No matter how much you hope for it, your adorable Shih Tzu puppy won’t be a puppy forever. In fact, puppyhood is an incredibly brief period in your dog’s life.
The way you can know your Shih Tzu is no longer a puppy is when she goes into heat for the first time. While she still may have more growing and developing to do, the first heat cycle marks the permanent transition towards adulthood.
In this article, we will walk you through what to expect when your female Shih Tzu has her first heat cycle. We will talk about the signs and behaviors and how to make life more comfortable for your sweet girl.
How Long Does a Shih Tzu Stay In Heat?
The word “heat” is used to refer to the period of time when a female dog is receptive to mating and becoming pregnant.
Shih Tzu’s heat cycle typically lasts anywhere from two to four weeks. The length of time a given dog is in heat depends on breed, genetic history, health, age, and other factors.
Watch a Shih Tzu Having Her First Heat Cycle
In this short owner-made YouTube video, you can watch a young female Shih Tzu dog going through her first heat cycle.
You may notice the dog is wearing what looks like canine diapers. This is actually what they are, too. Female dog underpants help make sure that a dog in heat won’t bleed onto the floor or on your home furnishings.
When Does a Shih Tzu Dog Have Her First Heat Cycle?
For tiny dogs like the Shih Tzu, the first estrous (heat) cycle typically arrives at around six months of age, according to Vet Info.
Different dog breeds will have their first heat cycle at different times depending on their size and genetic history.
What Is the Heat Cycle, Exactly?
Earlier here we mentioned that heat is the term used to describe what happens in a female dog’s body when that dog becomes receptive to mating with a male dog. Sometimes a dog in heat is also said to be fertile or “in season.”
Just like with humans and many other species, dogs are not fertile all the time, which means they can’t get pregnant with puppies just any time.
The body has to prepare in certain ways before a female dog can actually get pregnant.
So let’s take a closer look at frequently asked questions about the complete heat cycle for a Shih Tzu dog.
How Often Do Shih Tzu Females Go Into Heat Annually?
According to Ask a Dog Breeder, a general rule of thumb is that a female Shih Tzu dog may go into heat between two and four times per year.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) Shih Tzu breed overview, Shih Tzu dogs can weigh between nine and 16 pounds when fully grown. This is important information to know when discussing the Shih Tzu heat cycle.
As VCA Animal Hospitals points out, smaller dogs like the Shih Tzu tend to go into heat more often than do large or giant breed dogs.
As well, small or tiny dog breeds may reach sexual maturity earlier in life than will larger or giant breed dogs.
So a Shih Tzu might have her very first heat cycle as early as six months old, which is well in advance of the time she would be considered an adult dog by all other measures.
The timing of the heat cycles may vary from four to six months between cycles.
What Are the Four Main Stages of the Shih Tzu Heat Cycle?
As Banfield Pet Hospital explains, there are four distinct phases or stages to the typical Shih Tzu heat cycle.
Proestrus can last anywhere from seven to 21 days. This can be considered like a “pre-estrus,” since the dog’s body is changing but she is not yet able to get pregnant.
However, you should still take every possible precaution to keep your Shih Tzu from mating, because the male dog’s sperm can remain viable (alive) inside her body for several days and may then cause an unwanted pregnancy when she enters estrus.
During the proestrus period, you will likely see some or all of these different changes in your Shih Tzu’s body and behavior:
- The vulva (genital area) gets swollen.
- There may be a bloody discharge.
- She will start to urinate more frequently.
- Your dog will likely lick herself a lot.
- She may be extra-clingy with you.
- Your dog will likely show aggression or run away if another dog tries to mount her.
- You may see other strange dogs lingering outside (because she is producing pheromones which male dogs can smell from a surprisingly long distance!).
The estrus period is when your Shih Tzu can actually get pregnant.
The estrus period typically lasts from five days to two weeks. Once again, when your Shih Tzu enters the actual estrus phase and becomes fertile, you will see some or all of the following changes in her body and behavior:
- The discharge becomes lighter in color.
- Your dog will start to posture and crouch to indicate receptivity to mating.
- You may see her move her tail aside.
- She may whimper more and beg to be let outside.
- Keep your dog safely shut up inside the house until you are sure this stage has passed and do not let any male dogs near her as they may bite you to try to get to mate.
Once your Shih Tzu passes through the estrus phase, she moves into diestrus.
At this time, even if she mates she is no longer fertile and cannot conceive. This cycle can last anywhere from 60 to 90 days.
You may notice some or all of the following changes to your dog’s body and behavior during diestrus:
- The discharge stops.
- Her urination pattern returns to normal.
