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Heat

Shih Tzu Heat

Overview

Heat is the term that is used to describe a female dog's cycle of menstruation. During this time, there will be discharge. And just as importantly, this is the time that a female can become pregnant. 

This is also known as 'entering into season', 'heat cycle', 'heat season', and 'estrus cycles'. 
female Shih Tzu
Joey Baggadoughnuts, female
Photo courtesy of David Small

When Does It Begin?

Small toy sized dogs like the Shih Tzu typically have their first heat relatively early. It generally happens between the young ages of 4 and 7 months old.

It does surprise many owners to know that their female will still be a puppy when she first enters a cycle.

If you have an un-sprayed female Shih Tzu and she has not entered her first heat by the one year mark, you will want to alert the veterinarian. 

How Often Heat Cycles Occur

With the Shih Tzu, it will be normal to have a heat cycle every 4 to 8 months. This averages out to two or sometimes 3 times per year.

It is important to note that even senior dogs still enter heat; the canine equivalent of menopause typically does not occur. 
This said, discharge for a senior may be lighter than when she was younger and the cycles may be spaced more apart. Nevertheless, this is one reason why spaying is recommended, since even older dogs can become pregnant. 

How Long a Heat Cycle will Last

The average heat cycle lasts from 2 to 4 weeks. You may not notice all of the signs for this entire period; however, even if there are no obvious signs near the beginning or end of the cycle, a female can still become impregnated. 

Signs of Heat

Until you are used to knowing when your female Shih Tzu is entering her heat cycle, signs may be hard to spot at first, particularly if discharge is light. 

However, these are the most common signs:
  • Her vulva will become swollen. It may enlarge 2 or even 3 times its normal size. Owners are encouraged to take note of what the vulva looks like when a dog is not in heat, so that they will be able to ascertain the difference. 
  • Discharge. This will vary from light to moderate.  In many cases, this will not be visibly noticed by looking at a dog; however, over the course of a few hours discharge will be accumulating on bedding and other areas where the dog is resting. 
  • The color of the discharge can range from whitish-pink to red. It is normal for the color to change during heat. It may start off very light, then darken, and then lighten once again before the cycle ends. 
  • Male dogs may seem overly interested in her. Even stray male dogs may hang around your yard. Male dogs that have not been neutered will be able to detect a female in heat from as much as 3 miles away. Since some of those dogs will be much larger dogs, it is recommended to keep a female in heat indoors as much as possible. 
  • There may be some slight mood changes. Some females will have nesting tendencies, picking up objects and moving them over to a doggie bed or other resting spot. 
  • She may be receptive to males. When a female's eggs are dropping and she is fertile, she may 'present' herself to male dogs. This is often done by 'flagging' a male by moving the tail to the side and presenting her rump. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Shih Tzu in Heat

Will my dog be in pain?

While no one can say for sure, it is suggested from studies that a female dog's behavior shows that she is aware of her cycle and may indeed feel some cramping or discomfort. 

Whether due to cramps, nesting behavior, or both, it is not uncommon for a female to want to retreat and rest more than normal.

If a female displays signs of discomfort, it can help to place something warm near her belly. This can be a soft towel that just came out of the dryer or a non-electrical rice heating pad (made to be warm, not hot). 
When during the heat cycle can she become pregnant?

Within the 2 to 4 week cycle that there is noticeable discharge, there is a smaller window of time in which a female will be most fertile. This can vary quite a bit, so any time during the entire cycle should be considered one that a tie could produce a pregnancy.

This said, it is often 9 to 10 days from the start of day 1, and this window lasts for 4 to 5 days. 
Will spaying my Shih Tzu stop her from getting her heat cycle?

Yes, once a female is spayed she will not have a heat cycle again. But, there are other important reasons for considering having your dog spayed. While there are a couple of conflicting studies, most veterinary experts agree that spaying a female can greatly increase her life span and prevent some cancers including breast and ovarian cancer. 
Can a female be spayed if she is right about to enter heat?

Technically, yes. However, most veterinarians do not like to do this procedure if a female is so close to starting her cycle. This is not done during a cycle, as this can cause complications. 

Care Tips for During the Heat Cycle

There are a couple of care elements to take note of. 

1) Hygiene for your Shih Tzu and cleanliness for the house. 

Though the amount of discharge will not seem like very much, and often is not even noticed if you are looking at a dog, it will accumulate.

This will cause hairs on her rump to stick together and bloody discharge will soak into bedding, furniture, and any other porous surfaces that a Shih Tzu sits, rests, or sleeps on. 

For these reasons, there are 3 things that you will want to do:

1. Place a doggie diaper on your Shih Tzu. Options include disposable diapers like Simple Solution Fashion Print Disposable Dog Diapers in Size X-Small, which are comfortable and very easy to use. 
1 year old female Shih Tzu
Gia, 1 year old
Photo courtesy of owner: Mary
Alternatively, you may wish to use washable canine diapers like Pet Magasin's Reusable Dog Diapers in Size Extra Small, which are easy on the budget and environmentally friendly. 
2. Spot clean your Shih Tzu. You'll want to do a daily wipe of her genital area and surrounding area. For this, a wipe like Petkin's Tushie Wipes is a great choice. 
3. Baths may be given more frequently. Typically, a bath is given once every 3 weeks, and there are several reasons why this is a good time frame. However, when a Shih Tzu is in her heat cycle, as long as you are using quality shampoos that are good for the coat, a couple of extra baths will be just fine.
2) Keep your dog safe. 

You never know when a stray, un-neutered male dog may appear. Males can sense females in heat from 1 to 3 miles away. 

And even if your Shih Tzu predominately stayed indoors, if she's been outside to pee, this means that her scent has been deposited there, and is sending out a very strong signal. Unfixed males will be compelled to follow that scent at all costs. They have been known to jump fences, run across rivers, and traverse any terrain to find females in heat.  

For this reason, it is recommended to keep her away from public areas like dog parks and the like.

When you take her outside to pee, first scope out the area. At night, bring a flashlight out with you. Hopefully, you are using a harness and not a collar, and if needed can quickly draw her to you to scoop her up, without causing neck injury. 
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