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German Shepherd First Heat and Cycle: What To Expect

If your German Shepherd hasn’t been spayed, and you’ve noticed that your dog is urinating more, has a swollen and red vulva, and there’s some blood-stained discharge coming out of it, there’s nothing to worry about; your German Shepherd is simply in heat.

A German Shepherd’s first heat and cycle will happen around the age of 9 to 12 months. This is the first time your GSD is fertile and ready to mate. After this, your dog will go into heat every 6 months. GSD heat cycles happen in 4 phases, but the heat or estrus phase only lasts around 4-15 days.

While this might sound confusing, you can easily observe your dog to notice these changes. However, knowing what the first heat and cycle will entail will help you better understand the changes taking place. I’ll discuss what this cycle means for your dog, when it happens, and the signs you’ll need to be aware of.

A GSD Resting on the Couch. German Shepherd First Heat
My German Shepherd Willow resting during her first heat.

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So, if you want to know all about your German Shepherd’s first heat and what to expect, you won’t be disappointed. Let’s begin!

What Does German Shepherd Heat Cycle Mean?

A German Shepherd’s heat cycle is when a series of hormonal changes occur. The time of first heat marks the onset of fertility, and it’s repeated every 6 months for the rest of your dog’s life. 

While some age-related variations will occur during your dog’s life, a German Shepherd’s heat cycle typically happens in four stages.

Proestrus Stage

The proestrus stage in a German Shepherd heat cycle is the initial period of the cycle and lasts around 4-20 days. The following signs characterize this period:

  • Frequent urination.
  • Swollen vulva and teats.
  • Bleeding, which may be more noticeable in some dogs than others. 
  • Attracting male dogs, but not necessarily ready to mate.
  • A darkened lower abdomen.
  • Tucking in the tail to cover her vulva and keep away the males.
  • “Mood swings” whereby your GSD may become more quiet or anxious.

Some dogs may also clean themselves as part of self-grooming, making it hard for you to notice any bleeding that might occur. It’s important to be vigilant during this stage to be aware of the changes happening.

Estrus Stage

Estrus is the main stage in the German Shepherd heat cycle. It’s the heat period or ‘season’ and the fertile phase of the cycle when ovulation occurs. At this point, your dog is ready to mate. 

Estrus lasts between 4 and 15 days and is characterized by the following: 

  • Change in the color of discharge. This is a pinkish/brownish liquid and not the blood-stained discharge of the proestrus stage.
  • A ‘flagged’ tail, raised and no longer hiding the vulva. This is a direct indication your GSD is getting ready to mate.
  • Seeking out male dogs. If your dog has become more active and aggressive in seeking out other dogs, this could be a sign they are in the Estrus phase.

Watch This Female GSD In Heat Flirting With a Male…

Female in HEAT flirting with Sergeant...Radiant Rachel the GSD

Diestrus Stage

The diestrus phase in a German Shepherd’s heat cycle is marked by a period of rest. If your dog hasn’t conceived during the estrus period, her body will rest in preparation for the next heat season.

Diestrus in German Shepherds lasts around 60 days. Although your dog may still carry the scent of the heat period, her fertile window has closed at this point.

Anestrus Stage

The last phase of a German Shepherd’s heat cycle is the anestrus stage, which lasts around 90 days. This is the period when your German Shepherd gets ready for her next cycle, which will resume once more with the proestrus stage. 

If you’re planning to neuter your German Shepherd, the anestrus period is considered the most opportune time to do so.

My German Shepherd Willow was spayed in this stage of her first heat cycle.

When Do German Shepherds Come Into Heat?

German Shepherds come into heat when they’re around 6 months old. However, it’s typical for some larger GSDs to go into heat later than 6 months. As such, most German Shepherds come into heat around 9-12 months.

German Shepherds may also come into heat at a later age. Some GSDs will even go into heat at 18 or 24 months. These variations are all within the norm, and it all depends on your dog.

If your dog is coming into heat, this doesn’t automatically imply that they’re ready for breeding. In fact, experienced GSD breeders know that it’s better to wait until the second heat, preferably the third. This gives them time to come fully into the cycle before breeding. 

In fact, your dog’s eggs are not fully mature for reproduction at the first heat, and waiting for the second or third heat ensures a more healthy pregnancy. Your dog’s body will also be fully developed for gestation by this time. 

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How Long Does a German Shepherd’s First Heat Last?

A German Shepherd’s first heat lasts between 4 to 15 days and corresponds to the estrus stage of the heat cycle. During these days, your GSD is fertile and can get pregnant if she mates. 

Note, however, that a female German Shepherd can get pregnant if she happens to mate before the estrus period. This is because canine spermatozoa are motile in the female’s genital tract and can potentially survive for around 11 days. 

You may have read that a dog’s first heat and consequent heat seasons last for 2-4 weeks. This is because many people consider the heat period to include both the proestrus and the estrus phases of the heat cycle. 

However, strictly speaking, a dog’s heat period is the estrus phase. This is when she’s ready to mate and is fertile enough to get pregnant.

Read more: Best German Shepherd Breeding Age (Males and Females)

Young German Shepherd

How Do You Know When Your German Shepherd Is In Heat?

