Why Do Dogs Give Off a Smell When They Are in Heat

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Introduction

You've purchased your first female dog, and you've been advised to wait until after her first heat cycle to spay her. It's definitely good advice. You're being a responsible owner and keeping her contained on your property and supervised at all times to prevent an "oops" breeding. But you can't help but notice that some of the neighborhood boys have been hanging around your yard a little more frequently, and you can't help but wonder, "Does my dog give off a smell when she is in heat?" There is definitely something happening with your female dog that is attracting all those handsome boys to a party that seems to be taking place at your house. Nature has designed the reproductive process with some powerful attractors to ensure furtherance of the canine species, and intense scent at the point of peak fertility is one of them. The nose knows when something is up. Your nose may not be sensitive enough to detect it, but your neighbor's dog can! Understanding the stages of the canine reproductive cycle can help us to understand the purpose of the smell our lovely canine ladies seem to emit several times a year.     

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The Root of the Behavior

Female dogs generally experience heat cycles up to two times annually. During these times a number of hormonal changes take place in the dog's body which can result in unique odors associated with various stages of the dog's fertility season. They are generally not obvious to human beings, but since dogs possess far more sensitive noses than we do, they are very evident to them. Nature has designed these particular smells as part of her design for canine reproduction. There are various stages of a female's heat cycle. One of the earliest stages and usually the best indicator that a female's season has begun is the presence of a vaginal discharge. In the early days of a female's cycle, the discharge is generally the color of blood and is often evidenced by little droplets found in and around the female dog's bedding or on a floor where she has recently walked or played. As her cycle progresses, the texture and color of the flow changes to more of a straw-color. It is this discharge that produces a unique smell that is quite appealing to male dogs. The discharge and the accompanying smell is nature's way of alerting male dogs to the fact that a female is fertile. Since females are only receptive to amorous male attention when they have entered the period of their cycle known as standing heat, this odor helps male dogs to detect when ovulation has occurred, and the female is ripe for conception.  

Many owners report that they have not noticed any change in smell when their female is in season, but experiences vary from owner to owner and dog to dog. Some families report that the odor is particularly strong and unpleasant. It may depend on the olfactory sensitivity of the families or the intensity of the odor of the discharge. On the opposite end of the spectrum, most male dogs are able to detect even the subtlest of hormonal changes in an intact female. Since dogs are wired with an innate need to reproduce themselves, they are equipped with sensitive nasal passages that are capable of sensing when a heat cycle is imminent. It is not uncommon to see an intact male dog crazy with lust long before there are any signs of visible discharge or swelling of the vulva. This is due to the extreme sensitivity he has been wired with to allow him to fulfill his role in the reproductive process.

Encouraging the Behavior

Sometimes female canine odors are a result of things other than a heat cycle. It is important to consider every potential problem that might be causing the scent as some of these issues can be serious, and even life-threatening if not identified and treated swiftly by a veterinarian. Pyometra is a very serious and hazardous health condition that can affect intact female dogs. It is an infection of the uterus which is primarily seen in middle-aged intact females. It cannot be overstated how serious pyometra is. Left untreated, it will lead to death. Pyometra will present as a vaginal discharge of a greenish hue, and it has a particularly unpleasant smell.  

Metritis, a condition that affects females after having whelped a litter, also produces an odor that is a cause for concern. Metritis occurs when the lining of the uterus swells due to placentas or unborn puppies that were not expelled at the time of birth. This serious medical problem typically only affects female dogs who have whelped a litter, so if your female has never been bred, metritis is not something that should cause you worry. Of course, there are always other issues unrelated to reproduction or whelping that could be troubling your female dog and causing unpleasant smells. Infections of the skin and ears, whether yeast or bacterial in nature, can cause a female dog to have a strong, pungent odor. Poor dental hygiene and anal glands that need to be expressed can also be culprits for offensive canine smells.  

Other Solutions and Considerations

Though it is not recommended to bathe a female who is in season, there are measures that can be taken to reduce the smell. This is particularly attractive to those who also have male dogs in the house as heat cycles can trigger some undesirable behavior in even the most solid and obedient of males.  

Many experienced breeders and pet owners recommend dosing a female dog with liquid chlorophyll at the first signs of heat. This method has proven to be quite effective in reducing the odor and even masking the scent to male dogs. It is not foolproof, however, and in order to have the most efficacy, timing is critical. It must be started at the very beginning of the female's season in order to be a viable scent-reducing option.

Pet stores and many online retailers also sell doggy diapers. They come in a variety of different styles from a basic cloth diaper in bright colors to tutus and skirts. Each diaper can be lined with a simple panty liner which can be easily removed and discarded as needed. This helps contain any odor. To further eliminate the scent, a small dab of Vicks VapoRub can be rubbed on the outside of the diaper to act as an odor repellent.

Conclusion

Got a stinky female dog? You're not alone! But never fear, this smell is perfectly natural for a female dog in the midst of her heat cycle. While male dogs find the smell to be very alluring, it's not such a treat for their owners. Wondering what you can do to help mask it? Follow our few simple tips to keep the odor to a minimum and the amorous neighborhood boys out of your yard!