Golden Retriever Heat Cycles Explained

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If you’ve got a female Golden Retriever who is not spayed, you may be wondering about her heat cycles, especially if she hasn’t yet had her first one.

Understanding the ins and outs of a heat can take away any stress you’re feeling and help you be fully prepared to care for your dog.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What is a heat cycle
  • When do Golden Retrievers get their first heat
  • How long does a heat cycle last
  • How often will a Golden get a heat
  • What are the signs that a female dog is in heat
  • How to care for your Golden Retriever when she’s in heat
  • And more!
female golden retriever in heat

What Exactly is a Heat Cycle?

When a dog is in heat, it means she is in the phase of her reproductive cycle in which she can become pregnant.

Yep, we are talking about the canine reproductive system, so if you’re squeamish, this is your warning!

Female dogs actually have four stages in their reproductive cycles.


The first is proestrus, which is usually when owners see signs of their dog being in heat, such as bloody discharge and a swollen vulva.

While males may be attracted to females at this stage due to her pheromones, she isn’t actually fertile yet, and will reject any interested males.

For Golden Retrievers, proestrus usually lasts 7 to 10 days, but can be shorter or longer.


The second stage is estrus, which is when a female dog is fertile and can become pregnant if bred.

The bloody discharge will fade from red to pink, brown or clear and will lessen.

She will become more accepting of males at this time, and will also start flagging, which is when she moves her tail to the side to signal that she is ready to mate.

Estrus lasts 5 to 14 days for Golden Retrievers.


During diestrus, the female dog is no longer fertile or receptive to male dogs for breeding, but can still have a scent that is interesting to males.

Additionally, the vulvar swelling and discharge go away.

This phase lasts about two months but can be longer.


Finally, anestrus is the female’s cycle of “downtime,” as her body goes back to normal.

This stage lasts 3 or 4 months, and when it ends, the heat cycle begins all over again.

When Do Golden Retrievers Get Their First Heat?

Most female Golden Retrievers will get their first heat cycle between 9 and 14 months of age, though some may get it a bit sooner or later.

How Long Does a Heat Cycle Last?

For most Golden Retrievers, a heat lasts about 2 to 3 weeks, from the time she first starts having bloody discharge (proestrus) until the time she is no longer fertile (estrus).

Every female is different though, and so some may have shorter or longer heats.

Remember that during the time the female is actually fertile, the discharge will be lighter and less noticeable.

This leads some people to assume that her heat is over, when it’s most definitely not and she’s at risk of becoming pregnant if allowed to be around intact males.

How Often Do Golden Retrievers Come into Heat?

Most Golden Retrievers come into heat every 6 to 9 months.

Sometimes a female’s heats are irregular at first, so there may be more time between heats initially.

If you’ve chosen not to spay your female, you should keep record of her heat cycles, so you can predict when she will come back into heat.

This will help you prevent her from becoming pregnant.

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What Are the Signs That a Golden Is In Heat?

There are both physical and behavioral changes that females coming into heat will show.

The two major physical signs are:

  • Swollen vulva
  • Bloody discharge

Behavioral indications are more varied, and include:

  • Licking their back end more than normal
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Marking in the house
  • More sensitive and clingy with family
  • Tiredness and disinterest in playing
  • Change in eating habits (both decreased and increased hunger)
  • Restlessness (panting, pacing, inability to settle)
  • Changes in behavior towards other dogs (can be cranky and/or flirtatious)
clingy golden retriever in heat

Does the Reproductive Cycle Last For the Female Dog’s Lifetime?

In a word: yes.

Female dogs continue to have heat cycles even into old age, unless they are spayed.

However, the frequency of heats become less as they get older, and their fertility decreases as well, due to fewer eggs being produced.

So, in theory, even old dogs could become pregnant, but it’s unlikely.

It’s also not recommended to breed an older female, as pregnancy, birth and nursing can really take a toll on an older dog’s body.

How to Care For Your Female Dog While She’s in Heat

Here are three tips for taking care of your female during her heat cycle.

Keep Her Away from Other Dogs

This is especially important if the other dogs are intact (unneutered) males, as they could mate with her.

However, even neutered males and other females can irritate a female in heat, triggering aggressive behavior.

You may need to use crates and gates to give your female some space from your other dogs.

If you have any intact male dogs in your home, you will need a plan to keep them from breeding with your female, which will be discussed in the next section in more detail.

Get Her Some Underwear

A cute pair of doggie underwear will help your home stay clean during her heat.

Anything she sits or lays on may get stained with spots of blood, so underwear will protect your furniture and any bedding.

While undies are NOT an effective way of preventing an intact male from breeding with her, it can be a barrier for neutered males or even females who are interested in what’s going on with her back end.

Give Her What She Wants

Every female’s heat experience is different.

Some might prefer to have their space to snooze and not be bothered. (Don’t take it personally!)

Others might need some extra cuddles, scratches, and reassurance during this time.

Do your best to provide whatever she needs while she’s in heat.

How to Prevent a Dog in Heat From Becoming Pregnant

To prevent a pregnancy, keep your female in heat away from intact males.

If you have intact males in your home, you need to keep them separated like it’s your job.

Males that may normally be relaxed and well-mannered can become hellbent on finding their way to a female in heat.

It’s not unheard of for males to break out of crates, jump baby gates, and open doors when they know a female is fertile.

Create a solid, fool-proof plan if you have intact males at home while your female is in heat.

It’s suggested to have at least two barriers between them at all times, such as a crate and a securely closed door.

If your dog will open doors, put a baby lock on the handle.

Intact males can become very determined to get to a female in heat, so make sure your strategy is secure.

You can also have a friend or family member take your male during the time your female is fertile.

Additionally, you shouldn’t leave your female in heat out in the yard unattended, as her scent can attract any free-roaming dogs in the neighborhood and they could mate with her.

Male dogs have been known to scale fences and even breed through fencing.

You can take her for leashed walks if she’s up for it, ensuring that she has a properly fitted collar or harness that she cannot escape out of.

If you live in an area with many loose dogs, however, you may want to avoid walks.

Do not take her to dog parks either – that’s just asking for trouble.

Can a Dog Be in Heat Without Bleeding?

While most dogs will have some bloody discharge while they’re in heat, it is possible for some females to have what’s known as a “silent heat.”

Dogs in silent heat also have minimal to no vulvar swelling, so it can be really hard to know they are in heat.

Some dogs are very tidy while in heat and will keep their back end very clean, so you may not see much or any blood, even though she is bleeding.

female golden retriever in sweatshirt

Can a Female Dog Be Spayed While in Heat?

It is not recommended to spay a female dog while she is in heat, because it can increase the chances of complications.

While it can be done, especially in the case of a medical emergency, it’s better to wait two to three months after her heat finishes if you decide to have her spayed.

Should I Spay My Female Golden Retriever? And When Is the Best Time to Spay?

This is a complicated question and the answer isn’t black and white.

That’s why there’s a whole article dedicated to this topic, including lots of research specific to the Golden Retriever breed, to help you make the right decision for your dog: spaying your female Golden Retriever.

P.S. Getting a Golden Retriever puppy? Check out the Golden Retriever Puppy Handbook here.

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About the author:

Alisa Healy is a professional dog trainer in the Chicago suburbs, with a wide range of training experience from shelters to in-home training to dog sports. She is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and is passionate about helping people and dogs live fulfilling, harmonious lives together.

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