Are you worried about managing your female Labrador when she is in season? Unsure of what to expect when she comes into heat for the first time, or what will be expected of you?
This is a complete guide to coping with your female dog during her season
We are going to take a look at the Labrador heat cycle and find out what your bitch’s season will be like.
We’ll discuss how often she will come on heat, how long it will last, and the impact it could have on her behavior, and how you care for her.
Managing your bitch in season is an important responsibility, but with a little knowledge and planning, it shouldn’t have to cause you too many problems.
When Will My Female Lab Have Her First Season?
If you have brought a female Labrador puppy into your home, you will probably at some point have to deal with her coming into season.
Many vets now prefer to wait until after a Labrador’s first season to spay, so even if you are planning on having her neutered you will need to manage at least one season beforehand.
Your unspayed Lab will likely have her first season any time from six months of age onwards.
The average age is between nine and twelve months. Some large breed female dogs won’t have their first heat until as late as eighteen to twenty-four months old.
How Often my Labrador go into Heat?
Your female Lab’s season will normally form a fairly regular pattern. Although the pattern may vary widely from dog to dog.
Space in-between seasons will usually be somewhere between every six months and annually.
One of our girls is every six months like clockwork. Another has only one season per year.
An eight to ten-month cycle is longer than average but still considered to be normal, and occasionally a bitch will come into season every three or four months.
Although variations in heat cycles are normal, it is a good idea to chat to your vet if your bitch’s heat cycles are very different from the average six-monthly interim, and especially if they suddenly change to a new pattern.
This is just a precaution in case there is an underlying health issue that needs looking at.
4 Seasons of Labrador Heat Cycle
The hormones your female dog produces as she reaches maturity set in motion a rhythm or pattern of hormonal balance which controls the fertility of your girl and which carries on throughout her life.
This hormonal cycle is composed of four parts
Anoestrus is the period of time when your bitch is not in season – it literally means ‘no heat’. During this period your Labrador is not sexually attractive to male dogs and she cannot get pregnant.
Proestrus is the first part of her heat cycle. The time when her uterus (or womb) is being prepared for pregnancy. This is the part where her vulva swells and she starts to bleed and you become aware that she is on heat.
During proestrus, your female dog will be attractive to male dogs but not yet likely to willingly permit a male dog to mate with her.
Oestrus is the second part of the heat cycle. This is when your bitch becomes fertile. At this point, her bloody discharge may become paler and more watery, and your bitch will probably be willing to stand and allow a male dog to mate with her.
Indeed she may be very flirtatious and encouraging to male dogs and some bitches will actively seek to escape from your premises to find the boy dog of their dreams.
Dioestrus is the part of the cycle following oestrus and a wild dog will almost always embrace pregnancy and whelping.
In domestic dogs, we usually prevent pregnancy. Most bitches never have puppies, and during dioestrus, the hormonal levels of progesterone in the dog which would normally support a pregnancy can cause problems.
False pregnancy and infections of the uterus (pyometra) are very common during this period.
At the end of dioestrus, your bitch’s hormones fall and she returns to anoestrus again, until the next season comes along.
Signs your Female Labrador is in Heat
There are usually some clear signs when your bitch is in season, but it is not always obvious so if you think she might be approaching that time you need to keep an eye on her.
Physical appearance and swelling
The first thing you are likely to notice is that your female dog’s vulva (external genitalia) becomes very swollen and puffy. It may be literally three or four times its normal size.
Together with a bloody discharge, these symptoms tell you that your girl has come into season.
As your girl moves into her fertile phase, the bleeding may stop or become more watery
Although you might expect the main sign to be profuse bleeding, it isn’t always obvious. In fact, sometimes all you will see are very small markings on the floor or in the dog’s bed.
Increased cleaning and licking
Most Labs are very good at keeping themselves clean. Which can provide another good sign that she is in season. If she is swollen and she is licking her genitals considerably more than usual, her heat has probably started.
A quick test
If you are not sure whether or not your Labrador is bleeding, gently wipe a piece of clean cotton wool or a white tissue over her vulva.
You’ll probably see some pink staining if she is on heat, even if she is keeping herself pretty clean.
