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Understanding canine estrous cycles (heat cycles) can be a lot to ingest for some pet owners especially if you are a first-time fur parent.
Heat cycles may vary depending on dog size and breed. But in this post, we will focus on when Golden Retrievers go into heat and what to do about it.
A proper comprehension of when heat cycles occur, what signs to look out for, and how to manage female Goldies during heat is beneficial in many ways. It’s important to know this information if you are planning on having Golden Retriever puppies.
To have deeper insights about your Goldies’ estrous cycle, read on and write down as much information as you can.
What Is The Heat Cycle In Golden Retrievers?
The heat cycle or as it is medically known as the “Estrous cycle” is basically the reproductive cycle of non-primate species where they undergo physical and hormonal changes through which the female dog becomes sexually mature.
As mentioned, heat cycles vary depending on the size of the dog and its breed. Large breeds tend to experience their first heat a bit later than small breeds (as early as 4 months), some may show signs of heat at an early age of 6 months while others may have it as late as 18 to 24 months.
Heat cycles in dogs happen twice a year on average with an interval of normally 4-13 months having an average of 6 months (thus, twice a year).
The cycle consists of four stages: anestrus, proestrus, estrus, and diestrus (which we will tackle later on). Signs and symptoms differ as they go through the four stages.
When Do Golden Retrievers Go Into Heat
For most Golden Retrievers, the average frequency at which they go into their first heat is at 6 to 7 months old while some Goldies have it late at 18 months up to 24.
Various factors can affect the onset of the first heat which includes weight, age, proper nutrition, heat-inducing drugs, and lifestyle.
Although these factors may have minimal impact on your Goldies’ heat cycle, however, monitoring them would not only benefit their reproductive cycle but also their overall health.
Owners should also take note that some female dogs experience a “silent heat” – its signs and symptoms are minimal to none that it might go unnoticed.
Most silent heat occurs between the first and third heat cycles. The reason behind this occurrence is currently unknown.
Also, some medical conditions may affect the Goldies’ reproductive cycles such as hormonal imbalances due to thyroidal problems, cancer, and other reproductive disorders.
By the time your Golden Retriever reaches 6 months of age, they can go into their first heat, and you must monitor them for signs from time to time.
If you think you might have missed out on your dog’s heat, it is best to consult your veterinarian to run some tests and rule out possible health conditions.
Signs That Your Female Golden Retriever Is Going Into Her First Heat
Now the question is, what are the signs that should you look out for? In response to the hormonal signals caused by the body during the heat period, several physical changes in the body are observed.
Most dogs, if not all (silent heaters), that are at the peak of their heat cycle experience the following:
When the fluid in the vulva tissues increases, it results in an expansion or swelling (medically termed edema).
Golden Retrievers tend to have a more prominent vulva than other dogs due to their large size. When they are in heat, their vulva appears to be twice as big as its normal size and it continues to swell as the Goldie reaches ovulation.
When the vulva swells, it can cause pain or slight irritation to your dog so some might rub their vulva on the floor or other surfaces along with frequent licking on their private area.
Bleeding or Vaginal Discharges
In preparation for implantation (fertilized egg is implanted into the uterus), the uterus undergoes several changes such as thickening of the uterine wall, increased muscle sensitivity, cervix enlargement, and proliferation of the uterine cells.
These uterine changes are the primary source of vaginal bleeding, a sign that can be seen during the proestrus and estrus stages.
Vaginal discharges can be a mixture of serum fluids (thin and watery) and blood which is medically termed “serosanguineous”.
The volume also varies from one female dog to another. The size and breed of the dog do not signify the quantity and quality of the bleeding.
During the proestrus stage, not all dogs exhibit this sign but will later show during the estrus stage.
The breed does not influence this so as a pet owner who is carefully monitoring your Goldies’ heat cycle, you might want to take this tip to not mistake your dogs’ signs to be in a different stage.
Several hormones surge during different stages of heat that are responsible for many physical changes in your dog’s body including frequent urination. In-heat females often become territorial so they leave pee marks to attract males.
