The time has come to groom your dog — only this time, she’s in heat. She might be moody, agitated, and lethargic, and not acting like herself. This behavioral change may cause you to wonder if she wants to be groomed at all. Grooming your dog while she’s in heat, however, is imperative, as it can prevent painful infections and swelling around her private areas. There are ways to do so safely and gently to not only keep your female dog clean, but happy and healthy along the way.
Understanding Your Dog’s Cycle
Here are some common signs to look out for when identifying whether your dog is in heat:
- Swelling of the vulva
- A swollen vulva is often the first sign of a dog’s heat cycle beginning. The vulva may swell up to four times its regular size and she may attend to it more often by licking around it or attempting to self-groom the area. The blood or discharge surrounding the vulva may also leave her nether regions sticky or irritated.
- Low energy
- It is normal for your dog to drag her feet a little more on walks and sleep more than usual while in heat, due to the discomfort she is experiencing.
- Tail tucking
- Your dog may tuck her tail slightly between her legs. This is a protective attempt to guard her vulva from other dogs.
- Increased affection
- In heat, your female dog’s greatest instinct is to mate. You may notice increased affection towards both humans and dogs, and attempts to mount other dogs.
- Appetite changes
- Whether she’s hungrier or goes off her usual food regimen, a change in your girl’s appetite could mean her cycle has begun.
- Mood changes
- She may grow more affectionate from the hormonal changes she’s experiencing, or grumpier from the discomfort. Either way, show patience with your dog and let her set the tone. Show her love if she needs it, or give her increased space.
- Increased licking around her private area
- If your dog is licking her own vulva more, she may be attempting to clean herself off or soothe the discomfort from swelling.
If you notice any of these changes, your dog has most likely gone into heat. Fortunately for her and for you, this doesn’t have to mean a pause in her grooming regimen. It simply indicates that it is time for you to take certain precautions while cleaning or bathing her. This article will outline a few tips and tricks for you to keep your dog in heat calm and clean during the grooming process.
What You’ll Need
Whether your dog loves bath time or is more favorable to spot or partial cleanings, it’s good to have these supplies on hand.
- Fresh towels
- It’s good to towel dry your dog if air-drying is not possible. Be warned that her blood or discharge may stain, so don’t use anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable having soiled!
- Preferably an organic brand with oatmeal, aloe, or another soothing ingredient. NEVER use human shampoo on a dog, especially one in heat.
- Dogs in heat may require conditioner during their baths if they have long coats or if their skin grows dry from frequent bathing. Try to find the conditioner the same brand as your doggie shampoo. Again, organic and soothing ingredients are key. Remember that if your dog is in a bad mood during her bath, conditioning her may be optional! Just gauge her mood and let her take the lead.
- Unscented talcum powder
- Make sure the powder you purchase is antibacterial and antifungal.
- Having the right brush on hand is necessary for a good grooming session. Many dogs like to be brushed, but not all do. To make the process easier, some owners recommend acclimating your dog to your chosen brush by surrounding it with treats. That way, they will develop a bond with the object before their first time being cleaned with it!
- Aloe gel (optional)
- Aloe is very calming if your dog has scratched and chewed at herself frequently while in season, irritating her own skin as a result. Make sure to get her aloe gel with no saponins, as these have a laxative effect. Most aloe gel does not have saponins; only aloe plants do. You can also use an aloe cream like Farnam’s Wound Care.
- Spray bottle with water (optional)
- A good way to spot clean your dog is by using a spray bottle to wipe down the areas that need cleaning the most, then drying them with a soft towel. If she needs the extra soothing quality, consult your vet about adding some chamomile to the mix in your spray bottle of water.
- Clippers (optional)
- These are only necessary if you choose to trim the hair around her vulva, which may be irritating her due to stickiness from discharge. If you do choose this path, proceed with extreme caution. Oster size 10 blades are the standard for grooming sensitive areas, but consult your veterinarian or groomer if your dog has a unique coat and may call for another type of blade.
Bathing Your Dog in Heat
It’s a misconception that dogs cannot be groomed in heat; in fact, a bath may make your girl feel a lot better! Dogs do groom themselves, and though some are more thorough than others, they often feel better when fresh and clean. Bathing is a great method for you to get rid of any blood or discharge stains on her coat, and may also help soothe her cramps or aches.
Shampoo is a must for bathing your dog, but remember that when she’s in season, gentle is key! One trick you can use is to dilute the shampoo with lukewarm water. That way, she won’t be as irritated and you can get a better clean during her bath.
Always use lukewarm water for bathing when your female dog is in heat. Water that is too hot or too cold may cause her further discomfort.
Keeping Her Calm in the Bath
During a full bath for your dog, you’ll want to shampoo and conditioner her as normal, then dry her off. Only clean her private areas as necessary, and once the bath is complete, sprinkle some talcum powder on her to avoid irritation and reduce excess moisture.
Partial Bathing and Spot Cleaning
If your dog does not want a full bath, consider cleaning her only as necessary. Below are two ways to consider giving your dog a cleaning that does the trick, but remains a good step away from a full bath.
