Sometimes it happens without owners realizing it but by recognizing heats, understanding timings, and if necessary using drugs, pregnancies may be avoided.
Heat – Female dogs come on heat for the first time between 6-12 months. After this they have a heat at a regular intervals generally every 6 months. The first sign of her on heat is a swollen vulva and spots of blood. Regular inspection of this area familiarizes you with what is ‘normal’ so you can notice when things are changing. A gentle wipe with white toilet paper will soon show you the presence of blood. Most people notice spots of blood on floor or bedding as if from a cut or wound. Most bitches are on heat for 3 weeks however this can be as short as 3 days and as long as 4-5 weeks. Also young animals can also have ‘split ‘ heats just to be confusing! This heat is roughly – 1 week pre–estrus (coming on), 1 week ‘standing estrus’ (receptive to males), and 1 week going off. If you do not want a pregnancy, you should protect your dog from the possibility of getting mated for the entire 3-4 weeks. Remember straying male dogs can jump fences to get to a bitch on heat so keep them locked up.
Desexing – We are comfortable desexing dogs from 6 months of age. They are more mature to handle an anaesthetic safely at this age.
However it has now been recommended to let them have a heat first as this lets them develop better and may reduce the chances of urinary incontinence, which 1 in 6 bitches can develop, later in life. This has to be balanced with the risk of mammary gland tumors which increases with the serge of hormones at each heat. Initially this is very neglatable.
Our advice is to let them have a heat, providing you dont mind it and can keep males away, then get them fixed. Alternatively if you want to breed, get on and breed (after skipping first heat) then get them desexed.
Unwanted Pregnancy – Female dogs that come on heat have the potential to conceive to any mating. Nature dictates when they are ready however young females, having a first heat at 6-12 months are still growing and, depending on the size of the male dog and litter, they may have trouble at delivery. Depending on the stage of her heat she may or may not have conceived to the mating so there is no way to know unless with a blood test, scan or xray, generally all from 28 days ( see part 2).
The deciding questions is do you want to breed her in the future????
If yes. Your option is an expensive drug called Alizin – 2 injections 24hrs apart, given at 0-3weeks is 99% effective or 3-6weeks is 95% effective. The cost is usually higher than the cost of a desexing surgery ie spey. A follow-up scan is advisable.
The alternative is to let her have them (if she actually does conceive) but be prepared to cost of caesarian and time bringing up pups and finding homes.
If no, you may be able to get her speyed providing she is only early pregnant ie no more than 3-4 weeks after mating, but once off heat (safer).
Otherwise you have the Alizin injection or ‘letting her have them’ options, as above.
Obviously the sooner you realize she could be pregnant the more options you have. Once she is in the last 2 weeks of gestation ( total being 8 weeks) the pups are already well formed and living and you are too late to stop it.
Heat suppression/postponement – is occasionally requested when bitches are due on heat at inconvenient times like shows, holidays etc. So this is more for the convenience of the owner rather than for the dog. By giving medications we are altering the natural cycle of the dog and there is a small risk of failure to breed in the future. It is also not recommended to suppress the maiden (first) heat in a bitch.
We dont usually stock these medications, as are rarely used. In the past we have used Delvosteron injection, which is given prior to the heat and followed up 3-6 monthly. Another drug that has gone off the market is Suppress tablets which was either started on first day of heat and given daily for 8 days, or started prior to heat and given daily for 40 days. These are all prescription drugs so require a vet consultation before dispensing. Cost of medication will depend on the size of the dog.