrounded by puppies, outdoors.

Many people think that canines stop going into heat as they grow old, but that’s not true. The truth is that your senior dogs can keep having a season throughout their lives. However, the duration between them will increase and the fertility will decrease. Keep reading to learn how you can find out that your senior dog is in heat.  

What is a Heat Cycle?

A heat cycle is the reproductive phase of female dogs in which they are ready to get pregnant. It happens every 6-9 months in all intact dogs and lasts for up to 4 weeks. During this period, you will notice a bloody vaginal discharge and the duration of this bleeding can vary. Some canines bleed for 10 days while others can keep discharging blood for up to 27 days.

Signs that Your Senior Dog is in Heat

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The following indicators can be used to tell that a female dog is ready to reproduce.

  • Bloody vaginal discharge
  • Swollen vulva
  • Changes in tail position
  • Uncharacteristic nervousness or aggression
  • Excessive urination
  • Unusual marking
  • Excessive licking of genitals

A lot of these signs are common with some serious medical conditions. For example, excessive peeing can be a symptom of kidney disease or diabetes. Similarly, your senior pup may have developed Pyometra if there’s blood coming out from her vagina. Hence, it’s highly recommended to take your dog to the vet as soon as you observe these changes. 

Phases of a Dog’s Heat Cycle

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The first heat cycle occurs anywhere between 6 months to 1 year. After that, these cycles will keep occurring throughout a dog’s life. The entire cycle can be divided into the following 4 stages.

Proestrus

This is the first phase of the cycle, and it usually lasts for an average of 9 days. However, it can range anywhere from 0 to 27 days. During this period, the body of your dog is prepared for pregnancy and you will start noticing blood-tinged vaginal discharge. The estrogen levels will rise significantly and you will notice a swollen vulva. Although male dogs will be attracted, the female won’t be receptive at this stage.

Estrus

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It is the active stage of the heat cycle during which a female dog is ready to mate. Estrus also lasts for about 9 days (on average), but it can have some variations as well. In this phase, the estrogen levels will peak before dropping when your dog has ovulated. After that, the bleeding will decrease and the discharge will become pinkish as progesterone levels start to increase.

Female dogs will be very active during this period and try to attract male companions. The pheromones in their pee help them achieve this goal. However, they will be aggressive towards female canines and you must keep that in mind. 

Diestrus

This phase begins immediately after estrus and lasts for almost 2 months. If your female dog is pregnant, you can expect some newborn puppies in about 60-63 days. The progesterone levels will increase to their peak during the first 3-4 weeks of this stage. After that, they will start decreasing irrespective of if your dog is pregnant or not. As she reaches the end of Diestrus, the hormone levels of your dog will be at their minimum.

Anestrus

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The last stage of a dog’s heat cycle goes on for about 4 months. It is a recovery phase during which the uterus of your canine is prepared for the next cycle. The hormone levels will stay low throughout this phase.

How to Prevent a Senior Dog from Going in Heat?

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If you have decided that you don’t want to breed your senior dog, you can use surgical intervention to spay your pooch. It will prevent any unwanted breeding. Also, it will save you from the hassle of dealing with the signs of the heat cycle. The two procedures that are used for this purpose are listed below.

  • Ovariohysterectomy (OVH)
  • Ovariectomy (OVE)

Although both of these techniques are used, OVE has become more popular in recent years. This is because it only involves the removal of ovaries while the uterus is also removed in OVH.  You can consult your vet to determine which of these methods will be more beneficial for your senior dog.

How Often Does a Senior Dog Go In Heat?

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Female dogs go into heat every 6 months after their first cycle. However, this time can increase to up to 9 months as a canine gets old. Experienced owners will find it easier to identify the onset of this period. It will help them to take good care of their pooch during this phase.

Keep in mind that the heat cycle is also dependent on the size of the breed. Smaller breeds can be in heat for 3-4 times a year in their youth while larger canines will only go into heat once a year.

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