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A Newbie’s Guide to Puberty in a Female Dog

Prior to Clover, the female dogs in my life got spayed early — before or after adoption. That means I didn’t really know what I was getting into when we decided to allow Clover to go through one heat cycle, on the advice of our board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist in hopes of solving the issue of back-to-back urinary tract infections (UTIs) in our puppy-girl. Here’s how things went, these last 20-some days. (I promise, this post is NOT gross or graphic.) Female dogs in heat? Here’s what you need to know about puberty in a female dog.

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Quick Apology! First, though, a quick apology to those who subscribe to the blog via email for the weird “email verification” message that went out last week. It wasn’t a real post. You don’t need to verify anything. I was tinkering with some new book order forms on the blog, and I must have somehow triggered that strange post.

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Puberty in a Female Dog – What Surprised Me!

Here is a short list of things I didn’t know about a puberty in a female dog or as people often say a female dog going into heat:

It lasts 21 days. (Silly me, I thought maybe 7-10 days.)

It can be seriously stinky, especially during the most-fertile days. (No joke. One night, the stench coming from Clover’s crate, which is next to my side of the bed, woke me up 3 times … even though I was exhausted after a 3-day work trip.)

It isn’t just discharge. There is serious swelling. (Not just a little. A lot. Like things being 4-5 times their normal size.)

Female Dogs in Heat – What Being Careful Really Means

Friends with more experience in this whole dog fertility thing gave me good advice on how to keep Clover safe while she was going through puberty or aka being a “Fertile Myrtle,” including:

Never letting her be outside alone. (Maybe even leashed in the backyard, if necessary. Might be a chance to get a pretty leather leash to mark the occasion.

Being vigilant about keeping doors closed and gates locked to prevent escapes and / or male canines from sneaking close. (Some male dogs are downright rapists, I was told. Our veterinarian even warned that we might have male coyotes at our fence, at our doors … waiting.) You may need to beef up security with dog gates and such. Here are a couple of nice options:

Keeping Clover at home the entire time. No walks. No classes. No adventures. Instead, we played games and did tricks. And, we simply hung out a lot.

There was a lot of smiling.

puberty in a female dog

border collie smiling, best dog blog, champion of my heart, photo copyright roxanne hawn

border collie smiling, best dog blog, champion of my heart, photo copyright roxanne hawn

And sleeping. A LOT of sleeping. I read several books while Clover slept outside in the backyard. Basically, she rested while I guarded her Girl Parts as she went through the whole puberty in a female dog experience.

border collie sleeping, best dog blog, champion of my heart, photo copyright roxanne hawn

Puberty in a Female Dog – What Really Happened

We never saw a single male dog. I assume that’s a testament to the 100% neuter rate in our neighborhood (since most, if not all, were adopted from local rescue groups or animal shelters). There are at least 8 male dogs within a quarter of a mile from our somewhat rural house, and not a single one came visiting.

We never saw a single coyote. Thank goodness.

Ginko never once acted like he thought anything was different. Granted, he is 15 years old, in failing health, and neutered, but other than sniffing Clover maybe 5 seconds longer a couple of of times a couple of days at the beginning, he acted like everything was completely normal the entire time.

The discharge wasn’t a big deal. Yes, we found drips on the floor here and there, and we covered all the furniture (even more than usual) to protect it, but Clover really only had to wear “bitches britches” a little bit for few days. Clover did a good job keeping herself clean. But if you need some diapers, here are some good options:

Clover was never bitchy. She did seem a tiny bit more on alert — barking at things more easily. She did seem to feel a tiny bit under the weather — lower energy and sleeping a lot (in hiding places she’d never before slept … behind a chair, behind one set of long curtains, under the coffee table).

border collie sleeping, best dog blog, champion of my heart, photo copyright roxanne hawn

Now that it’s over, we can see her become herself again like being a wild, sofa-surfing monkey and wanting to play with toys much more. I’ll be interested to see if she continues to use her hiding spots.

About that smell. I asked around, and there’s a chance that the really huge STENCH was triggered by Clover being VERY happy to see me when I got home from my 3-day work trip. As soon as I walked in the door, she smelled really, really bad. Tom says she’d been “ripe” while I was gone, but nothing like that first day I got back … which was right during the most-fertile time.

And, the spectacular swelling? One of my pals volunteered to be my Dog-in-Heat Coach, so I peppered her with questions the entire time, seeking reassurance that everything was normal. Thanks, Cathy! I figured it was safer to ask her than to Google it. Can you imagine what might have come up if I’d gone looking for photos of the swelling? Eeek! Think “Baboon Butt” on a dog, and you’ll get a pretty good idea how drastic the appearance change was. (Happy to say things are about 90% back to normal size.)

Female Dogs in Heat – So That’s It!

We see the veterinary specialist again July 18. Once that exam is done and the test results come back, we’ll *finally* (after 11 straight months of antibiotics) drop the meds and see what happens. We’ll test again about a week after we stop the antibiotics, and then … we wait to see of our plan worked.

I’m told a lot of important things happen with the dog’s body after the heat cycle ends,
so we won’t spay Clover until the fall.
For now, we’ll just let her body and her hormones settle down.

Other than all of us feeling a little cooped up, I think we got through this process of a female puppy going through puberty pretty darn well. It wasn’t nearly as scary, not nearly the burden, that I feared.

I’m also happy because there is some evidence that not spaying female dogs too early has some long-term health benefits. When I have time, I might write more about that later.

And, the timing was perfect for things to be done and over. We start Clover’s Level 1 Foundation Agility Classes next week (after being on a waiting list since January). Stay tuned for that!

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One more thing … If you are interested in buying an autographed copy of Heart Dog: Surviving the Loss of Your Canine Soul Mate, use this new online book order form. 

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Steph S - July 13, 2015

We adopted our latest dog last August. She was at the end of her heat cycle when we got her and I was amazed at how much swelling she had in her lady parts. It is definitely not something I would want to go through again. I was so nervous about taking her out of the house! Glad Clover is through that and now you can relax too!

kenzohw - July 10, 2015

Happy to hear it worked out. I also feel it is easier to manage over time once you get the hang of it. Would you consider not to spay Clover?
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    Roxanne Hawn - July 10, 2015

    Good question, Kenzo. The answer is no, though. My adoption contract requires her to be spayed, but in addition to that, I feel like we’ve gotten some good health benefits from waiting this long, but for certain things, there are diminishing returns and greater risks if you allow even 2 heat cycles. I have seen those studies, though, that show better longevity in female dogs who are not spayed until much later, but … honestly, once was enough for me. I’m not sure I’d want to do that a couple of times a year, every year. Let’s just hope it fixes her UTI issues, and we can move on … antibiotic-free.

Lindsay Pevny - July 9, 2015

“she rested while I guarded her Girl Parts.” OMG. I love that.

I just experienced dog heat for the first time too, a few months ago with Matilda. I still took her on walks, but I had to keep them short because male dogs really would follow us.

I’ve noticed Matilda has mellowed down a little and seems more mature now, and more fluent with the way she communicates with me.

Our little puppywomen are growing up!!
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    Roxanne Hawn - July 10, 2015

    That’s interesting. We’ve been joking how pupppy-faced Clover seems now that she is feeling better. She is growing up though. At 13 months old, honestly, I’m so pleased with what a good girl she is. Yay for both of us for getting our girls through their first heat cycle.

Lauren Miller (ZoePhee) - July 9, 2015

That’s awesome that everything went so well with Clover’s first heat! I hope that her UTIs go away soon! Poor girl!
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