As your female dog matures from a puppy into an adult dog, she'll experience her first heat cycle, which will be the first of many to come. If you want to prevent your dog from becoming pregnant, you need to stop these heat cycles from occurring. How frequently your dog goes into heat and how early depends on many factors. While the only way to stop the heat cycle is to have your dog spayed, there are a few other options to consider.
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Dog heat cycle
A heat cycle, also known as an estrus cycle, refers to the period in which a female dog is fertile and can become pregnant. Dogs usually have two heat cycles a year, although this can vary among breeds and individual dogs, with some dogs only having cycles once a year or less.The first heat cycle can happen anywhere between 6 and 24 months of age, which also depends on each dog.
The most obvious sign of estrus is vaginal bleeding, although dogs also experience swelling of the external vulva. While your dog is in heat, you'll need to have some dog period diapers around to contain her messy vaginal discharge. Expect to have enough female dog diapers to last for around 10 to 14 days, which is the average length of a dog's estrus cycle.
Medication to stop a dog's heat cycle
If you are not ready to sterilize your dog, your veterinarian can prescribe a female dog heat medicine to suppress her estrous cycle. These drugs include gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists and are available as subcutaneous implants or injections. Although primarily for use in male dogs, many veterinarians will use these medications off label for female dogs to stop their heat cycle for six to 12 months.
Other tablet-based drugs, such as the progestin megestrol acetate, are given to dogs during their second heat cycle to stop the cycle and delay the next one for up to six months. These drugs are not long-term solutions, though, and shouldn't be used for more than two consecutive heat cycles. They also have side effects, including mammary enlargement, changes in personality, and weight gain.
A liquid medication, mibolerone, is an androgenic steroid that will stop your dog's heat cycle if you give it to your dog a month before her heat cycle begins. You can only use this medication for up to two years, and it has many side effects, including incontinence, aggression, and vaginal discharge. Plus, it isn't safe for dogs with kidney or liver problems and certain dog breeds, like Bedlington terriers who are genetically predisposed to chronic progressive hepatitis. That's because this medication can increase mineral deposits in the kidneys, elevate liver serum enzymes, and cause jaundice in dogs with liver or kidney issues.
Stop the heat cycle permanently
If a dog is not intended to be used for breeding, she should be spayed before her first heat cycle to prevent heat cycles altogether. This will prevent any surprise pregnancies and litters of puppies for your dog.
Because it's hard to predict when the first cycle will occur — and to avoid accidental pregnancies — it's usually best to spay a dog by the time she's 6 months of age. Note that some breeds mature more slowly than others, especially larger ones, so speak to your vet to determine when it is best to spay your dog.
Why stop the heat cycle?
Spaying provides many health benefits for your dog because the uterus and ovaries are removed. For example, spayed dogs can't develop pyometra, a rather common and life-threatening infection of the uterus.
Aside from helping prevent pyometra, stopping the heat cycle has other benefits. For example, spayed dogs have a lower risk of developing cervical and mammary tumors. They are also less likely to develop uterine and ovarian cancers.
Dogs who are in heat will repeatedly try to escape to mate with a male dog. Female dogs urine-mark around the home to attract a mate. These behaviors can be troublesome and even dangerous for your dog if she does manage to run off. Stopping your dog from going into heat will usually eliminate these concerns.
- VCA Hospitals: Estrus Cycles in Dogs
- VCA Hospitals: Pyometra in Dogs
- Canine Journal: What Are The Benefits Of Spaying And Neutering Your Dog?
- K9 of Mine: Birth Control for Dogs: How Does it Work?
- Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs: GnRH Agonists & Antagonists
- North Shore Animal League America: Benefits of Spaying or Neutering Pets
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