Maltese dogs are known for their beautifully flowing white coat and are popular dogs with breeders. Because of their small size, pregnancy and whelping can be dangerous, so breeding is best left to experienced breeders. A male dog can smell a female in heat from up to three miles away, so predicting your Maltese's heat cycle and keeping her confined during her fertile period is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
What Is Heat?
The term "heat" is simply the name applied to the female dog's menstrual cycle. A Maltese puppy can begin heat as young as 6 months of age, but most begin around 1 year old. If heat has not occurred by 16 months, there could be a problem, and a veterinarian should be consulted. A Maltese will go into heat twice per year, for two weeks to a month each time. Spaying the dog ceases the heat cycle and also protects her from a host of reproductive cancers.
Proestrus is the initial heat stage, when the vulva swells and bloody discharge may be visible. It can be difficult to discern is some small dogs, but a Maltese's white coat will show staining under the tail, and she will pay more attention to her rear end. She may be slightly tender in the lower abdomen at this stage, so be aware of how you lift her. Although she will be secreting pheromones, she will not allow male dogs to mount her. Proestrus lasts about nine days.
During estrus, the discharge may still be present, but the Maltese will be more receptive to mating. This nine- to twelve-day period is when breeding should be attempted if the dog is to be bred. Experienced breeders will ensure that the selected stud is allowed to mount the female many times during this period to increase the odds that the pregnancy will take.
The luteal phase is when the eggs are released from the ovary to meet with the sperm from the stud. This phase can overlap proestrus and can last two to three months. If the Maltese has become pregnant, this is when the early signs of pregnancy will appear, and even if the dog is not pregnant, she may still undergo a false pregnancy. In either case, the mammary glands will begin to swell, and she will become protective of her favorite nesting area.
If the Maltese is not pregnant, she will skip from estrus to anestrus. In this stage, the hormones and ovaries calm down to prepare for the next heat. If the dog is to be spayed, this is the perfect time to do it because the reproductive tissues have returned to normal size and blood flow is back to normal.