Fluctuating hormones also influence their food and water intake which is why most in-heat dogs have a reduced appetite but still drink a lot of water.
For first-time pet owners, this sign might be alarming and can be mistaken as a urinary tract infection. If your Goldie is clearly showing heat-related signs then peeing frequently is a normal occurrence, if not, then you might need to consult your vet.
Changes in Behavior
Behavioral changes in in-heat dogs vary from one female to another. But the most common ones observed in Golden Retrievers include:
- Starts to attract male dogs
- Allows to be mounted or does the mounting (be it on other dogs or inanimate objects)
- Gets anxious or nervous easily
- Becomes more clingy
- Reduced appetite or becomes a picky eater
- Pain or agitation due to vulvar swelling
- Frequent licking of the genital area
Note: Goldies constantly lick their genitals to keep themselves clean and looking out for discharge may not be possible.
Detecting their heat stage might be difficult for you so as soon as you observe any heat-related signs, it is best to get your Golden in diapers to filter any vaginal discharges.
Stages of The Heat Cycle in Golden Retrievers
Relying on your dog’s signs and symptoms does not give you a 100% guarantee of what particular stage they are in.
If you are planning on mating your Golden Retriever then it is best to conduct a couple of laboratory tests to determine the specific stage they are in.
Vaginal cytology provides reliable information in determining your dog’s heat cycle stage. A cotton swab is gently inserted and rolled into the upper portion of the vagina wall to obtain the vaginal epithelial cells and then examined under the microscope. The epithelial cells vary in size and type for each stage.
To further understand the four stages of the heat cycle, here is a table provided below with the corresponding signs and symptoms, vaginal cytology findings, and how each stage lasts.
If you’re planning to bring your Golden Retriever to your vet then you need to at least familiarize yourself with the following information.
|Signs and Symptoms
|How long does it last?
|– Attracts males but does not allow mounting
– Vaginal discharge starts to appear (it varies from serum to blood or a mixture of both)
– Slightly swollen vulva
– Frequent urination and genital licking- Increase in excitable behavior and may be clingy
– May be picky with food or decrease food intake
|* Progressive shift from parabasal cells to small and large intermediate cells and superficial intermediate and epithelial cells
|Lasts from 3 days to 3 weeks with an average of 9 days.
|– Allows mounting or enables mating
– Vaginal discharges diminish
– Maximal vulvar swelling
– Some Golden Retrievers may be easily agitated because they become anxious, but they may crave more attention than usual
– Indoor Golden Retrievers may show aggressiveness and may want to go outside to attract a male
|* Predominantly superficial cells
|Typically lasts 3 days to 3 weeks, having an average of 9 days.
|– Becomes refractory to breeding
– Reduced attraction to males
– Vaginal discharges and vulvar swelling subside
– Normal appetite resumes (in some dogs)
|* Re-appearance of parabasal cells
|If no fertilization and pregnancy, diestrus last 2-3 months.
If pregnancy occurs, the gestation period is at 64-66 days with an average of 65 days.
|– No vaginal discharges
– No vulvar swelling (normal size)
– Neither attracts nor is receptive to males
– No sexual or hormonal symptoms
*If pregnancy occurred, this is the resting or recovery phase after giving birth. *After this cycle lasts, the estrous or heat cycle will start again.
|* Small parabasal cells predominate *Occasional white blood cells
|Normally lasts about 1-6 months.
Managing a Golden Retriever in Heat
Golden Retrievers during heat can be extremely persistent to mate, and many of them will try to escape from crates, houses, and backyards just to have a successful mating. This could lead to mismating or pregnancy at an early age (for first-time heaters).
In cases of mismating, contacting your veterinarian as soon as possible is the best course of action. Injectable drugs for an unwanted pregnancy or mismatching are given if the mating occurred just a day or two earlier.
Results are guaranteed given the appropriate time it was given. However, certain risks and complications may be associated with using those kinds of drugs.
Owners must outsmart their Golden Retrievers when it comes to managing their heat cycle at home. Goldies are very strong and active, and managing them at home can be a challenge for first-time owners.
