It’s becoming more common in North America not to spay or neuter a dog until they’re “fully developed” as it’s finally being recognized that the previous recommendations to spay at 6-8 months, before a dog goes through a heat cycle, is not generally healthy. Rescues tend to spay even earlier, some as early as 8 weeks! Reasoning is that early spaying prevents unplanned mating and litters and the unwanted dogs that end up killed in shelters. While this is still an issue in some locations, it’s also quite easy to prevent unwanted pregnancy in a pet dog so I wrote this to help out owners that may be nervous about managing a dog in heat.
So why wait?
Waiting until the dog reaches puberty is now generally recommended so the dogs can naturally develop with hormones from their sex organs. This is proven to reduce cancers, orthopedic issues, behavior issues, urinary incontinence, however increases the chance of mammary tumors and cancers, as well as testicular cancer (just the same as removing the breasts will remove the chance of breast cancer). A study with Vizslas in particular show that neutered dogs (between 6 and 12 months) had significant higher chances of mast cell cancer, lymphoma, all other cancers, fear of storms, and those before 6 months had increased chances of a behavioral disorder.
I chose to wait with Whiskey and paid for an OSS spay (more about that here) that keeps an ovary so she still has her heat without bleeding. Whiskey went through several heats before her surgery. With Bourbon, the advice from my vet now is not to undergo an unnecessary surgery if possible so we will wait until there is a reason to.
Owning an intact dog is definitely more hassle and work. Not only do you need to keep a close eye on a female in heat, but you need to deal with bleeding, a potential change in personality, and it can be extra challenging around other dogs. At first I was quite overwhelmed with the process, but after a heat I didn’t find it difficult to deal with.
A Vizsla’s heat cycle
A female Vizsla’s first heat can be anywhere from 8 months to 1.5 years old but typically 10 months to 1 year (this changes in breeds, typically depending on weight/size). After the first heat, their heat cycle is usually between every 6 months to a year. Whiskey had her first heat just after she turned 1 year old, and Bourbon just before her birthday. I believe Bourbon was first out of her sisters. Bourbon’s heat cycle is every 6 months, just like her mother, and Whiskey is once a year. It takes a couple years for their cycles to regulate so be patient. The first heat is NOT usually typical of the rest of them. Ask your breeder about your dog’s mother’s heat and you might get a hint of what may happen!
With Whiskey I had lots of signs before her first heat (about 2-3 weeks notice), with Bourbon there was none and it’s always been a surprise. Whiskey is more in tuned with her emotions and body, while Bourbon is a little bit of a jackrabbit with a small attention span and is harder to read.
Whiskey’s signs at the beginning of her heat (before bleeding)
- Less appetite, skipping meals
- More socializing, interest in saying hi to dogs (both female and male)
- Dogs are more interested in sniffing
- Swelling of vulva
- licking her genitals
- marking (pee marking everywhere)
- Nothing, then SURPRISE
Other signs your dogs might have
- Change in behavior (clingy, sleepy, personality change)
- Aggression to male dogs
Changes during a dog’s heat
I never noticed a behavioral change in either of my girls although it’s been regularly reported that Vizslas in particular will get VERY extra Velcro and needy. They can be uncomfortable, moody, basically just like human females and need extra emotional support. The big difference I’ve noticed is that my girls are very social especially with good looking males! Whiskey is a gigantic flirt, however it’s not with every male. She is particular with her ‘type’ and will be very upset at unwanted advances from the ‘wrong’ dog.
Whiskey will ask to go outside to mark and look for males during her heat, and will wander further and approach dogs (she normally never approaches dogs) and show them her rear. It’s very common for dogs to be more tired and uncomfortable but I haven’t noticed that with either of my girls. We continue our regular hikes and walks (just further away from others) and I do not notice a change in energy although it’s very common.
Bleeding and diapers
Bleeding is possibly the largest annoyance you’ll have to deal with, unless you own a male unfixed dog. Depending on your living conditions, you could just lay out blankets in a crate or bed and change those frequently. Vizslas keep themselves very clean and you might be surprised how little you have to clean! I’ve also heard it can be more comfortable to air out and not wear a diaper all day long if it’s not needed.
