It is one of the important topics every female labrador owner must know. Having a proper understanding of your Labrador heat cycle helps you prevent issues such as unwanted litter and miscarriages and a lot of mess.
This article is a complete guide on Labrador heat cycle which ensures that you do not face too many problems during your Labrador heat period.
Labrador heat cycle- What is this cycle?
When you say Lab heat cycle or Labrador breeding cycle or Labrador periods, all of them mean one and the same. This is nothing but your dog’s reproductive cycle and the word “heat” means that your dog is preparing its body ready for possible conception.
Almost all female labradors undergo this cycle, but unlike human females, they do not go through this cycle every month. There exists a longer gap between each cycle.
When do Labs go into heat for the first time?
When do labs go into heat?. This is a common question from many new lab puppy owners. As your female lab puppy grows, there comes an age when your puppy starts attaining its sexual maturity. Its body prepares itself for mating and giving birth to puppies. This is known as your labrador first heat or first season.
For many dogs, this generally occurs around 6 months of age, but for large breed dogs, the cycle may start later as their bodies grow slowly. Hence for a Labrador retriever, its first heat may start between 9months to 12 months of age.
But this is not a rule. I have seen labs whose first heat occured during 18 months of age. Some labradors may go even late as 24 months and it depends upon on various factors including the dog’s genetics.
How often do labs go into heat?
The way monthly cycle occurs in human females, labs heat cycle follows a particular pattern the same way. But this does not occur every month. Most of the female labradors go into heat period for every 6 months since their first season. Actually, anywhere between 6 and 8 months is considered very normal.
But this is not a norm and many female labs who went into their first season at an age of 1 year will repeat the cycle yearly only once. The occurrence of heat cycle is different for every dog. But in most of the cases, it occurs yearly twice.
It would be helpful if you get your lab examined by the Vet if there is any deviation from these cyclic patterns. Irregular heat cycles and heat cycles that occur very lately must be informed to your Vet to check the possibility of some other underlying health issue.
Anyway, you will get familiar with every aspect related to heat once you understand the labrador heat cycle completely.
Understanding Labrador breeding cycle
The labrador hormonal cycle occurs in a cycle in 4 different phases. It is necessary to understand each phase to get a complete idea about your lab heat cycle.
1. The First stage or Proestrus stage
The beginning of this stage indicates that your dog is getting ready for pregnancy. During this stage, the estrogen levels will be in its peak and male dogs get attracted to the female dog very easily, but the female dog is not sexually receptive yet.
You will observe physical signs such as swelling of vulva and beginning of bloody discharge from the vulva. This stage may last for 9 days or more approximately.
2. Fertile stage or Estrus stage
This is the “Actual heat” stage. During this stage, your dog is fertile and follows its bodily instincts to mate. The estrogen levels in the body reduce and the progesterone levels rise high. The bloody discharge decreases and its color changes to straw color.
As your dog is sexually receptive during this stage, there is a high urge to mate and your dog tries constantly to find its mate.
3. Dioestrus stage
This stage occurs after the mating stage after the completion of the estrus stage. The discharge becomes usually red again and finally stops during this stage. Even though male dogs are still attracted to the female dog during this stage, your dog will be no longer willing to mate.
This stage commonly lasts for 60- 90 days or until the female dog gives birth (if pregnant). By the end of dioestrus stage, the hormonal levels become normal and the dog enters Anoestrus stage.
4. Resting stage or Anoestrus stage
This is the stage of resting or no sexual activity. This stage means that your lab is not in heat, hence this is called “No heat” stage. Your dog is not sexually attractive to male dogs and no mating occurs during this stage. This resting stage lasts for 3-4 months until the next heat occurs.
How long do Labs stay in heat?
Although there is no exact number of days, a labrador stays in the heat for 3-4 weeks approximately. This includes the Proestrus and Estrus stages and the number of days for each individual stage differs among the dogs.
Even though your lab is not willing to mate in its beginning stages of heat, it becomes sexually receptive during the later days. Even though your dog stays in heat for 3-4 weeks, your dog stays the most fertile just for a few number of days. Roughly the most fertile period may begin after 9-10 days after the beginning of the heat cycle and lasts for 5 days approximately.
Symptoms of a Labrador in heat
Keeping an eye on your lab and observing its symptoms helps you to identify if the heat cycle has started.
Although the symptoms are not clear and obvious, a lab in heat will exhibit some symptoms during its heat period that can be detected.
1. Enlarged Vulva: This is one of the visible signs that your Labrador is in heat. The vulva looks swollen and puffy and you can understand this with a normal observation.
2. Bloody discharge: This is a sure sign that your dog’s heat cycle has started. The discharge looks red colored during the initial stages of heat, later turns straw colored during its fertile stage and again becomes reddish in color.
Even though the amount of discharge is very less in some dogs, you can observe blood spots either on the dog’s bed or near its area.
3. Doggy PMS: Like female humans, mood swings occur in dogs too. Some dogs prefer to stay alone whereas some dogs want more affection from their owners. This behaviour varies from dog to dog.
4. Excessive Licking: Licking the genital area is a common behaviour in dogs. But during the period of heat, this behaviour may become excessive in order to clean its discharge.
5. Swollen nipples: Hormonal changes can cause to swell nipples a little. Although this is not a clear symptom, this symptom is slightly visible in some dogs.
6. Tail movements: During the beginning of the heat, the dog tries to cover its vulva with its tail. This is called “Tail tucking”. Sometimes it sits on the ground simply in order to avoid male dogs coming nearby to mate. When the female dog gets ready to mate, it disperses its body scent by lifting its tail up and moving it side to side. This is called “Tail flagging”. These kinds of tail movements can be observed in your female labrador during the heat.
