Knowing when your Rhodesian ridgeback will go into heat isn’t so straightforward. There are many that questions owners both new and experienced have on this important topic.
This article will cover when ridgebacks usually have their first heat, the signs to look out for, what each cycle means, how regularly the heat cycle comes, lasts, and more. Let’s get into it.
Between 12-18 months of age is when most female Rhodesian ridgebacks have their first heat. The exact timing for each ridgeback can vary but this age range is common for most. Ridgebacks come into heat this late is likely due to their large physical size.
Signs That Indicate Your Ridgeback Is Going Into Heat
So how will you know when your ridgeback is going into heat? This is one of the most common questions on this topic. And rightly so, as there is no “set in stone” age to go by, you’ll have to rely on these following signs.
Signs your Rhodesian ridgeback is going into heat:
● Bleeding / blood spots
● Swollen vulva
● Blood-colored discharge
● Change in temperament (mood swings, aggression, anxiety)
● Licking of the genital area (more than usual)
● Increased urination
● Change in appetite
● Change in energy
● Holding her tail differently
The most common of these signs are blood spots, bleeding, a swollen vulva, and paying more attention to her genital area.
Please note: All ridgebacks will be different! Some females may display certain indicators more than others. So good advice is to never get fixated on trying to spot one single sign, as it could be anything from the above list.
If you have a female ridgeback, it’s important to start observing her typical behavior more closely around the 1-year mark. The more accustomed you get to what’s normal behavior, the easier it will be to spot when anything changes.
When Will Your Ridgeback Go Into Heat?
As explained above, Rhodesian ridgebacks typically enter their first heat cycle between 12 and 18 months of age.
This is for the majority, not all. There are always some exceptions and some ridgebacks might surprise their owners with an early heat (before 12 months) or even a later heat (after 18 months). Both scenarios have happened before and will happen again!
Nothing is set in stone when it comes to when your ridgeback will have her first heat. That’s the important takeaway.
Why Do Ridgebacks Come Into Heat Later Than Other Breeds?
If you have prior knowledge of when other breeds come into heat, you’ll instantly know that 12-18 months is a little later than most.
Many other breeds come into heat much sooner than this and for some, their average age range is between 6 and 10 months. Vastly different from a ridgeback’s 12-18 months.
This is likely down to the Rhodesian ridgeback’s larger physical size. There is a clear pattern seen in dogs (and many other animals) that the larger they are, the longer it is before their first heat, and the less frequent they will have their heat cycles in general.
This brings me to the next most frequently asked question.
How Often Do Ridgebacks Have Their Heat Cycle?
Most Rhodesian ridgebacks will have just one heat cycle per year. This is less frequent than most other breeds that typically have two per year. While there are always some exceptions to this, most ridgebacks will have just a single heat cycle every 12 months.
Many owners ask if there are certain things that affect the heat frequency, although there may be some external factors like the environment and overall health, it’s mostly genetic. There’s not really anything we can do or change that will affect the frequency at which your ridgeback will have her cycles.
Additionally, it might take a while before your Rhody settles into a consistent pattern. The moment she has her first heat cycle, it doesn’t mean she will go into heat on the same month exactly 12 months thereon after. It can even be a few years before the heat cycles become more predictable.
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Rhodesian Ridgeback Heat Cycles Explained
When your ridgeback enters into heat, there are four individual stages that she will go through.
There are some significant differences between the stages so it’s important to know what that means for your ridgeback.
1. Proestrus Stage
The very first stage of the heat cycle is called the proestrus stage. This stage usually lasts between 7 and 10 days, although in some cases, this can vary up to a few days in either direction.
The proestrus stage is for the purpose of getting ready to mate, but she will NOT want anything to do with a male at this moment. She will not accept a mating partner and will even be aggressive towards other males.
Due to a strong change in scent, any male dog will know she’s entering into heat and will be attracted from this first moment. But with her being aggressive towards any male getting near her, it’s imperative to keep her away and safe during this moment (for the sake of both dogs).
Signs of the Proestrus Stage include:
● Tail tucking
● A swollen vulva
● Blood spots
● Extra attention paid to her genital area
● Aggression towards male dogs
2. Estrus Stage
The estrus stage is the most notable stage of the four. This is when your ridgeback will accept a mating partner and is fertile. She will likely hold her tail to the side to demonstrate she’s “ready”.
For most ridgebacks, the estrus usually lasts around 8-10 days, but again this can range in either direction a good few days.
During this stage, she will likely be aggressive now towards other females instead of the males. It’s also known that females in this stage will take it upon themselves to find a mating partner, which could even involve escaping from their own backyard or while on walks. This will be covered below.
Signs of the Estrus Stage include:
● Frequent urination
● Holding tail to the side
● Will accept males
● Flirtatious behavior
● Aggressive towards females
● Discharge usually slows down
3. Diestrus Stage
Following the Estrus Stage, comes the Diestrus Stage. This is now when your ridgeback’s body returns back to normal and is essentially coming out of heat.
If your ridgeback has not been impregnated, then this stage will last around another 7-10 days. If, however, your ridgeback has been impregnated, she will remain in this stage 60-70 days for the duration of the pregnancy.
Signs of the Diestrus Stage include:
● Discharge reduces until eventually stopping completely
● Vulva reduces back to normal size in around 7 days
4. Anestrus Stage
The last stage is called the Anestrus Stage. Nothing happens in this stage and it is considered the “resting stage”.
