Dogs can get pregnant very soon after giving birth. In fact, a female dog is likely to get pregnant if she mates during her first heat cycle following the birth. This means she can get pregnant again while still nursing the previous litter. Whether through intentional breeding or an accidental rendezvous, your female dog is pregnant or has just given birth to a litter.
Puppies are wonderful to cuddle and play with, but labor is an exhausting time for both a female dog and her human caretakers.
It is important to know that your dog is not protected from another pregnancy because she recently gave birth. Part of dog ownership and breeding is to understand the female heat cycle and pregnancy management.
Getting pregnant, giving birth, and feeding the puppies does NOT affect or “turn off” the female’s reproductive cycle.
Female dogs have a regular heat cycle that can easily result in pregnancy even if they recently gave birth.
Let’s dive deeper into this topic by going over the female heat cycle.
The Heat Cycle
Most female dogs come into heat (also known as “season”) two times a year. Small breeds can cycle into heat three or four times a year. Very large breeds, on the other hand, might have only one heat per year. Unlike a human period, a dog’s heat lasts a long time, usually about 2-4 weeks.
The first 3-17 days encompass a period called the Proestrus stage, where your dog may experience appetite and personality changes, but is not yet fertile. This is a good time to observe the oncoming heat and make preparations.
The second stage is called the Estrus stage, where the dog is actively fertile. During this time, your dog has a powerful instinct to breed. Her scent will also attract male dogs, so keeping her close by is a must. It is also important to separate her from unneutered male dogs in the same household.
The final two stages, Diestrus and Anestrus, represent a period where the female’s heat is “winding down”.
It’s important to know that the female is going through these stages while pregnant, giving birth, and feeding her babies. As soon as her Estrus stage begins again, she can become pregnant.
Watching For Signs of Heat
A female dog’s heat cycle begins quite young, somewhere between 6 and 36 months, so be cautious with any young, unspayed females who have access to male dogs. When trying to track a dog’s cycle, use a mix of math and observation.
Watching the behavior of male dogs can be a sure sign of an oncoming heat. Powerful instincts drive male dogs to seek females in heat. Your male dogs may grow agitated and bother the female constantly. They may also stop eating and struggle to pass any barriers between them and the female.
A female dog entering heat may experience mood changes and rapid mood swings, even demonstrating aggressive behavior.
The first physical sign of heat is often the swelling of the vulva. Keep an eye out for discharge and blood from the vulva and excessive licking of the genitals.
The clearer the discharge, the more likely for the dog to be impregnated if mating occurs. Your dog may also urinate more frequently and stand slightly differently while doing so.
During the first ten days of their heat, female dogs are more likely to tuck their tail or sit down protectively when another dog approaches.
When the dog is fertile during the second stage, they are more likely to seek male dogs and demonstrate mounting behavior or lift their tails.
They are experiencing powerful instincts that can only be satisfied by mating, leading to frustration when we prevent them!
Back to Back Pregnancies Can Be Dangerous
A female dog is likely to get pregnant if she mates during her heat. Even dogs who have recently given birth can be impregnated again at their very next heat.
This can be very dangerous, weakening a dog’s health to where she cannot survive medical procedures like spaying.
If you see your female dog and a male dog mating, it is already too late to stop the process. It can be physically harmful to try to force dogs apart once they have begun mating.
After beginning to mate, the dogs will usually turn back to back, indicating that the male dog is locked inside the female.
Even if you don’t see the dogs turn back to back, pregnancy is still highly likely. Because you cannot separate mating dogs, it is important to be very attentive to when your female dog goes into heat after having puppies.
Some medical procedures can abort a pregnancy in a female dog. These can be hazardous or rely on precise timing, so only pursue these with the help and advice of a licensed veterinarian.
Helping Your Dog Through Heat
Some dogs feel comfortable enduring their own heat period, while others become overwhelmed and frustrated. Managing a dog in heat can be very difficult, especially because it lasts so long.
People usually use dog diapers to catch the blood and discharge and keep their dog clean. Using these for the first time can be scary for your dog; consider practicing with them before her heat. Put them on and take them off with plenty of treats and praise.
Keep in mind that these “heat pants” do NOT protect your dog from mating. Male dogs are often known to get around them.
Never let your female dog off-leash while she is in heat. Do not leave her unattended outdoors, even if she is behind a fence. Male dogs will be attracted and try to reach her, while she might try to escape to find a male.
Putting a little menthol on the tip of her tail can mask her scent, which can be very helpful if a male dog suddenly appears while you are taking her for a walk.
Heat After Pregnancy
Pregnancy does not affect the timing of the female heat cycle or the fertility of the female. The cycle is also not altered by producing milk for her puppies.
Doing The Math
An average-sized breed goes into heat twice per year, or every 180 days. This is the approximate time before she can become pregnant again. Be sure to research your breed if you have a particularly large or small breed and learn the timing of your dog’s heat cycle.
The average gestation period for a litter of puppies is 63 days, meaning that it will be, on average, about 120 days, or four months, after birth when your dog goes back into heat. Keep an eye on the calendar and the behavior of your female and any nearby male dogs.
Keep Your Dog Safe
Having multiple litters back to back is considered highly dangerous for a female dog. Dogs have died during the spaying process after having two or three litters in a row because their bodies are so exhausted.
If your dog’s pregnancy was an accident, it is recommended to have your dog spayed afterward. An unspayed female is highly likely to mate again, even if you try to prevent it.
It is safe to spay her as soon as her puppies are weaned. The added benefit of spaying is that you will not need to struggle with a month of dog diapers and behavior problems every six months.
It is also recommended to neuter any male dogs in your household unless you are a breeder. This will prevent your dogs from running away to impregnate other female dogs. Many vets, shelters, and other locations offer free or discounted spay and neuter events or programs.
If you are a breeder, it is considered unethical to repeatedly breed. Most breeders give their females a rest of 6-18 months between litters. Make sure that you are carefully monitoring your pets’ heat cycles and access to the opposite gender.
Dogs have very powerful mating hormones and instincts, which can lead to problems if a female becomes pregnant immediately after giving birth. Understanding your dog’s heat cycle can help you care for your dog and keep her safe and healthy.
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Bryan Harkins is an avid dog lover and the proud owner of dogdorable.com, a website dedicated to all things canine. With years of experience working with dogs, Bryan is passionate about providing valuable information, tips, and resources to help pet owners provide the best possible care for their furry companions.