On the other hand, diapers are very handy if you do not have a large uncarpeted area for your dog, or you are sleeping together in a car or tent (camping is extra awkward!). My girls will bleed for about 3 weeks, the last week turning less bloody and more clear. This last week when the blood stops, is actually the most fertile point and you need to be extra cautious of meeting males. You’ll also notice your girl ‘flagging’ with her tail to the side when she meets other dogs (or smells them). Keep your dog supervised the entire heat, but keep an even more close watch (and tighter leash) during the stage when they flag because this is when they may escape and when they are most fertile.
We’ve tried 3 types of diapers. The first were home-made, just an old pair of panties tied tight with a hole for her tail and a panty liner. This…was a bit of a mess and Whiskey could escape from them easily. The second was a store-bought one and I put liners in (brand was Seasonals), and the third, my favorite is a washable one with built in liners (see photos).
Because our dogs have such a skinny stomach and slim buttocks, you may need to size down if the diapers go by weight of dog. I ended up sewing extra velcro onto the diapers because Whiskey was so skinny. The important thing to remember is to take the diapers off before they go outside otherwise they’ll pee in it. This isn’t too hard to remember but can be quite the game when you’re camping and your dog jumps in and out of the tent all night long.
Camping with your dog in heat
Because we camp in an area with bears, cougars, and coyotes, blood needs to be contained and sealed off. I take freezer ziplock bags to put used liners in, and then put the ziplock bags into drybags and everything is stored with our food and garbage overnight (100m+ away hung on a tree or in a buried bear bag). I will also bring dog wipes to deal with cleaning, extra water, and lots of panty liners. Even if the diapers have built in liners, it’s more efficient to bring liners than 4 pairs of diapers if you need to carry in and out. Bourbon sleeps inside my sleeping bag the diaper needs to fit very well! I’ve done 3 camping trips with Bourbon in heat, in 3 different tents without issue.
Males and interactions with dogs
During the heat, both females and males will be very interested in sniffing my dogs. I normally walk in quieter locations but during heat, will flat out avoid certain places that may have more dogs. I will always ask (if I cannot see) if a dog is female or male, fixed or intact before they meet. Whiskey can be very aggressive in flirting with a dog so if the dog is small, or shy, or finds her advances unwanted, we stay away and are leashed.
Whiskey will flirt with all dogs, female or male, and even old seniors so I really need to control her around others! Bourbon’s still very new and is not spayed (Whiskey has her OSS spay) so I do not entirely know her personality during her heat around other dogs. Her first heat she showed no interest in males she met (very few, none intact) but her second heat she was singing to the boys (she stayed at her breeder with intact males). No matter what, keep your dog under control and supervise them even in a fenced yard (dogs can mate between fences).
The easiest thing if you have an unfixed male living with you, is to see if someone can take your male for a couple weeks. If not, separate them in different rooms or crate one at a time. If there are several males in a household, they can lose their appetite and fight amongst each other so you might need to separate the males from each other too. It goes to say, do not let your female in the yard unattended, do not let your males out together unattended.
My experience with my girls in heat
When I lived in the city, I would drive 45mins away for off leash walks on extremely quiet trails and wake up earlier for city walks. I don’t mind letting Whiskey say hi to other dogs on leash that are fixed, but under no circumstances do we allow humping (from any dog, regardless of sex or neutering). Even though Whiskey is spayed, she can still tie and that can be traumatic and physically painful for her. We once stayed at an Airbnb cabin out of town while Whiskey was in heat and literally had the “boys” come to the yard and wait for her to come out.
Overall it’s not been too much work outside of managing diapers as the dogs run in and out of the house, car, tent, etc. Most of my friends have fixed males that do not have any interest in my girls in heat, and we do not meet too many dogs on a daily basis. I work from home now and no longer need daycare or a dog walker that insists on a spayed female (this can depend on cities and what is the norm). Some of my friends have Vizslas that have a hard time and are quite depressed or mopey but my girls seem unfazed so far (Bourbon hasn’t had enough heats for me to be sure). Whiskey has great recall even in heat, is spayed, so she’s off leash in most cases, but Bourbon has a very long range so she needs special care, more on-leash time, and remote walks.