Placing them in crates might be a good idea to keep them from interacting with other dogs, especially males, and to contain their vaginal discharges in one place. But if your Goldie is not crate-trained then you might expect barking and wailing day to night.
Keeping them indoors is a better idea if they do not do well in crates. Owners must constantly provide pee pads in different places inside the house, and put on diapers or clothes such as suspenders to contain the discharges, which also prevents penetration from male dogs.
Your Golden Retriever’s appetite may fluctuate during the heat cycle. It is best to provide them with dietary supplements to meet their daily nutritional needs.
Fur parents should also be patient with their Goldies undergoing the cycle. Some may become more aggressive, anxious, and clingy and owners should respond proactively to these changes as these are temporary.
Considerations for Breeding Golden Retrievers
There is a lot to consider when it comes to breeding Golden Retrievers. Factors like age, body size, health conditions, lineage, and environment can all have an effect.
The suitable age for Golden Retrievers to mate and conceive can start at 18 months to 24 months which also depends on when the first heat cycle started.
Golden Retrievers that mature as early as 6 months old may undergo 2 heat cycles by the time they reach 18 months old. At this age, your Goldie’s physical attributes that are necessary for pregnancy are already mature.
As for Goldies who got their first heat cycle at 10 months old or above, it is best to wait until they reach 2 years of age (when they finish 2 heat cycles). By this time, they are fully grown and capable of sustaining a pregnancy.
Breeding your Goldies during the first heat is not very ideal in several ways. Goldies aged 6 to 12 months old are still considered puppies and their bodies are not mature enough to sustain a pregnancy.
Conception might be successful for some but the occurrence of fetal disorders is high. This might lead to fetal resorption, stillbirth, or premature birth.
Your Golden Retriever’s environment plays a huge impact when you are planning to breed them and have puppies.
A peaceful, stress-free, and clean home promotes a healthy lifestyle for your dogs. Dogs under constant stress may have a disrupted heat cycle and may suffer from unsuccessful mating or miscarriage.
Owners must not forget to track down their lineage from both parents to avoid contracting common health problems in Golden Retrievers.
In addition, to ensure that your Goldie is at its ovulation stage, it is best to bring them to the vet and conduct a Serum Progesterone test. This test will provide accurate days when to mate your Golden Retriever and guarantee a pregnancy.
Health Concerns During The Heat Cycle
During estrus and early diestrus, the hormone progesterone is at its peak levels and declines at late diestrus.
If progesterone continues to remain elevated even after the diestrus stage ceases, then the chances of acquiring the infection pyometra are high.
Pyometra is characterized by cystic endometrial hyperplasia leading to secondary bacterial infection. The uterus may be filled with pus or blood or both resulting in an inflamed and distended abdomen or the appearance of vaginal discharges.
There are two types of pyometra: open and closed. When the pus in the uterus is not drained outside of the vagina the abdomen becomes distended – “closed type” pyometra and most owners mistake this situation as pregnancy.
If there happens to be a foul vaginal discharge that appears to be a mixture of pus and blood then the type of pyometra your dog has is the “open type”.
Most dogs have the following clinical signs: vomiting, inappetence, increased water intake, increased urine output, diarrhea, and lethargy. Pyometra requires immediate medical attention as it may progress to sepsis and kidney failure.
Acquiring Pyometra leaves all owners no easy options. Surgically removing the uterus (spaying) is the best treatment to cut the source of infection.
False pregnancy in female dogs is a common occurrence. At the end of the diestrus stage, some female bodies assume that they are pregnant which results in pregnancy signs such as teat enlargement, increase in appetite, increase in weight, and even lactation.
If weeks have passed since you last bred your Goldie and you observe these signs then it is best to consult your veterinarian and perform several confirmatory tests for pregnancy to avoid mistaking a false pregnancy for a real one.
This occurs during proestrus and estrus as a result of a surge in the hormone estrogen. A small to medium-sized mass protruding from the vulva is commonly seen in this health condition. It has a smooth and soft texture, but if left untreated for a few days it becomes dry and cracks start to form.
