Uh-oh, your young female dog has just hit puberty unexpectedly, and before you had a chance to spay her, now what!? Unlike humans, dogs experience heat cycles, periods of fertility which are the only time they are receptive to the advances of a male, when they can be bred and become pregnant. Heat cycles are accompanied by several unwanted symptoms. Besides the possibility of pregnancy, your dog may become agitated and have a messy red discharge from her vulva.
Usually, dogs intended as pets are spayed at 6 months of age and a first heat cycle is not common until the dog is 1 year old. However, heat cycles can occur sooner, as early as 6 months in some individuals, taking pet owners off guard before they have had a chance to get their pet spayed. So, can you get your dog spayed when she is in heat?
Can Dogs Get Fixed While in Heat?
However, there is an increased possibility of complications from vascularization in the uterine area that occurs with the heat cycle. So you might want to put it off if there is no danger of your dog being bred during her heat cycle.
Is My Dog in Heat?
Your veterinarian can confirm whether your dog is in heat and advise you on whether to proceed with a planned ovariectomy or ovariohysterectomy (spay) of your dog. If your dog is in heat and there is a likelihood she will be exposed to a male dog, she can become pregnant, resulting in unwanted puppies that may be hard to find homes for. However, spaying your dog while in heat presents some increased risk of complications from bleeding due to increased vascularization in the reproductive organs during the heat cycle. When your dog is in heat, her body is preparing for fertilization and implantation of embryos, so her uterine lining is thickened to be receptive for the puppy embryos. In addition, ovaries become swollen with the increased blood supply in preparation for the release of ovum. This increase in tissue and blood supply can make the risk of bleeding more likely during the spay procedure.
How to tell if your dog is in heat:
Red discharge or spotting from your dog's vulva; as uterine wall thickens some bleeding can occur
Increase or decrease in appetite
Increase or decrease in energy level
Licking of the genitals to clean discharge away
Slight increase in body temperature
The first heat in dogs usually starts at 1 year of age but can occur as early as 6 months, and heat cycles occur a few times annually in most individuals if left unspayed. The earlier a dog is spayed, before heat cycles have occurred, the easier the spay procedure is with the lowest risk of complications. In addition, spaying your dog prevents the risk of producing unwanted puppies that can not find homes and may end up as strays or be put to sleep.
You can read more about spaying procedures at our guides to Ovariectomy in Dogs and
How Do I Treat My Dog’s Heat?
If your dog is in heat prior to an opportunity to get her spayed, you will need to keep her separated from intact male dogs to prevent her from becoming pregnant. You can discuss with your veterinarian whether to put off the spay procedure until your dog's heat cycle is over or to proceed with it. If necessary, a spay procedure can be performed by your veterinarian, however you should be aware of the increased risk due to her estrus cycle. Extra care should be taken during the spay procedure to address bleeding. During recovery you will need to be extra vigilant for signs of complications such as hemorrhaging.
How is Heat or Estrus Similar in Dogs, Humans and Other Pets?
Cats, dogs, humans, and other mammals experience estrus cycles when a female's body prepares for fertilization by increasing the lining of the uterus to prepare for implantation of a fertilized egg that will develop into an embryo. At this time, ovaires also experience increased activity and blood supply and an egg or eggs are released into the fallopian tubes, where they can be fertilized by sperm and make their way to the receptive uterus where attachment and nourishment of the embryo(s) occurs.
How is Heat or Estrus Different in Dogs, Humans and Other Pets?
Dogs and cats experience heat cycles during their estrus, or fertile period, and are sexually receptive to males. When not in heat, female cats and dogs are not sexually active, and will not receive males for mating. This differs from humans, who are sexually active whether their estrus is occurring or not.
Mary, the owner of a mixed, medium breed female named Sadie, intends to get her spayed at 6 months of age, however an illness in the family, and demands at work, prevent her from making the arrangements for her dog’s ovariohysterectomy as planned. A few more months go by, and suddenly at 8 months of age, she notices a red discharge coming from her dog's genitals and Saide is fastidiously licking and cleaning herself to remove the discharge. After a consult with her veterinarian, Mary decides to wait a few weeks until her dog's heat cycle passes, before spaying Sadie. As she does not have any other dogs, and she can keep Sadie in the house, or out in a fenced dog run for bathroom breaks, there is little danger of her mating during her heat cycle. Mary decides not to chance their regular walks at the dog park to avoid any male suitors! A few weeks later, when her her cycle has passed, Sadie goes in for her spay procedure, experiences no complications, no more chance of puppies, and no more messy heat cycles!