- Her vulva (genital area) is no longer swollen.
- Her behavior returns to normal.
- She becomes calmer.
However, she will likely still be producing pheromones at some level, which will still be able to attract male dogs to your yard.
So don’t take her out in public until you are sure the discharge has stopped. This is for your safety and your dog’s safety, as male dogs that are eager to mate may become aggressive towards you and your dog.
The final stage of the heat cycle is anestrus. During this period all is calm and your dog’s body and behavior are fully normal again.
Like diestrus, anestrus can last anywhere from 60 to 90 days.
When anestrus passes is when your dog will start the whole four-stage cycle all over again.
Why Should a Shih Tzu Dog Be Spayed?
Many people who choose the Shih Tzu breed do so just to enjoy the wonderful qualities of these companion canines. They have no intention or desire to breed Shih Tzus.
This is the hands-down best reason to have your Shih Tzu female spayed. The world simply does not need more puppies, no matter how cute they are. There are already thousands of unwanted dogs in need of new forever homes.
Also, having your dog spayed will ease your workload and stress because you won’t have to put your dog in female diapers, keep her sequestered inside the house, or manage her moodiness.
As Shitzus By Elaine breeder explains, spaying your female Shih Tzu can also help to reduce the threat of ovarian and breast cancer and contribute to better health and longevity.
As well, as the American Shih Tzu Club points out, when you spay your female Shih Tzu, you also give her the gift of a calmer temperament since she won’t be going through the cyclical hormonal ups and downs of recurring heat cycles.
Is Spaying a Shih Tzu Dog Safe?
As Prestige Animal Hospital explains, the spaying procedure is quite common. Veterinarians perform this surgery every day around the world.
During the spaying procedure, the veterinary surgeon removes your Shih Tzu’s uterus and ovaries.
When Should a Shih Tzu Dog Be Spayed?
After reading through all this information, the obvious next question is about choosing the right moment to have your Shih Tzu spayed.
This is a matter of some ongoing debate. Some breeders and owners believe early spaying (before the puppy goes to their new forever home) has no detrimental health effects and is completely safe.
Other breeders and owners believe it is safer to wait until the puppy is older.
In most cases, Shih Tzu breeders and owners typically choose to wait until after your Shih Tzu’s first heat cycle (so between the age of four to six months) before scheduling the spay procedure.
If you have purchased your Shih Tzu female from a breeder who advocates waiting to spay and your purchase comes with a mandatory spay contract, you will be required to provide your breeder with proof the spay procedure was completed.
Very recently, Science Daily released the results of a research study conducted on 35 dog breeds, including the Shih Tzu.
The study showed that there were no ill effects of spaying Shih Tzus at an earlier age (the same did not hold true for neutering Shih Tzu males too early in life, however).
Ultimately, it will be up to you and your canine veterinarian to confer and select a date for the spay procedure that you feel is the safest and most protective of your dog’s lifelong health.
How to Prepare for Your Shih Tzu’s Spay Procedure
Your canine veterinarian will give you specific instructions for how to prepare for the date of your Shih Tzu’s spay procedure as well as post-operative care instructions.
The most important thing to remember is that your dog may take a little longer to recover. The spay surgery is slightly more invasive surgery than is neutering.
And as this popular Shih Tzu owner Reddit thread indicates, some Shih Tzu dogs can have a lower pain tolerance.
Because Shih Tzu dogs are so tiny, it will be important for you to monitor your dog very closely and make sure she is warm, dry, and comfortable and that she is eating and drinking enough.
What If You Choose Not To Breed and Not to Spay Your Shih Tzu?
As Whole Dog Journal points out, there are some important things to consider if you are thinking about not breeding your Shih Tzu but not spaying her either.
Shih Tzu dogs can live anywhere from 10 to 18 years, which means you may be dealing with discharge and female diapers and mood swings and the rest for a decade or longer.
If you want to add another dog to your family, you will need to choose another female or a male that has already been neutered to avoid big problems.
And non-spayed dogs may not be welcome at doggy daycares, boarding facilities and dog parks because they can cause behavioral problems amongst the other dogs.
You will also need to closely supervise your dog during extended periods of time every year. These periods of time may not neatly coincide with what is going on in your life at the time.
Overall, it can be less safe to wait to spay your Shih Tzu as she gets older than to do it earlier in life.
So if you are truly sure you do not want to breed your Shih Tzu (or you have a mandatory spay clause) it is best for your dog and for you to have the spay procedure done and put it behind you.
Once you have made the decision, your veterinarian can be your resource and guide for when to schedule the spay procedure for your Shih Tzu.