If your dog is able to sit and stand on command, you can use this trick to clean them off considerably during heat. Fill a sink, doggie pool, small basin with room temperature water and very mild shampoo. Command her to stand, then rinse her anus, vulva, and surrounding areas. Dry her carefully by wrapping her butt in a towel. A perk of this method is that she won’t shake herself dry if her head does not get wet in the bath!
In the event your female dog is so agitated that it’s clear she wishes to avoid the bath entirely, you can clean her off by simply spraying her down with a bit of water and brushing her to remove matting and debris. If you choose to groom her this way, you may find it extra soothing for her, as many dogs thoroughly enjoy being brushed. Make sure you talk to her and give her extra encouragement as you brush away the dirt.
Then, use wipes to clean her private areas. To do so, prop your dog her side or back and wipe her down backwards, not forward. Try to remove any discharge or blood and keep it out of her coat of fur. Afterward, pat her down softly with an untouched towel and sprinkle talcum powder to keep the area nice and dry.
Remember, dogs do clean themselves, but not all of them do so with the greatest meticulousness. If you are able to groom the rest of your dog but she does not let you near her vulva, continue checking to see if she needs to be cleaned there. She may not need a cleaning down there while in heat, but it is important to check that she is not sticky or covered in too much discharge, otherwise she may incur infections in the area. If you see she has dirt or redness in parts of her recessed vulva, use wipes to very gently clear them out.
At Home Vs. At The Groomer
Groomers often do not like working with dogs in heat, for a few reasons. Firstly, many groomers consider dogs in heat a health and safety issue, as the scent of female dogs in heat attracts male dogs. When they catch the scent of a female in heat, male dogs do whatever they can to hunt down those female dogs; as such, they’ll become fidgety, agitated, and difficult for a groomer to work with. Some groomers have to send unneutered male dogs home unfinished during the grooming session, as the dogs are unable to focus on anything else.
Some groomers will allow you to bring your dog in while in heat, but may raise the price ten dollars or more. Others will only let you come in for a bath and tidy, but not for a full groom. If you do not feel comfortable with certain elements of grooming her at home, you can always find a groomer that travels to you, though they may charge an extra convenience fee.
If you have a particular concern that you believe a groomer would be better suited to help, such as trimming hair around your dog’s private areas, the price may be worthwhile. However, there are ways to complete this process safely at home. Consider whether you are willing to incur extra cost to hire a groomer for your dog in heat, or if you are willing to wait until her heat cycle has ended to bring her in for a full groom.
Should I Trim The Hair Around My Dog’s Privates?
If you observe your dog’s hair growing sticky and matting around her private areas, it may be advisable to trim her hairs down there. The discharge around your dog’s vulva can make her hair matted and sticky, which may irritate her skin and cause infection. One way to do this effectively is to have her sit in a bath to both calm her nerves and separate the hair from her skin, making it easier for you to shear it.
What to do if her skin is irritated?
If the skin around your dog’s vulva has grown irritable or dry due to her overgrooming it, or the moisture of her discharge, rub her down with some soothing aloe gel. You can also make tangible changes in her sleep and diet, like making sure her food is hypoallergenic and changing her bedding daily to make sure she doesn’t sleep in spots of her own blood (which would cause excess moisture).
What about other elements of grooming, like trimming her nails or giving her a dye job?
If your dog is in a decent mood during her heat cycle, it’s safe to go ahead with cosmetic grooming processes, so long as you avoid her most sensitive areas. However, for most pups during the heat cycle, less is more! Much of the grooming process is optional during this time and can certainly be skipped until she is out of heat.
What do I do if her heat lasts longer than normal, or if she misses a period of heat?
Dogs do not experience traditional “menopause” as we humans do. If you see she hasn’t had her heat in a while, consult your vet and make sure she is not ill.
As for whether her heat lasts longer than normal, it’s possible a too-long heat cycle could spell signs of an ovarian condition or an issue in her womb. If your pup has had a miscarriage, she also may have a longer heat cycle. Take note that heat will only happen to your girl twice a year (at most), so if she’s spotting, it could indicate a uterine infection known as pyometra.
In sum, it’s important that you keep a keen eye on her cycle and consult her vet if you see anything a smidge unusual.
What do I do if my dog is bleeding a lot, even though I’ve groomed her well and often?
Dogs do sometimes bleed frequently during their heat cycle. If you find it’s becoming a problem for you — or specifically, for your house and furniture — you may want to equip her with some doggie diapers.
There are lots of doggie diapers on the market of both the machine-washable and disposable variety. Wegreeco’s Washable Female Diapers are sold in a variety of colors and come in sizes suiting dogs newborn to extra large (up to 33” waist). These diapers are elastic, which helps your dog move around more lithely, and waterproof on the outside to prevent leaks. Pet Parents® are also machine washable and come in three packs for convenience. To get your dog’s size, don’t guess — use a tape-measure on her waistline to get it just right.
You can also use pee pads in her bedding to decrease staining while she sleeps. Just make sure you’re changing them out at least once a day to avoid leakage!
If you still believe you may need additional help, you may be able to visit with your groomer at an extra cost, or have one come to you. However, these processes may be done at home with the right tools and a little bit of tender loving care for your pup. Go at her pace and make sure she’s comfortable, and you should be able to keep her groomed even in the height of her cycle.