The German Shepherd heat cycle is a critical stage in their development that begins when they are an adolescent and continues through adulthood. If you are a first-time owner, it is extremely important to know the ins and outs of this cycle so that you can be prepared. This complete guide will walk you through each stage so that you know what to expect and how to care for your dog during puberty.
A female German Shepherd’s heat cycle usually begins when they hit puberty at around 6-12 months old. It normally lasts about 21-28 days. The total process consists of 4 different stages. A GSD will go through approximately 2 heat cycles per year.
During a German Shepherd’s reproductive cycle, the female will attempt to find a mate for reproduction. There will be several different stages along the way to be aware of. Knowing what each one means will help you care for and comfort your GSD at each and every step in their journey to adulthood.
German Shepherd Heat Cycle Stages
A German Shepherd’s reproductive cycle, or “canine estrous cycle,” is made up of 4 main stages. They are proestrus, estrus, diestrus and anestrus. During each of these stages, your GSD will go through various changes.
These changes will affect their behavior, hormones and physiology including their vaginal region which is one of the main indicators that they are in heat.
This is the first stage in the reproductive cycle and the easiest way to recognize that your dog is in heat.
Your GSD will begin to be attracted to males but not receptive yet to mating. Her body will start to prepare for ovulation and her estrogen levels will rise.
The first signs of proestrus include a swollen vulva and a blood-tinged discharge coming from the vagina. The female may lick her genitals excessively.
Behavior wise, your dog may act aggressive towards the opposite sex but be clingy towards you. She may also keep her tail close to her body.
On average, this stage lasts around 9 days but can be shorter or longer even taking as long as 3 to 4 weeks.
This is the second stage in the heat cycle and signifies that the female is fertile and ready to mate. She will be attracted to males and searching for her mate.
The vulva will still be enlarged but softer than it was in the proestrus stage. Estrogen levels decrease as progesterone levels increase.
There should be a decrease in the amount of blood found in the vaginal discharge. The discharge will gradually become lighter turning a pinkish-red color and start to thin out becoming waterier.
Your GSD may need to urinate more often and may start marking her territory around the house on different objects or outside in the grass or on a walk.
Her behavior will be flirtatious with other dogs as she seeks for a male mate. She may attempt to hump or mount other dogs. She may exhibit signs of nervousness and turn her tail to the side.
On average, this stage lasts around 9 days but can sometimes last less than a week or up to 3.5 weeks.
This is the third stage and a “winding down” period if you will. Your German Shepherd is now no longer receptive to males.
The vulva will go back to its normal size and the vaginal discharge will once again become redder before disappearing completely.
Estrogen levels will now be low and progesterone levels will reach their pinnacle at around 3-4 weeks from the start of diestrus. Progesterone levels will then decrease until they reach basal levels at the end of this stage.
These hormonal changes are meant to facilitate the pregnancy but will happen regardless.
Your GSDs behavior will shift to being less flirtatious as her interest in finding a male dissipates.
This stage normally lasts 2 to 3 months assuming there is no pregnancy or until your German Shepherd gives birth if she is pregnant.
This is the fourth and final stage of the reproductive cycle. This is the period between diestrus and the next proestrus before the whole cycle repeats itself again.
By this stage, the vulva should be normal size with no vaginal discharge. During this time, the body will be preparing the uterus for another possible pregnancy in the future. The cytology will show basal cells.
This stage normally lasts around 4 months but that can vary depending on the dog.
Signs That Your German Shepherd Is In Heat
Each stage has its own signs but here is a summary of what to look for:
- Blood-tinged discharge
- Distracted or nervous
- Excessive licking of the genitals
- Flagging – Holding tail to the side
- Frequent urination
- Swollen vulva
Any of these signs could be an indicator but most of the time a blood-tinged discharge is the first sign owners will recognize.
German Shepherd Heat Cycles Per Year
The number of heat cycles that your GSD has per year will depend on their size. Most German Shepherds have them every six months or twice a year.
Occasionally, large dog breeds like the Bernese Mountain Dog or GSD will only go into heat once a year. Additionally, some other breeds like the Alaskan Malamute, Basenjis and Tibetan Mastiff only go into heat once a year.
Giant dog breeds like the Great Dane have the longest anestrus periods and may only go into heat once every 1 to 1.5 years.
Interesting Fact: As senior dogs age and their health declines, the time between their heat cycles increases.
When Is A German Shepherd’s First Heat Cycle?
The first heat cycle will occur when your German Shepherd reaches sexual maturity which can be anywhere from 6 months to 1 year depending on your dog and its size.
According to a lot of owners, 8-10 months seems to be the norm for most GSDs. Although some have seen it happen as late as 13 months.