7. Other behavioural changes: You may observe changes such as urinating more frequently, nervousness, agitation, nesting behaviour, collecting toys and appetite changes. These changes are different for different dogs. All dogs do not exhibit all these behavioural changes.
Sometimes you may also observe your female dog mounting on other dogs and people. This kind of behaviour is also observed in some dogs during the heat cycle.
8. Flirting male dogs: Male dogs are capable of identifying a female dog in heat even from a distance. When your female dog is in heat, you observe male dogs roaming around your house and in your yard. If you notice many male dogs trying to roam around your female dog, it can be considered as a clear sign that your dog is in heat.
What about Labrador first heat and Mating?
I have seen labradors which became pregnant during its first heat itself. A labrador is capable of mating during first heat itself, but that does not mean it is a good idea. During the Labrador first season, even though the dog is sexually active it is not completely mature both physically and biologically. Hence mating during the first heat itself increases the risks of pregnancy and other health-related risks.
As a thumb rule, a female labrador should not be bred until it is physically mature. As our labradors come under the category of large breeds, they are not completely matured until 18-24 months of age.
Then what is the best labrador breeding age? Considering the above factors the perfect breeding age would be around the third heat cycle.
As breeding a dog comes with huge responsibility, it is a better option to avoid mating during the first and second heat cycles.
What to do when your dog is in heat?
Raising a female labrador? It means you have more responsibility, especially when your dog is in its heat.
Not providing proper care and attention during its heat cycle may result in unwanted pregnancies, more distress to your dog and various health problems for her.
When your female labrador is in heat, you may either choose to mate her or postpone mating for its next season depending upon the condition her body.
When you choose to mate your Female Labrador
If you choose to mate your labrador it is important to consider various factors before mating her. Proper mating at a proper age can ensure a healthy litter and also a healthy mother. It is always better not to mate your female labrador during her first heat. Your dog has to be physically, biologically mature fully before its mating.
Understand the labrador heat cycle and mate your dog during its fertile period. Check the health condition of the male labrador completely and be cautious about possible genetical conditions.
When you choose not to mate your Female Labrador
If you wish not to mate your female labrador, you should provide proper care to your lab to avoid things that are messy during its heat cycle.
Protection from Male dogs
Female dogs release pheromones during the heat period which are strong enough to attract male dogs even from longer distances. Hence do not leave your female labrador alone in the garden or yard.
Do not trust the fences, as the strong urge to mate makes the male dog jump off the fences easily.
Unexpected mating can cause unnecessary problems such as unwanted litter and other complications. Hence it is very important to keep male dogs away from your female labrador during its heat cycle.
Keeping your female lab indoors
It is better to avoid public parks and dog shows during your dog’s heat period. As it is difficult to stop other male dog’s efforts to mate your dog, it is always better to avoid public places where you find other male dogs.
Providing proper exercise and rest
When your labrador heat cycle has started, it does not mean she must not exercise. Some dogs feel tired and restless during the heat cycle and during that time it needs to be given proper rest. And sometimes when your dog has enough energy to walk and play, it is always healthy to have a moderate amount of exercise.
Whether it is walking or playing, a moderate amount of exercise is necessary for the overall health of your female labrador. As outdoor activities are risky, it is better to get your dog involved in indoor activities.
Hide the trail of your female lab
Try to hide the trail of your female labrador to your house. Some breeders recommend applying menthol, eucalyptus or camphor near its tail end to mask the female dog scent. While going out you can use a vehicle to take your dog to the walking spot and drive home back, this can help to disturb the trail of your dog’s scent.
Doggy Pants can be wonderful
Bleeding is one of the problems that owners may feel uncomfortable during the heat cycle. Even though your dog cleans the discharge by itself, the menstrual cycle-bleeding may cause staining on your beds, furniture, where ever your dog goes.
Specialized Doggy pants would be the best solution for this. Some dogs may not prefer wearing these pants in the beginning. But it is easy to habituate your dog to these pants so that the house does not become messy due to bleeding.
These doggy pants even help in masking the scent of your female labrador, that helps male dogs to stay away.
During the heat cycle, some labradors have a decrease in appetite whereas some feel more hungry than usual. Whether your lab is hungry or not hungry, it is important to feed your lab nutritious food during its heat cycle.
Some dogs feel a little weak and restless, hence feeding them healthy food will help them to ease their condition.
Gift her chews and toys
Labrador heat cycle is not only about physical changes, but it also involves mental changes too. Some dogs behave anxiously during its heat cycle. As the dogs are taken out less frequently during its heat some of them get frustrated too. Hence providing your dog with proper mental stimulation can induce calmness in their behaviour.
Give your dog its favourite chews to chew and her favourite toys to keep her mentally stimulated and happy.
What about Spaying?
Spaying is another option you can consider if you never want to mate your female labrador. The necessity of spaying differs from dog to dog and spaying has to be done after evaluating all the Pros and cons of spaying.
This is a completely different topic which has to be understood in detail. Find out more about spaying your female labrador in this article.
Do dogs go through Menopause?
What about menopause in Labradors? Menopause is the pause of monthly menstrual cycles in female humans after a certain age. Dogs do not have menopause as they do not have these monthly cycles.
A labrador which crosses the age of 7 is considered a senior dog and heat cycles occurs in senior dogs too. Therefore heat cycle for a dog is a lifetime activity.
But there exist some changes in heat cycles of a dog after a certain age. Even though the dog goes through heat cycles at old ages, the cycles tend to be erratic. The fertility rates decrease and the cases of unsuccessful pregnancies increase.
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