Seasons and Phantom Pregnancies

What does being “in season” or “in heat” mean?

Being in season or in heat is part of the natural oestrus cycle for dogs that are not spayed and is similar to human menstruation. When your dog is in season she will be able to conceive a pregnancy and will give off hormonal scents and behavioural cues to attract entire male dogs.

When and how often will my dog come into season?

Female dogs will come into season once or twice a year from around six to twelve months old. This will vary from dog to dog: some will cycle every 4 months, some up to every 8-10 months. The average age of a dog coming into season is six to eight months old.

How long does a season last?

A season usually lasts around three weeks at a time but this is again very variable from dog to dog. We would normally consider two to four weeks ‘normal’. If your dog remains in season for more than four weeks it is worth coming in for a check up to make sure there are no underlying problems.

How will I know if my dog is in season?

There are a few signs that your dog will be in season such as a swollen vulva, bloody discharge, or behavioural changes. Some dogs are very discreet with their seasons and you may not notice any discharge but they may be paying more attention to their back end than normal. You may also notice male dogs in particular paying attention to her: sometimes this may be the only indication you get!

How can I keep unwanted dogs away from my dog when she is in season?

It is important to keep a close eye on your dog while she is in season to avoid any unwanted pregnancies. Entire male dogs will be able to pick up her scent from quite some distance so it is important to keep her on a short lead and walk her at quieter times of the day. It is also important to note that male dogs who have been neutered are still fertile four to six weeks after their castration so take care if she is socializing with these dogs too.

When can I spay my dog?

Timing is very important when it comes to spaying your dog. During your dog’s season, the uterus, vulva, and surrounding tissues are inflamed which can increase the risk and difficulty of the surgery. For this reason, we advise spaying four months after the end of your dog’s first season. We also try to avoid spaying when a female is having a phantom pregnancy.

What is a phantom pregnancy?

A phantom pregnancy (also known as a pseudopregnancy or false pregnancy) is a condition which can develop  a few weeks after a season which causes the dog to feel and act like she is pregnant. The normal hormones at this stage of a cycle are very similar to those when she is actually pregnant. Usually these symptoms are mild and resolve after a few weeks but for some dogs, medical treatment and advice is recommended. You may notice signs such as swollen mammary glands, nesting behaviours or collecting and mothering soft toys. It is firstly important to consider whether there is a chance your dog could be pregnant, and if not you can help your dog by removing soft toys and blankets. Keeping her busy with lots of long walks if possible can also help to distract her. It is also important to try to avoid belly rubs as this can stimulate the mammary glands and cause your dog to think she is nursing!

If these symptoms do persist or you are noticing behavioural issues, she may need some hormone medication which can be prescribed at a vet appointment. Females that have a false pregnancy tend to do so each time they have a season so once they have recovered,  we do recommend spaying if your pet suffers with false pregnancies. 

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