Possible German Shepherd Heat Cycle Issues
Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned and your German Shepherd may have issues during her reproductive cycle or not have one at all.
Here are some issues to keep an eye out for as your GSD develops and reaches sexual maturity:
- First heat cycle never comes: It isn’t totally unusual for a female to go past the one-year mark without entering estrus. However, vets will usually start to get concerned once they pass the two-year mark. At that point, they may start to check for underlying causes.
- Incomplete heat cycle: On rare occasions, a GSD’s cycle will start but not finish. This is called a “split cycle.” When this happens, a dog will usually resume its cycle around 2 months later. This isn’t uncommon for a young female during her first cycle or two.
- Infertile heat cycle: Rarely, a dog will be infertile and not able to ovulate like normal. She may still show signs of being in heat and looking for an opportunity to breed.
- Irregular heat cycle: Sometimes a dog may miss one or two heat cycles. It can be something as simple as nutrition or stress or an underlying health issue. If this does happen, you should contact your vet to be safe. In some cases, it may be necessary to spay the female.
These are some of the most common issues but contact your veterinarian if you notice anything out of the ordinary.
How To Care For A German Shepherd In Heat?
Now that you have learned the stages and signs that your German Shepherd is in heat, let’s take a look at how to care for her during the critical estrus period of 3-4 weeks.
For the most part, your GSD will take care of her body on her own. However, she will be experiencing a plethora of emotions. So, it is good to be there for her emotionally by offering support.
Here are some good ways to give her comfort during this emotional roller coaster ride she will be going on with plenty of ups and downs:
Consider spaying your GSD:
This is a personal choice and one that you will have to make on your own. There are several pros and cons to spaying a German Shepherd. Many believe that the pros outweigh the cons.
Spaying your dog will prevent any unwanted pregnancies. It also has health benefits and increases life expectancy.
Do your research and weigh your options. Each situation is different. Science has proven that waiting until a dog is sexually mature is much healthier that doing it early on. You want to wait until they are at least 1 year of age before spaying your GSD.
Exercise but don’t overdo it:
Since your German Shepherd will be going through a lot of emotions including anxiety and stress, you want to make sure that she is still getting exercise.
However, you want her to do mild exercises so short walks are your best bet. Stay away from any strenuous activities that could disrupt her cycle.
You will want to avoid rough play, running too fast or jumping around. A couple of short 30-minute walks per day should suffice.
Make sure you use a leash and don’t let her off the leash as she could run off if she sees a male in the area. Stay away from parks or any areas where large groups of dogs or people congregate.
Give her lots of love:
If this is her first time going into heat, let her know you are there for her by giving her lots of love and attention. She may feel extremely anxious or stressed out during different stages in the cycle.
You can brush her, cuddle with her, pet her or play with her more than usual. Just don’t get too rough since she will be more fragile emotionally and physically.
She may become clingier and want to stay close by your side. All the more reason to get closer with your dog.
Keep her mind occupied:
Although her mind will be focused on attracting a male to mate with, you can distract her with some fun brain games or toys to play with.
It won’t be easy but it may help relieve some of her anxiety and stress that she is feeling for the time she is in heat.
Take her to the vet:
If you have never dealt with a dog in heat, you and your furry friend can take a trip to the vet. They can answer any questions or concerns you may have about the process.
The veterinarian can also examine your German Shepherd to make sure everything is going smoothly with her reproductive cycle.
Use dog diapers:
When you first notice the blood-tinged discharge, you may want to go buy some dog diapers to protect the floors and furniture.
Not only will they keep your GSD and house clean, they will prevent any males from penetrating your dog during her cycle.
This doesn’t mean that males won’t be attracted to her scent. But you and your dog will be much more relaxed knowing that there won’t be any unnecessary accidents.
Supervise to avoid mating:
For 3-4 weeks during estrus, males will be lurking around hoping to mate with your female. She may get aggressive with males or try mounting or humping other males.
Because of her attraction, she may attempt to run off or escape looking for males with mate with. This could result in an unwanted pregnancy. She could also get lost or stolen if she is wandering around.
For this reason, you want to make sure that you don’t let her out of your sight. Make sure she can’t escape the house or yard and always use a leash on walks.
Your German Shepherd’s heat cycle shouldn’t be anything to worry about. It is a natural process that all female dogs go through. At least now you won’t be in the dark and you can provide some comfort to your dog through each of the stages.
Remember, if you don’t want any unwanted pregnancies, you must keep your GSD away from other dogs during her 3-4 week estrus period. Dogs can be sneaky and find a way to escape or take off into the night looking for the perfect mate.
Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!
Have you ever owned a German Shepherd that has been in heat? Did you do anything extra to care for them? Do you have any extra tips or advice for new owners that may have to deal with this issue? Let us know! We would love to hear what worked for you!