A female dog's heat cycle is her body's way of saying she is ready to mate and become pregnant. The frequency of these cycles depends on several factors, including breed, age, and each individual dog. However, the most common interval is twice per year, with a cycle that lasts approximately 18 to 24 days. The most common sign that your dog is in heat is swelling of her vulva and vaginal bleeding.
While going into heat is a normal function in every female dog, it may not be something you want to deal with. Not only can female dogs in heat be temperamental, but at the same time, you have to deal with trying to keep every male dog in the neighborhood away lest your dog becomes pregnant. You may even have to break up more than your fair share of dog fights as the boys go crazy over your little girl.
Understanding Your Dog's Heat Cycle
There is only one reason why your dog goes into her heat cycle. This is that she is of child (puppy) bearing age. When she goes into her heat cycle, it simply means that she is ready to mate and become pregnant. It is a perfectly natural and normal part of your dog's life and only occurs an average of two times per year. This being said, there are two different methods you can use to prevent her heat cycles.
Spaying to Prevent Heat Cycles
If you are sure you never want your dog to have puppies, then you may be best served by having her spayed. According to leading veterinarians, your dog does not need to experience her first heat cycle before you can have her spayed.
Spaying involves surgically removing your dog's uterus and reproductive organs. It is a permanent solution that cannot be reversed. Thus, if you think you might at some time in the future want your dog to have puppies, this is not the best option.
Spaying can also help to reduce your pup's risk of mammary tumors and pyometra, which is a life-threatening infection that occurs within the uterus. Both of which can be a very good thing for your dog.
Medications to Prevent Heat Cycles
If you are not ready to say you never want your furry friend to have puppies, spaying is out of the question at this point in time. Fortunately, there are a number of medications your vet can prescribe that will stop the heat cycle.
The most common of these drugs are referred to as GnRH or Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormones and can be purchased as either an injection or a subcutaneous implant. Both of these options are available for most breeds of dogs and work with equal effectiveness for as long as you keep your dog on the medication.
These medications are highly effective at stopping your dog from going into heat. However, they also have several possible side effects. Among these are enlargement of her mammary glands, weight gain, and changes in her personality, as such this may not be a good idea.
Effects of Preventing Your Dog's Heat Cycles
Beyond the fact that putting a stop to your dog's heat cycles is the only way to stop her from becoming pregnant, there are a few more important benefits you should be aware of. For example, by preventing her heat cycles, you can significantly reduce her risk of mammary and cervical tumors. At the same time, your dog will be less likely to be subject to complications that are linked to delivering puppies.
Along with this, of course, is the fact that preventing your dog's heat cycles can help keep your vet bills down as you won't have to deal with the cost of pregnancy and with finding homes for all of the puppies your dog is capable of having.
Preventing the heat cycle will also leave your dog with less desire to find a mate, which could stop her from wandering off and getting lost, injured, stolen, or turned into your local animal control authority.
Choosing the Best Option
One of the biggest reasons why there are so many unwanted litters and animal shelters filled with puppies is the number of pet owners who don't want to have their dogs spayed. Thankfully, this is no longer the only method of preventing a female dog's heat cycle. Today there are a number of medications available that are essentially the canine equivalent of birth control pills. The big difference is that they completely stop the heat cycle in a dog, whereas in humans, the birth control pill stops pregnancy by preventing ovulation or the release of eggs.
Both of these are long-term solutions to your dog's heat cycles and the risk of pregnancy. However, the medication approach is more of a short-term solution as you can stop the medication at any time and your dog will return to her heat cycle and be able to become pregnant.