We survived! Our little vizsla girl has finally finished her first heat cycle. It was pretty much a textbook 21 day cycle and started April 10th. She turned ten months end of March so that is well within the expected time frame for a first season. I had been hoping she would be a late bloomer but in hindsight the timing was actually pretty good as we weren't travelling during that time and now we should be free of that concern for the summer camping season. We had been registered for her Canine Good Neighbour test but opted to defer that until after her heat.
This was my first time having a dog in heat. Lucy was spayed before her first cycle but my breeder requires Stella to be a year old before spay. I agree with this as there seems to be a lot of research now that showing the benefits of waiting. Here are a few articles discussing the benefits of waiting. LongTermHealthEffectsOfSpayNeuterInDogs.pdf and Caninesports.com/SpayNeuter.html. Natural hormones are important in the process of growth and the closing of the growth plates. Dogs spayed or neutered after the close of the growth plates have a lower incidence of hip displaysia and other musculoskelatal problems. There are lots of other factors to consider including higher incidences of some forms of cancer. Of course there are probably just as much other information out there showing health benefits of early spay but this information makes sense for me. I will spay Stella as I have zero plans to breed and I know this is not something I want to deal with all the time but am still weighing options as to when that would be.
I suspected she was coming into heat for a little while before she actually did. Her vulva was swelling and she was spending more time cleaning that area. Riley was the true barometer of the fact that she had actually come into heat. The wednesday that we count as day one he was VERY interested in smelling her first thing in the morning. That night was when we noticed the first blood drops and by the next evening she had regular discharge. We had panties (with panty-liners) for her to wear in the house and she was mostly tolerant of them although often pushed them aside to clean herself. I didn't make her wear the panties when we were out walking or if she was crated. If she was upstairs with me in my office I also left them off as there is no carpet and I had the couch and her bed covered. I think it was good to allow fresh air to those places when cover up wasn't absolutely necessary.
There were minor changes in her temperment. She was less cuddlier than normal, had a harder time focusing, more subdued than normal and was very tired especially when she moved into standing heat. She was also super hungry for the days leading up to her heat and for about the first week. The biggest problem we had was dealing with Riley who was very enamored with her. Riley is neutered so is unable to make her pregnant but supposedly is still able to "do the deed". He wasn't bad for the first 4-5 days but got progressively more "pain-in-the-butt" as the days progressed. I don't know if Stella was being flirty in those early days or if she was just enjoying that Riley was so happy to "play" with her.
I wasn't really sure if I had noticed the actual first day of her heat so I began leash restrictions probably around day six. I also chose trails where I avoided the dog-walker groups we often see on our regular route. I was worried that I had missed the first signs and wouldn't recognize the discharge changes so wouldn't know if she was in "standing heat". When she really did reach standing heat I noticed the change in discharge colour that the information talks about but for her it actually always still retained quite a pinkish tinge but was different from the initial darker red discharge. She also began marking a ton on our walks which is unusual for her. Riley's attention went into overdrive and that was made worse with her bugging him. I'm surprised her ears aren't all chapped because he constantly licked them and her head as he tried to seduce her. We got lots of work on our down-stays on dog beds across the room from each other! We also took one dog with us whenever possible to give us all peace. The saving grace in this time was that Stella was sleepy and content to hang out upstairs in my office with me while I worked through income tax long evenings. I actually felt quite bad for poor Riley because for a while it seemed like he was told to leave her alone at all the time or placed in a down stay. It was biology talking loudly and sometimes it was darn frustrating for all of us!
There was again the noticeable change around day 17-18 in discharge back to a darker colour for another 2-3 days as she came out of standing heat. I had noticed her vulva began shrinking before that and it continues to return to a more normal size. I noticed today (day 22?) that her nipples have also begun to reduce in size again although I hear they will never go back to where they were prior to the first heat. Riley continued to be very interested in her right up to almost the end. Yesterday I finally noticed a shift back to their normal dynamic. It helped that she deflected his advances very well these past few days and turned them more into play. I never saw her show her teeth to him at all through the whole thing but a dog was getting more personal with her than she wanted yesterday and she was fine appropriately showing her teeth in that instance. I will continue to walk on the less populated trails for the next few days and hopefully by next week all will be normal.
With regards to temperment changes I was very happy to see the return of our bouncy, happy little vizsla at around day 18. Her energy is back to normal levels, she constantly has a toy or sock etc stuffed in her mouth and is also back loving her regular snuggle sessions. I learned a lot but they are lessons I am happy to not be dealing with every day!
*** Update July 1, 2012 - Please see follow up post to Stella's first heat cycle. ***