If estrogen levels diminish, usually, the mass resolves but the chances of recurrence in the succeeding heat cycles are high and may require surgical removal of the mass or spaying your Golden Retriever to remove the source of the estrogen hormone (the ovaries).
It is always best to consult your veterinarian before deciding on treatment plans for your Golden Retriever’s health condition.
Routine check-ups, especially during heat cycles, will guide owners on how to manage their dogs, while also obtaining the exact dates for breeding, ensuring pregnancy, and prescribing appropriate supplements and medications.
Spaying and Neutering Considerations
Spaying (ovariohysterectomy) is a surgical procedure involving the total removal of the uterus and both ovaries. Neutering (castration) is the removal of the male gonads – testicles.
Pros of Spaying and Neutering
- Increases your dog’s life expectancy
- Reduces the risk of acquiring reproductive diseases
- Removes the hassle of managing your dog during the heat cycle (bloody discharges, behavioral changes, and desire to wander)
- Prevents mismating or accidental breedings
- Control population growth
- Reduces male behavior (pee markings and alpha male behavior)
- Keeps their figure (Goldies are very prolific, causing their boobs/teats to sag because of milking)
Cons of Spaying and Neutering
- Weight gain which may result in developing certain health conditions (obesity, thyroidal problems, and poor metabolism)
- May lead to health complications if performed at the wrong time
- Zero chances of having puppies (for owners that plan to have puppies)
- Risk of Anesthesia
Timing of Spaying or Neutering Concerning the Heat Cycle
The right time to spay or neuter your Golden retriever is an ongoing discussion. Spaying or neutering your dogs before reaching sexual maturity ensures that they never have to experience changes during the heat cycle. Accidental breeding or mismating are prevented as well.
However, based on some scientific research and as recommended by some veterinarians, it is best to wait after their first heat cycle before fixing your dogs.
Knowing that Golden Retrievers are at risk of hip dysplasia may double up their chances of developing the condition if they are neutered before their body fully matures or before their first heat.
Some Goldies may have stunted growth or fail to develop secondary sexual physical attributes if they are fixed before their first heat.
Discussing Options With Your Veterinarian
Now that you already have a clear picture of what to expect regarding the advantages and disadvantages of spaying and neutering, and how it may affect your dog’s life, is best to think about it first while considering all the pros and cons, and talking to your veterinarian.
Discuss what you want for your Goldie, and ask for alternatives or options concerning your preferences if it is safe and attainable or not.
Frequently Asked Questions
1.) Should you let a female dog go into heat before spaying?
There is no up-to-date resolution regarding this matter. It all boils down to individual preference and your veterinarian’s assessment. According to some research spaying your female dog after its first heat may have certain health benefits.
2.) Is it normal for my Golden Retriever to have irregular heat cycles, and when should I be concerned?
Yes, it is normal. Golden Retrievers may experience irregular heat cycles in their first 2 or 3 heat cycles and eventually become normal on the succeeding cycles. If your Goldies continues to show irregular cycles as she passes the age of 2, or after 3 heat cycles, then you must seek your Veterinarian’s help.
With all that is said above, managing your female Golden retriever during its heat cycle shouldn’t scare you.
By this time you are already aware of what signs and symptoms to expect, how long they last, differentiate a normal sign from an abnormal one, and when to seek your veterinarian’s help.
Tracking your Goldies’ heat cycle prepares you for the next heat cycle. Pay extra attention to their needs during in-heat periods because this is the time they require more attention and patience.
If you plan on breeding them, it is best to perform hormonal tests for accurate breeding time.
Do not rush on spaying or neutering your dogs. Give yourself time to consider things, if it is the right time to do it, weigh the pros and cons, and always have a clear discussion with your veterinarian.
Christine is a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine. As the in-house vet and writer for Furs'n'Paws, Christine shares her extensive knowledge and expertise on all things pet-related, with a particular focus on small animals such as dogs and cats. In addition, she runs her own clinic in the Philippines and volunteers at a local organization to help stray pets. Her commitment to animal health is evident in her writing style, which makes her an invaluable resource for pet owners and animal lovers.