You’ll know when your German Shepherd is in heat by observing your dog for specific physical and behavioral signs, including:

  • A swollen vulva and enlarged teats.
  • A change in the color of discharge (pinkish instead of blood-stained).
  • Frequent urination.
  • A tail set to the side (flagging).

Your dog may also be more aggressive to fellow females and exhibit extra interest in male dogs. Frequent licking of the genitals, agitation, and urine marking are also indications of readiness to mate. Contrary to popular belief, a GSD spraying is not just a boy thing!

In this period, if you have an intact German Shepherd and don’t intend to breed her, you should keep your pet on a leash during walks, as your furry friend will be actively seeking a sexual partner. 

How To Care for a German Shepherd In Heat

Caring for a German Shepherd in heat requires extra love and attention. As a consequence of the physical and emotional changes your German Shepherd will undergo during the season, you’ll need to take special care of your dog.

Here are 7 things you should do to care for a German Shepherd in heat:

  1. Keep your dog engaged to distract her from the discomfort of the hormonal changes during the heat period. Playing games, offering treat-filled toys, or taking short walks can help keep your dog happy and calm.
  2. Keep your GSD away from male dogs, both at home and outdoors, if you don’t intend to breed her. This entails keeping her on a leash during walks, not leaving her unattended in the backyard or garden, and keeping her in a separate room in the home. 
  3. Keep your GSD from carpeted areas of the home, couches, and bedding during the bleeding phase of the heat cycle. Alternatively, you can consider using dog diapers to stop the blood from staining floors and the bedding that your dog lies on. Choose something like the Simple Solution Disposable Dog Diapers from Amazon. These have a better fit due to the stretchable fabric that fits perfectly around your dog. If your GSD is trying to lick her genitals while in a diaper, consider removing it for some time to give her a chance to self-groom.
  4. If your GSD shows the need for extra rest, always allow this. It would be best if you also eased your dog’s exercise routine during the proestrus and estrus phases of the heat cycle, as your dog may feel a bit low-energy and under the weather.
  5. Ensure your dog gets all the recommended nutrients in her meal during heat, including enough fresh drinking water. If your GSD shows a preference for a different meal from the usual, consider giving it to her to boost her appetite. However, you should consult your vet about changing your dog’s diet, even if just for a few meals.
  6. Keep the surrounding environment calm and free of extreme noise or disturbance. Your dog is sensitive to any form of stress during this period.
  7. If your GSD shows extreme discomfort or signs of pain in the swollen vulva, use heating pads to give some relief. I like the RIOGOO Pet Heating Pad from Amazon as it’s waterproof, machine washable, and has an auto power-off function for extra safety. However, stay alert that your dog doesn’t turn on you abruptly, and consult a vet if the uneasiness or pain doesn’t seem typical.

Your German Shepherd may show unique characteristics and needs during heat. Be attentive and consult your vet about any unusual signs you do not know how to address.  

Young German Shepherd With Ball

How Often Do German Shepherds Go Into Heat?

German Shepherds go into heat twice a year, approximately every 6 months. This is typical of large dog breeds, as smaller dogs may go into heat 3-4 times a year, and the largest breeds only once a year. 

There’s an approximate 6 months interval between heat cycles in German Shepherds. Two studies focusing on dog estrus cycles reported 208.2 days (6.9 months) and 198.5 days (6.5 months) interestrus intervals in German Shepherds. 

This may change depending on your dog and her body clock. How often your German Shepherd goes into heat may vary and is contingent upon the following factors:

Age

After a German Shepherd’s first heat cycle, subsequent heat cycles may be a bit irregular in the beginning but will become more consistent with time. If your dog is experiencing irregular cycles, you may want to talk to a vet to determine if this is normal or if there are underlying causes. 

Instead, older German Shepherds will have slowed cycles with fewer heat seasons. Despite this, your dog will still experience estrus her entire life and can still get pregnant despite the reduced estrus seasons.

Conception

As happens in humans, gestation delays menstrual periods and fertility seasons. Similarly, the interestrus interval, or the period between estrus seasons, is prolonged in German Shepherds and other dogs after whelping. 

A study reported that German Shepherd Dogs had a regular 6-month estrus interval under normal circumstances, but the interval was prolonged by 58 days in German Shepherds who went into gestation.

Seasons

Though seasonality is generally considered a non-factor in estrus frequency in German Shepherds and other dogs, it is not an impossibility. This study in which German Shepherds constituted 66% of the population (35/53) found fewer estrus incidences in summer and consequently fewer occurrences of fertility and conception. 

German Shepherd Heat Cycle FAQs

Below there are a few German Shepherd heat cycle facts to quell any concerns you may have since getting to grips with everything about your GSD’s first heat and cycle can be overwhelming.

Final Thoughts

Your German Shepherd’s first heat marks the onset of your dog’s sexual maturity. This happens around 9-12 months but can be earlier or later in some dogs.

Once your German Shepherd has had her first heat, the heat cycles are repeated every 6 months for the rest of her life.

I hope the article has taught you everything you need to know about caring for your German Shepherd during the heat cycle, especially showing a little more love for the uncomfortable proestrus changes and keeping her from males during estrus if she’s intact and you don’t intend to breed her. 

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