Technically, your ridgeback will remain in this stage until she enters back into the proestrus stage on her next heat cycle.
How Long Does a Ridgebacks Heat Cycle Last
From the moment your ridgeback enters into her heat cycle until her body returns back to normal, is usually around 21 days give or take a few days. This takes into account the Proestrus Stage (infertile), the Estrus Stage (fertile). After this, her body will begin returning back to normal.
How To Care For Your Ridgeback During Heat
There are several tips and pieces of advice that will help you better handle your ridgeback during heat. Let’s run through them below.
1. Be ready for temperament changes
The first and most important thing that owners must be ready for is, are quick mood swings and a change of usual behavior.
Your ridgeback can act in all kinds of dramatic ways that you might have never seen before. This can be quite unsettling and strange to see. Just know it’s part of the process and it’s important to be there when she wants your attention and allow her space when she doesn’t want it.
Let everyone in the household know that your ridgeback will likely be acting differently for a few weeks, and just be supportive and understanding throughout this stage.
2. Supervision in the yard is a must
From the moment she enters into the Proestrus Stage, other males will smell this from a long way away, even miles!
This could potentially cause other male dogs to try gaining access to your yard, which could potentially cause a huge fight to break out.
Additionally, once your ridgeback enters into the Estrus Stage she will take it upon herself to find a partner, and a sad reality is that so many female dogs go missing during this stage because they escape from their yard in search of a partner.
Supervision when in the yard is necessary, and many owners even use a long leash for toilet breaks.
3. You can exercise outside but caution is necessary
You can still take your ridgeback out for walks even when she is on heat. Many owners are worried about this, but there are no “rules” to say you can’t or shouldn’t do this.
Of course, due to the potential issues of other dogs, it’s only advised to take your ridgeback out if you have an area where there will be very few other dogs (preferably none at all).
And she must be kept on a leash at all times. This is absolutely necessary.
If you don’t want to take her out, this is also completely fine too. Exercise can be done inside the home or backyard (again with a leash).
4. Have extra cleaning products and spare towels to hand
With the blood spots, discharge, and increased urination, it can become a little messy while your ridgeback is going through heat (mostly just the first two stages).
It helps to lay as many spare towels down as you can in her particular area of the home. Spare towels can protect your floors and carpets from potential staining. Plus they are easily thrown in the wash to keep clean.
Be sure to grab some extra cleaning products (pet-friendly) as it’s very important to keep her bed area and close environment as clean as possible. It’s ideal if you can switch her bed over or wash it at least every few days to prevent bacteria build-up.
5. Doggy Diapers (hygiene pants)
Some dogs get on well with this, and others do not. But it is worth considering for your ridgeback.
Doggy diapers are exactly what they say they are… Diapers for dogs. These will soak up any discharge, blood, and even urination to a certain extent.
They are excellent to use overnight to prevent her bed from getting dirty, but as you can imagine some dogs will not tolerate wearing a doggy diaper. You might want to try it, or just leave it. It’s completely optional.
6. Schedule a vet appointment
There are a few potential health issues that can happen after the heat cycle, so to remain on the safe side it’s best to have an appointment scheduled.
The veterinarian will give your ridgeback a full physical and check that her health is tip-top condition.
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Can a Ridgeback Be Spayed Before Her First Heat Cycle?
The topic of spaying (and neutering) is a highly debated one. The most prominent question being WHEN is the most appropriate/best time to do it. And this is a little tricky to answer…
Even though some vets and breeders recommend spaying your ridgeback before she has her first heat cycle. There are many who advise against this.
Some evidence points towards an increased risk of mammary tumors when spayed before the first heat cycle. On the flip side of the coin, spaying is said to increase the lifespan and reduce the chances of other health issues further down the line. And females tend to handle “early” spaying better than early neutering in males.
Knowing when exactly to spay your ridgeback is extremely difficult to say.
In my nonprofessional opinion, if spaying is something that you want to do, then it can be done before her first heat cycle, BUT it’s important not to do it unnecessarily early. As ridgebacks likely won’t come into heat until 12 months, it’s best to wait until around 9-12 months of age before spaying. This will allow her body to continue to grow and produce further estrogen hormones, before the spaying.
At the same time, some owners prefer to spay after she has had one, two, or three heat cycles, and this has the benefit of allowing her body to properly mature naturally before the spaying. Some say this leads to a calmer, more sensible female.
The only “correct” thing I can say now, is that it’s best to consult your veterinarian for a personalized answer after your ridgeback has had a full health check-up.
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Is There Anything Else To Know About Her Heat Cycle?
Not really! The most important thing to take away from this is that everything can vary significantly, from when your ridgeback will experience her first heat, to the signs she displays, how long it lasts and when her regular pattern will develop. Nothing is set in stone.
The best advice is to prepare for your ridgeback’s heat and be ready to help her wherever necessary. Understand the risks of unwanted encounters with other dogs and remember that your ridgeback should always be supervised and on the leash when outside.
It can be hard to know what to “do” as the owner. But in reality, there isn’t much we can “do”. We just have to remain calm, be attentive, and do our best to provide support and comfort when our ridgeback craves it. Apart from that, this is a natural process that all females have to go through, and know that your Rhody will come out mentally stronger, more mature, and well-rounded on the other side.
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