Coming into season – what does it mean?

Dog doc question 12: How do you manage your dog’s seasons?

Six of my seven dogs have been girls and I’ve never had a problem with them coming into season.  This is the term used to describe their fertile period.  With dogs, this is approximately every six months (but can vary from dog to dog) and it lasts for three weeks.  They may come into season for the first time at any time from the age of six months (although usually not till around their first birthday for collies).  The bigger the dog, the later they mature and the longer the gaps may be between seasons.

You can tell they are coming into season because they may become clingy and seem a bit fed up.  They start to get a bit possessive over toys and might take these into their bed.  Sometimes a bitch will scrabble at their bed when in season.  I usually become aware of a bitch ‘marking’ a bit more frequently when they are out on a walk, peeing at shorter intervals and more often.  She might lick herself after going out in the garden.  They can smell differently to you, if you are cuddling up on the sofa – it’s not horrible, just a change.  If you have a look at their vulva, it will become a bit swollen and more open.

The main indicator is that they will bleed.  Spots of blood should appear on the floor – dark red and about the size of 5p coin.  If you point it out to the dog she will usually lick it up and it’s quite good to make them aware of it.  Of course you will clean it up yourself as well; remember cold water is the best way to remove blood from soft furnishings.

In my experience the blood is not really an issue, but then I have lived with animals for almost my whole life, so am used to bodily fluids being deposited in my living space!  Some people find it a nuisance though and I understand you can buy some dog pants to help.

Walking with your dog in season

Once you have realised your dog is in season, you need to be more vigilant with them when you are out walking.  They usually become fully fertile around day 10 of their season and remain so until day 17.  At around this time you may notice that they become far more interested in other dogs than usual.  Your bitch might be really flirty, going up to other dogs and trying to engage them in interaction.

You don’t need to worry too much about this, (most dogs are neutered after all).  I also find that Sunny starts to ‘range’ a bit more than usual, which I need to be aware of, but she will still come back when called. You DO need to worry if your bitch starts lifting her tail when another dog is around, as this indicates the height of her fertility.  She stands still, with her tail curling up and over her back, saying “I’m ready, come and get me!”

Occasionally, I have met an uncastrated male on a walk when one of my girls is in season.  It is a bit daunting to be followed by such a dog, as they can be very persistent.  I might find myself shouting at them and trying to chase them away.  They are never aggressive, as they are much too interested in what they might be getting!  Of course in that situation I pop my girl on the lead and shove her between my legs if necessary.  Lots of people stop walking their bitch when she is in season, but that always seems such a shame to me – it’s not their fault after all.  As long at I feel I can still control my dog, I will take her out.

After around ten days, you should start to see the blood spots becoming paler, often described as ‘straw coloured’.  Some people use this as an indicator of fertility but it’s not a hard and fast rule.  You can take them to the vet’s for an ovulation test or take their temperature, but of course most people should not be mating their dog anyway, so it’s not important.

Phantom pregnancy

Another issue to be aware of when having an unneutered bitch is that they may have a phantom pregnancy after their season.  Typically, this will be a few weeks after their season.  Again, you will see their behaviour change, with them hoarding toys or food, scratching at their bed and hiding in corners.  You will probably want to get them checked out by the vet, not least to ensure that they are not in fact pregnant.  Then you will need to monitor them and wait for normality to return.  Phantom pregnancies are not common, nor particularly damaging to the dog, but can be a nuisance.  This will usually cause you to choose to have the dog spayed.

I will talk about when to neuter your dog in the next post – I’ve written enough for today!

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