Changes to know when your labrador is in heat
You might notice a slight change in her temperament in the few days before you see any physical signs.
These could include increased sleepiness, or her showing more of an inclination to ‘be together. Some bitches will be very clingy to their owners around this time.
Others will be more excitable than normal in response to the changes in estrogen. They may also show some odd behavior, such as cocking a leg to pee in the manner of a male dog.
Humping and flagging
Many female dogs will also hump other dogs, male or female when they are on heat. Some female dogs, especially puppies, will hump other dogs in play, so if there are no other symptoms, humping does not mean your bitch is in season.
Flagging is when she turns her tail to one side when you run your hand down her back and over her rump. This behavior usually takes place during oestrus when she is ready to mate.
How To Know If Your Labrador Is In Season?
If your female Lab is over four months old, has a swollen vulva, pink staining when you wipe her vulva with a clean white tissue or cotton wool, she is almost certainly on heat.
If you are worried or not sure, do chat to your vet over the phone, but don’t take her into his surgery without talking to him first, in case there are male dogs in the waiting room.
Your priority now is to make sure your bitch does not become pregnant. We’ll look at that in a moment
How long Labrador seasons last?
Your female Labrador’s season will last approximately three to four weeks. The time that she will ovulate is about ten days to a fortnight in.
At this point, the color of her discharge may change from pink to colorless and her flagging will increase.
How long a female dog spends in each stage of her heat (proestrus and oestrus) varies widely from dog to dog. On average oestrus begins 7-10 days after the start of your girl’s season, but you simply cannot assume that she will be average.
Without getting your vet to carry out tests, it is very difficult to tell exactly when your girl is fertile, and for that reason, you have to assume she could get pregnant at any point after the first symptoms of heat appear and for the next three to four weeks.
Keeping track of your Labrador heat cycles
It is a very good idea to record the date in your diary when your bitch comes on heat, and make a note that she may come on heat again in about six months.
That way you’ll be prepared and ready to look out for the signs in the future. Many bitches do have a regular pattern to their cycles, which you will be able to spot with careful record keeping.
Can My Female Labrador Have Puppies in her First Season?
There is a risk of pregnancy during any time that your bitch comes into season. Including the very first time.
If she is on heat, she will be susceptible to male advances and may conceive if mated. But this does not mean that this is a good idea.
Most Labs are still puppies, very young and physically immature at the time they have their first season, and it is not good for them to be mated at this stage. There is also a greater risk of problems during whelping if they do conceive.
If this is only her first season, your young Labrador Retriever is likely to still be far too immature to cope with a litter of puppies or to show good maternal instincts.
You will also find that some of the health tests you will need to have carried out to ensure the future safety of your dog’s puppies cannot be screened by this point.
If you are thinking of breeding from your bitch at some point, do check out this article for more help and guidance on making the right decisions.
Things to do when Labrador comes into Season?
There are several important aspects to managing your dog on heat.
- Preventing pregnancy
- Caring for your bitch, and your home during her season
- Ensuring your bitch remains healthy in the weeks afterward
Let’s take pregnancy first
How to prevent your female dog from getting pregnant
A serious word of caution is required if you are intending to keep an entire male dog with an un-spayed girl.
During her season they will need to be kept completely apart, ideally in a different house! Here’s why.
Separating your own dogs while your bitch is on heat
You can try and separate your dogs at home using barriers such as tall dog gates or closed doors but this is fraught with difficulty and very risky. It is also very easy to underestimate just how high a dog can jump if he really wants something special!
It is amazing just how quickly dogs can mate when you don’t want them to, and it only needs one person to leave the door open for a couple of minutes.
Male dogs may become distressed
Your male dog will be able to tell that his female friend is on heat, and will be even more keen than normal to be in her company.
He may scratch and howl at the doors between them relentlessly, or pace up and down whining.
This is both stressful for you to watch and listen to, and upsetting to both of your dogs.
Will brother and sister dogs mate?
YES! Please note, that dogs have no concept of ‘incest’.
The fact that your dogs are brother and sister will not prevent them from mating and if they do mate, any puppies will be greatly at risk from inherited diseases due to their similar genetic make-up.