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German Shepherd First Heat and Cycle: What To Expect

Reviewed By: TB Thompson DVM
Last Updated: December 27, 2023

When your German Shepherd enters her first heat, it’s a significant milestone in her life. If you notice increased urination, a swollen, red vulva, and some blood-stained discharge, don’t be alarmed.

These signs are typical of your German Shepherd experiencing her first heat, indicating a natural part of her reproductive cycle.

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 know.

A German Shepherd Having First Heat Cycle
My German Shepherd Willow resting during her first heat.

German Shepherd Heat Cycle

A German Shepherd’s heat cycle occurs when hormonal changes occur. The time of first heat marks the onset of fertility, and it’s repeated every six 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.

Infographic explaining each cycle of canine fertility
Four stages of the German Shepherd heat cycle

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.
  • Swelling in 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 essential 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. Question yourself if you’re ready for a litter of cute puppies.

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

  • Change in the color of vaginal 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…

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 was spayed in the anestrus stage of her first heat cycle.

A GSD standing straight on a grassfield

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 it’s better to wait until the second heat, preferably the third. This gives them time to come fully into the cycle before mating. 

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 healthier pregnancy. Your dog’s body will also be fully developed for gestation by this time. 

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 mates 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 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: When to breed German Shepherds

Young German Shepherd sitting on a grass with a ball next to him

Signs Your Dog 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).
  • A loss of appetite.

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 actively seek a sexual partner. 

Most dog owners make appointments with veterinarians to fix their behavior and also explore neutering as an option.

Caring For Your Dog In Heat

Caring for a German Shepherd in heat requires extra love and attention. Due to 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 mate 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 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.

Note: Clicking the above link(s) will take you to Amazon or an online store where we have an affiliate relationship. If you make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

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 in mouth and surrounded by tiny flowers

Heat Cycle Frequency

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-month 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:


After a German Shepherd’s first heat cycle, subsequent heat cycles may be a bit irregular initially 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.


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.


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. 


Do German Shepherds Experience Menopause?

German Shepherds don’t experience menopause. Once your German Shepherd’s first heat happens, your dog will have heat cycles throughout her life. Nonetheless, the estrus phase of their heat cycle will become less regular and last fewer days as your dog ages.

If your dog misses an estrus, talk to your vet to rule out any triggering medical conditions.

Must My Dog Have an Estrus Before Being Spayed?

Your German Shepherd does not need to have her first heat to be spayed. However, it’s important to know that sex hormones are a core factor in your dog’s development.

In fact, some studies have shown that spaying your German Shepherd before maturity (6 months) can predispose your dog to joint disorders like hip and elbow dysplasia, as well as some types of cancer like mast cell tumors and lymphoma.

Is a White Discharge Normal During a Dog’s Heat Season?

A white discharge during a German Shepherd Dog estrus isn’t normal and could be a sign of an infection in your dog’s reproductive tract, such as Pyometra.

Have your GSD checked by a vet if you notice any discharges different from a blood-stained discharge during proestrus and a pinkish or brownish discharge during estrus. 

How Can I Tell if my German Shepherd is in Pain During her Heat?

The best way to tell if your German Shepherd is in pain during her heat is to pay close attention to her behavior and body language. Look for signs of discomfort such as panting, pacing, or restlessness.

She may also be reluctant to move or play. If she vocalizes more than usual, this could also be a sign of pain. In addition to her behavior, you should also look for physical signs of pain.

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 cycles are repeated every six 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 mating her. 

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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