As such, unlike humans, there is no such thing as ‘menopause’ purely because of the definition of the word. The menopause occurs when the human monthly cycle ceases to happen, usually in later life. Those of you that keep bitches, will know that a female dog goes into oestrus, which is the technical name for ‘heat’. A bitch generally goes into heat around about every 6 months, but this does depend on the breed of dog, its age and by individual dog. It would not be unusual for a bitch to have more than two heat periods.
The older your bitch, the more likely the oestrus cycles will become irregular and not 6-monthly. However, in the case of humans, once the ‘menopause’ firmly sets in, it is less likely that pregnancy will occur, as egg production is scanty, eventually becoming absolute zero. But beware with dogs – even if their cycle is irregular, they remain fertile, so pregnancy is still a possibility.
Regular heat periods in small dogs seem to decline around about 8 years old, while in larger dogs, it can be as early as 6 years old.
The actual duration of the oestrus cycle can vary in length, but in older dogs they become shorter as time goes on, but it is wise to remember as stated, that they remain fertile however short or irregular the cycle is.
Once irregular cycles are evident, you could say this is a ‘menopause-like state’. Like humans, the uterus changes its functionality and shape, making any thoughts of pregnancy a bad idea. It can be dangerous in older dogs due to several health reasons. There may be sub-clinical diseases present, so it is best not to even consider breeding an older dog.
There are many reports of bitches becoming pregnant up to the age of 15, but this is never recommended and potentially dangerous for the older dog.
This is an emotive subject, and particularly pertinent with older dogs. Pregnancy in old age is potentially very dangerous and stressful at this later stage of life. There really is only one answer to this, and that is spaying. There are so many different views on this topic, but if you really don’t want your dog to become pregnant, rather than locking them up for their entire life, the only sensible answer is spaying. Without spaying either by removing only the ovaries, or a full hysterectomy, not only is there a possibility of pregnancy, but also reproductive organs health risks are more common. For information purposes, removal of ovaries is known as ‘oophorectomy’, whilst entire removal of ovaries and uterus is known as ‘ovariohysterectomy’ – at least now you know if your vet recommends either of these operations, what their meaning is.
Spaying will not alter your dog’s characteristics, although they may become quieter and unlikely to wander looking for sexual adventure! Also, on the plus side, you won’t have a queue of unwelcome male suitors at your door! Spaying also reduces the risk of mammary cancer, which is a welcome thought. This type of cancer is very serious and more likely to occur in bitches that have not been spayed, as this can also spread into the lymph nodes around the area.
Dogs in the ‘menopausal state’ can still experience phantom pregnancies, technically called ‘pseudopregnancies’, particularly if they have other female dogs around them who are still experiencing regular oestrus cycles. These phantom pregnancies usually desist after a few days or within a couple of weeks. If the symptoms continue, you should visit your vet to have further investigation, as there is a possibility of an underlying condition.
The chances of pyometra increase as your dog ages. As part of a phantom pregnancy at any age, progesterone levels rise to prepare the uterus for real pregnancy. The lining of the uterus thickens and creates a glutinous substance that would, under normal pregnancy conditions, be apparent as a protection for the impending pups. However, this can create a dangerous condition known as ‘pyometra’ – an accumulation of pus in the uterus, which can be extremely serious if left untreated, particularly in ‘menopausal’ dogs.
Certainly, from middle age to senior dogs, you should be diligent in checking out symptoms related to your dog’s age whether they have been spayed or not. Pyometra symptoms include distension of the abdomen, closed cervix (the uterus becomes full of pus and cannot be expelled), lethargy, excessive drinking, vaginal discharge (can be evident on dog blankets and carpets), and sometimes vomiting. Watch out for these signs.
The true veterinary answer to this is that nobody in the canine world really knows. Considering that a dog can remain fertile throughout its life, the menopause in its exact meaning does not exist. Dogs can still bleed, but equally so, they still could become pregnant – unlike the human form. They still produce the female hormones associated with the menstrual cycle, such as oestrogen and progesterone.
Spaying neither increases nor decreases the chances of menopausal like symptoms, but it does protect your dog from unwanted and unadvisable pregnancies in older age, as well as lessening the chances of any associated diseases of the uterine cavity.