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Heat cycles for breeding dogs

Here is a quick run down of how to know when your female dog is in heat. We outline the 4 distinct stages of your female dogs’ (bitch) heat cycle. Breeding dogs isn’t something to jump into likely, we would recommend you buy a few books on the topic and do your research thoroughly.

If you are considering breeding your dog, we would strongly suggest that you get your bitch thoroughly checked by a vet before you try. Also it is important to take into account the heritage of both dogs involved.

Golden retriever male & female

Stages of a dogs heat cycle

  • Proestrus: the first stage, where your dogs generally will start to have some vaginal bleeding/discharge and swelling of the vulva. Your bitch cannot get pregnant in this stage. This stage can be as short as 1 day, or as long as 19 days. There is no easy way to predict how long it will last. On average your dogs proestrus stage will last 9 days.
  • Estrus: the second stage, this is when your dog is most fertile for breeding. Depending on your dog this window for breeding can be as big as 21 or as little as 4 days. Your dogs discharge will become a lighter redder colour, even to a light skin colour . This is when most experts say your dog is ready to be bred. Your dog will also start to flag, this is where she will lift her tail high, and start to rub her anus around the garden or house. Ovulating occurs during the estrus stage.
  • Metestrus : the third stage, is where the dogs uterus readies itself for the pregnancy. If your dog does get pregnant the entire stage can take up to a week until the fertilised egg attaches to the uterus wall. If fertilisation does not occur your dog will go into the anestrus stage.
  • Anestrus : the fourth stage, this is the longest stage (up to 5 months) where you dogs returns to a stage of “in between heats”.

Notes about Breeding

  • It is important to note that these time lines are just guidelines. As with human women, dogs too can vary from dog to dog. Even similar breeds are know to have varying cycle lengths. One important note is that larger dogs can have a delayed first heat cycle and can occur any time up to an age of 12 months.
  • The good advice of letting your dog have a litter before spaying her has been disproven in recent years. If you are planning on spaying your dog, we recommend you do it as soon as possible. Doing it sooner, rather than later avoids complications in the surgery and there are possible health benefits (lower risk of mammary tumors or pyometra) for doing it before her first cycle. Talk to your vet about the advantages. Spaying of dogs can happen as young as 4 – 6 months, and should be discussed with your vet.

Dog gestation period

A typical gestation period for a dog is about 63 days or 9 weeks. Like with humans there can be a range, this is typically from 58 days up to 65 days. Both large and small dogs tend to have a 9 week gestation period. Before 60 days would be classed as preterm delivery.

It isn’t always easy to tell if your dog is pregnant until the later stages of the pregnancy, in all cases it’s recommended you bring your dog to the vet to be checked.

When can a dog first get pregnant?

Dogs can get pregnant from their very first heat / estrus cycle, this typically happens around 6 months of age.  Smaller dogs can have their first heat cycle earlier. If you are not planning on breeding your dog you should talk to your vet about when is the best time to spay your dog. 

Distance between heat cycles

A typical dog will have 2 heat cycles a year. Some smaller breeds have been known to have 3 cycles in a 12 month period and larger breeds like an Irish wolfhound may only have one. A dog’s regular heat cycle might be delay post pregnancy. Female dogs can have heat cycles for their entire lives, although they may become further spread apart.

If you intend to breed your female dog you should discuss things like heat cycles from the breeder. Often these traits go from mother to daughter. 

Please check out our stud dogs page for a listing of dogs for stud in Ireland.
Updated on April 22, 2021

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