The first season most commonly occurs between 6 – 23 months of age with most dogs having their first season by the age of 14-months. The time frame can vary between dog breeds with smaller breeds sometimes occurring at a younger age whilst large breeds occurring at a later age.
Seasons last for approximately 3-weeks but can be shorter or up to 4-weeks. There are approximately 4-phases to a season with the first phase being the absence of the season or any hormones associated with it. However, towards the end of the first phase the body will begin to prepare itself for the season cycle.
During the first phase females begin changing prior to the visual signs (bleeding) of a season as the body releases hormones to encourage growth of eggs. This also serves to increase the hormone oestrogen which initiates reproductive behaviour. In some dog’s behaviour changes might be noted in the weeks leading up to a season.
In the second phase the season will begin but prior to bleeding owners often notice that the vulva will begin to swell. The vulva will continue to swell until bloody discharge is observed. During this phase (approximately the first 7-days) the female will not allow a male to mate her. She may even be very intolerant to any attention and particularly be unhappy about being sniffed. However, she will be very interesting to male dogs and some female dogs may also pay an interest. This is because the oestrogen hormones begin to release very attractive pheromones.
In the third phase the female’s behaviour will change and she will become receptive to the male. You can expect to see some abnormal behaviour such as presenting the back end and swinging the tail out of the way to demonstrate being receptive. An inexperienced female may do this to other species within the house or the owners. This can last for approximately 7-days. During this phase the dog will stand to be mated but will only have a successful mating according to her hormone levels. Once the oestrogen drops another hormone (progesterone) rises allowing the female to ovulate, this is the time she will be able to conceive. This is the time her behaviour may also become more intense. She will likely bleed for another 7-days once this behaviour has stopped occurring taking her into the fourth phase. However, the blood should change from full blood to a lighter colour or almost watery discharge. This does not mean the season is finished.
In the fourth phase bleeding stops and the progesterone continues to be produced to aid pregnancy (if pregnant). This period lasts for approximately 55-days (if not pregnant) with another hormone being produced towards the end which initiates milk.
The hormones produced during a season occur both when the female is and isn’t pregnant which can lead to false pregnancy. In a lot of cases they may even produce milk even if they are not pregnant due the hormones which has tricked even the most experienced of breeders. Progesterone hormone can become higher which can lead to aggressive behaviour in a female after a season has ended. If your dog is having a phantom you will also start to see nesting behaviour. She will attempt to create a safe area for her puppies (though non-existent) picking an area within the home. She may even dig and try to make a den outside. If your dog already has some underlying behaviour issues you may struggle more during this period.
Some owners may find changes in their dog’s usual habits including things like:
- More urination
- Changes in eating habits which might occur before blood is seen
- Collecting and mothering soft toys (if having a fake pregnancy)
- Intolerance to other animals within the home
Walks should be stopped whilst your female is in season. There is more chance of her disappearing to find a mate or attracting unwanted attention from other male dogs. Some owners report lasting dog-to-dog issues after walking an in-season female because of excess attention received. Your dog can be trained or enriched instead to keep her busy whilst in season.
Garden activities may have to be supervised if you do not have a secure garden, or, if you only have a small fence. Some females will try their hardest to escape to find a mate.
Nappies, yes or no? My personal preference is no, this is not for the dog’s best interest. The female will want to wash herself and keep herself clean.
There are a few things that can unfortunately go wrong associated with a season. Some female dogs can suffer from a prolapse which seems to be more prevalent with excess swelling. It is a really good idea to monitor your dog’s vulva to monitor if she appears excessively swollen. If she seems in pain plus excessively swollen, you should speak to your veterinarian. How do you know if your dog has a prolapse? It will be very obvious.
A young dog that comes into season, especially before it is physically ready for it may experience high levels of discomfort. You may have to speak to your veterinarian and consider pain relief for her.
Uterus infection (pyometra) can also occur after a season, so, if your dog has had a season finish then begin to have discharge again go to your veterinarian immediately. If your dog is due a season and doesn’t have one, if your dog has a weird season, go to see your veterinarian. There are 2-types of infection which can occur, open and closed. Both are a serious condition but open is the less worrying of the two. With an open infection you will see discharge, with a closed infection you will not. In this situation the female can become very ill without showing many symptoms.
Unwanted pregnancy can occur because your dogs might get creative even if you have separated a male and a female that are entire (where there is a will there is a way). Your female might escape and find a mate. Either way, unwanted pregnancy can be a real issue, have you health tested your female? Is she up to date with her preventative health? Can you afford a big veterinary bill if she needs a caesarean? Just a few things to consider.
A very common question ‘when should I get my dog neutered?’. You will get a different answer from every person you speak to. The general consensus is it can be done from 6-months, but, a lot of veterinarians (especially a few generations in) will advise to let her have a least one season. This is to aid in physical and mental development as hormones help with both of these. There are times when neutering is needed earlier than you might be happy with if she becomes ill with any of the things above. Generally, you should do your research, look at all the pros and cons of neutering along with considering the implications of the actual surgery. This way you can make an informed decision about what you should do. Personally, I always neuter my dogs and I make the decision based on each individual animal rather than having one blanket rule. One of my girls had seasons every 4-months which is abnormal. If you do the maths from the figures, I have written about above you will see that means she was never in a ‘non-hormonal state’. Therefore, she was neutered younger than I have neutered any of my other dogs. Once the hormones depleted, she was much happier and her appetite returned.