Dogs and Menopause

Dogs and Menopause

Female humans when hit puberty, get their periods aka in a more sophisticated language, monthly menstrual cycles. This is a distinct time period during their lives when it is possible to conceive and give birth to babies. The same concept applies to dogs as well.

Dogs too, get their menstrual cycles and at some point, in them too, the cycles stop. This is called Menopause which signals the end of the years of possible child bearing. It’s natural to wonder if dogs experience something similar.

Some aspects of the human and canine reproductive cycles are similar. Females of both species experience regular fluctuations in their hormones but what differs is the duration, timing and the effects of such kind of changes on their physical being. Although there are many hormones that are responsible for fluctuations and effects, the most important ones are estrogen and progesterone.

This is how the monthly cycle for a human female is like (which we all very well know);

Week 1: The period has just come to an end and the estrogen and progesterone levels are low.
Week 2: Estrogen levels increase in preparation for ovulation.
Week 3: Progesterone levels increase in preparation for pregnancy.
Week 4: If pregnancy has not occurred, both estrogen and progesterone levels drop.

The same is not with the dogs as they do not go through a monthly menstrual cycle. Instead, they go into “heat” every 4-12 months. Assuming a six- to seven-month cycle, this is what a dog’s hormonal fluctuations look like:

Months 1-4: Low estrogen and progesterone levels. No reproductive activity.
Week A (may last days or weeks): Estrogen levels increase in preparation for ovulation. The dog’s vulva is swollen and there is a bloody discharge.
Week B (may last days or weeks): Estrogen levels decrease as the ovulation as already occurred. This is the period when the dog is willing to mate. As compared to the previous week, the bloody discharge would be lesser but the vulva still remains swollen. Progesterone levels increase in preparation for pregnancy.
Months 5 and 6: Estrogen levels are low. Progesterone levels are high to maintain a pregnancy. The dog may experience a false pregnancy even if mating did not occur since her hormones are the same regardless.

When a woman experiences menopause, her monthly cycles stop and her body produces very low levels of estrogen and progesterone for the rest of her life. This does not occur in dogs. Healthy female dogs will continue going into heat on a regular basis throughout their entire lives.

Changes in Pregnancies and Heat Cycles with Age

As it is very well and clearly mentioned above, dogs retain high levels of fertility even when they advance in age.

This is not to say that dogs typically retain high levels of fertility to such an advanced age. Usually around age 5 or 6, they will begin to become less able to maintain healthy pregnancies. This may occur sooner in larger breeds and later in smaller breeds due to the differences in their aging rates and life expectancies.

Dogs continue cycling throughout their lives but it can be so that the heats become irregular or may have just seemed to stop altogether. This doesn’t mean that it actually has but it simply means that the vulva still gets swollen but the bloody discharge is at its bare minimum. Some dogs may just naturally have a longer span between their heats that may stretch to 13-14 months. But when an older dog truly stops cycling, a health problem is probably to blame. For example, ovarian cysts or ovarian cancer can disrupt a dog’s hormonal production and prevent the expression of a normal heat cycle.

Do Dogs Experience Menopause-like Symptoms?

Many of the symptoms women experience around the time of menopause are related to declining levels of estrogen and progesterone. With this, the main question arises if it is the same case with dogs. The answer to that is unknown. With the kind of schedule of their cycles, it is understood that normally there are months when their bodies produce only a few reproductive hormones which makes it highly unlikely for them to get hot flashes, mood swings, or other symptoms associated with menopause.

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