Dogs do some strange things at the best of times. When a female is in heat, it can throw a wrench in things. You may notice behavioral changes, and your female frequently licking her private area.
Why do dogs lick themselves while in heat?
When a female is in heat, it affects all the dogs around her. It may seem strange, but any dogs nearby will show some behavioral changes when she is in heat.
One of the changes you can expect is your female licking herself much more frequently. This can leave you wondering why she has begun licking so often.
The Basics of Heat
A dog’s heat cycle is often compared to a human’s period cycle. However, they are actually quite different. When a woman has a period, she is releasing her egg, because it didn’t result in pregnancy.
When a dog is in heat, her body prepares to release the egg with the proestrus stage. Once her body releases the egg, she enters the estrus stage.
If the egg is fertilized, she becomes pregnant. If she doesn’t, she goes into the anestrus stage, which is a period of rest.
Dogs typically come into heat twice a year. Some breeds will have their first heat around 6 months of age, with rare dogs having heat at 4 months old.
Large breeds take much longer, and are typically 18 months to 2 years before they have their first heat cycle.
Dogs don’t shower like humans, but they do have their own ways of grooming. The main way dogs groom is by licking.
When your female is in heat, she will have discharge. She will lick herself frequently to remove the discharge.
This is completely normal. In fact, if she isn’t licking herself when in heat, this is a bit of a concern.
Enjoys the Taste and Smell
It sounds very gross to us, but dogs often enjoy the smell and taste of a female in heat, including the female in heat herself. Dogs are scavengers as well as predators, so the smell of blood is appealing to them.
Your female may be licking herself because she likes the taste or smell of her private area.
If you are a female, you’ve experienced the hormonal changes of periods or pregnancy. If you aren’t a female, you have likely noticed that the females around you act differently during these time periods.
Dogs don’t go through the exact changes as human females, but they experience something similar. They have significant hormonal changes during heat.
This can cause anxiety and restlessness. Licking is a comforting act for dogs. It releases oxytocin, which helps your dog to be calm and relaxed.
Both humans and dogs have self comfort mechanisms. Young children suck their thumb. Adults will sometimes hug themselves. And dogs will lick themselves for comfort.
Why do dogs lick you more while in heat?
Does your dog lick you more when they are in heat? If they do, you may notice that they are also clingier, wanting to be by your side more often. To better understand the behavioral changes associated with heat, its helpful to look at the stages of the cycle.
The first stage of heat is proestrus. This is when her heat cycle begins. At this stage, she is not yet fertile, and won’t mate with males. However, fluctuating hormones kick in, causing some behavioral changes.
Some dogs become extra clingy or affectionate during this time. If your pooch is licking you frequently or being extra affectionate, this may be the reason.
Not all dogs turn on the charm, however. Some females will become grumpy instead of more affectionate. Heightened anxiety or nervousness can also appear during this time.
Other signs your dog is in this stage include a loss of appetite, tail tucking, and a swollen vulva.
Bleeding also begins during this stage. This is the most obvious sign of heat. However, if your female grooms herself well, it can be easy to miss her bleeding.
The estrus stage is when your female is in actual heat. She is fertile during this stage, and may have a strong desire to mate with males. This stage can last between 3-21 days, with the average being 9 days.
Your pooch may still be clingy or grumpy during this stage. Many females will become restless, and want to be outside often. She may lose interest in everything but breeding, including your attention and food.
This shouldn’t be taken personally. It’s simply her natural instinct to breed taking top priority.
The discharge will become lighter in color. It will also slow. The vulva swelling will subside slightly, making the vulva ready for penetration.
In the proestrus stage, she may be aggressive if a male tries to mount her. In this stage, she will flirt by tail swishing or holding her tail high. She may also turn her rear end towards male dogs in invitation.
Diestrus is the time period when heat stops, and things begin to go back to normal. Hormone levels will slowly begin to normalize. If she is pregnant, she will technically be in this stage until birth.
If she’s not pregnant, she will continue to the next stage.
The vulva will gradually go back to normal. She will lose interest in sexual activity with males. Males will also stop being intensely interested in her as things return to normal.
Anestrus is the dormant part of the heat cycle. This is by far the longest part of the heat cycle, and lasts 100-150 days. This stage allows her to rest and gives her body time to recover from heat.
After the anestrus stage, the cycle begins again with proestrus.
Why do dogs lick each other more while in heat?
Just as the dog in heat experiences behavioral changes, these changes will also affect the dogs around them.
You may expect this to only affect unneutered male dogs, but it will actually affect all dogs nearby, particularly within your household.
One of the changes that occurs is dogs licking each other more when in heat. There are a few causes for this.
Dogs will not only groom themselves. They will also groom each other. Dogs are pack animals. As members of the pack, they care for each other.
When a dog is in heat, this can trigger other dogs to lick her more to help with grooming. This is very common with young females, who haven’t learned to keep themselves clean, but it can occur in young and old dogs.
If your dog is more affectionate when in heat, this will also transfer to other dogs. She may be aggressive if a male attempts to mate with her before she’s ready, however.
This increased affection leads to increased licking, because it’s their main method of showing affection for each other.
Heat can be stressful for dogs. Restlessness and anxiety are common when a dog is in heat. Your female may seek comfort from other dogs, and lick them.
Other dogs may lick your female more often too, for a similar reason. It’s believed that dogs can pick up on each others feelings. So, other dogs may lick the dog in heat in an attempt to comfort her.
Is it normal for dogs to lick more while in heat?
Yes, it is normal for dogs to lick more when in heat. They may lick to show affection, grooming, or for self comfort.
However, if your pooch is licking constantly, this isn’t normal.
How Much is Too Much?
It’s completely normal for your dog to lick more when in heat. However, if she is licking to the point of irritation, this isn’t normal.
It doesn’t mean there’s a serious problem. It may simply be anxiety or stress causing her to lick more than needed. However, if she is licking constantly, it’s a good idea to call your vet, just in case.
What to Do About Abnormal Licking
If your pooch is licking herself so much she’s caused irritation or pain, you may want to take action.
The easiest thing to do is get heat diapers. These are designed to cover the vulva. This protects your home from blood, and blocks their access to the area.
Another plus is that it also blocks males from penetration. A very determined dog may manage to pull the diaper of, so it’s not a great birth control method on its own. However, it does reduce the likelihood she will get pregnant.
You may also need to help your female stay clean. One way to do this is with puppy wipes. You can also use a mild soap and water to wash the area, but don’t use soap of any type more than once a day.
If she needs a bit more cleaning, just use a spray bottle of water. Spray the area with water, then wipe with a rag or doggie wipe.