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Intact female dog graphic

Most animal rescues and shelters—the Connecticut Humane Society included—spay or neuter dogs and puppies prior to adopting them out to new homes. This supports a nationwide mission of reducing pet overpopulation and helps prevent some behavioral and medical problems that can arise later in a pet’s life if left intact (unspayed/unneutered). However, there are times when intact animals may be placed up for adoption due to special circumstances. CHS recommends getting your dog spayed as soon as you can safely do so.  The information below will help you navigate the time you have with your pet before your spay appointment.

Living with an intact dog may come with some potential challenges. Adopting a pet is a commitment. The information below will help you make informed decisions.

Age and Time of Sexual Maturity

  • On average, dogs reach sexual maturity between 5 and 12 months old, and you may start to notice hormonally driven behaviors. It is still very important that your dog socialize with other dogs, so your dog’s playmate’s must be females or neutered males to prevent an unwanted litter. Dog parks are not recommended for socializing your intact dog (female or male).
  • About twice a year, intact female dogs will have a heat cycle lasting roughly 21-28 days. The first signs most owners notice are blood-tinged vaginal discharge and swelling of the vulva. She may be irritable with other dogs, who will be intensely interested in sniffing her genital area. As she moves through her cycle, her discharge will go from bloody to clear or brown. She’ll begin to tolerate other dogs sniffing her genital area and may posture herself to allow a male dog to mount her. It is vital to keep her away from any intact male dogs during her heat cycle.
  • To protect your home from stains, your dog can wear a special diaper, available from many online sources. If your dog will not wear a diaper or this is not a viable option for you, speak with your veterinarian about the possibility of temporarily suppressing your dog’s heat cycle.
  • Toward the end of her heat cycle, you will notice her vulva will begin to go back to normal size and the discharge will stop. Sometimes, dogs will experience a “false pregnancy” and her mammary glands will enlarge and may produce some milk. She may “nest” and “adopt” items (like her toys), sometimes becoming protective of those items when humans or other animals approach. This is normal and should dissipate within 14-21 days.
  • Due to hormone cycles, some intact female dogs may develop an infection in their uterus which could be life-threatening if not treated. It is important to watch for any signs of illness during the heat cycle and within the two months that follow. Pay particular attention to listlessness, drinking or urinating more than usual, a fever above 103ºF, or foul-smelling discharge from her vulva. If any of these occur, you should seek your veterinarian’s care immediately.

Getting Your Pet Altered

  • CHS recommends all dogs be spayed as soon as it can be done safely.
  • In shelters or spay/neuter clinics, dogs may be safely spayed at 8 weeks old. In private practice, most veterinarians suggest 6 months old. Please work with your veterinarian to determine the best time to complete the surgery based on your pet’s individual circumstances.
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