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When Do Irish Setters Go Into Heat? (Heat & Breeding FAQs)

There are several crucial aspects to understand your Irish Setter’s upcoming heat cycle.

Many owners reach out with inquiries about its timing, the signs to know, what to anticipate, and additional information. This guide covers everything you need to know!

6-12 months old is typically when Irish setters experience their first heat. Most Irish setters will fall within this age range, but it’s worth knowing in rare cases it could be earlier or much later than this.


When Do Irish Setter Go Into Heat?

As explained above, most Irish setters will go into heat between 6 and 12 months of age. But it’s important to state now that nothing is set in stone.

On rare occasions, owners report their setter going into heat at 5 months, and others as late as 16 or 18 months.

Although getting their first heat cycle early or late isn’t usually anything to worry about, it is advised to schedule a precautionary check-up if your setter hasn’t had their first heat by 12 months. It’s still very normal to be late, but it’s worth checking everything is okay.

How Often Do Irish Setters Go Into Heat?

Irish setters will go into heat every 6-7 months once their heat cycles regulate. It usually takes about 2 or 3 heat cycles before they follow a more consistent pattern and frequency.

If you’ve heard that the smaller the dog the more frequent their heat cycles are, then that’s correct. Some small breeds can have 3 or even 4 cycles in a single year, whereas larger breeds like setters usually have 1-2 cycles per year.

How Long Does Each Heat Cycle Last?

Once your Irish setter goes into heat it will be about 3 weeks give or take a couple of days before her body returns to normal.

Again, like with many things on this subject, it varies. Some setters maybe 3 weeks exactly, whereas others could take longer or even shorter. After your setter has had two or three cycles you’ll have a very good idea as to how long it usually lasts, for your setter.

Signs That Show Your Irish Setter Is Going Into Heat

Let’s run through some of the earliest signs you might see that indicate your setter could be going into heat. This is understandably one of the most asked questions from new owners.

Signs your setter is going into heat:

  • Unusual change in behavior
  • Paying extra attention to genitals
  • Vulva starting to swell
  • Tail tucking
  • Bleeding / discharge
  • Aggression towards male dogs

It’s important not to focus too much on spotting any one single sign. All setters are different and will exhibit some signs more than others. For some, their behavior may not change, and for others, it could be drastic. The same applies to all of the above.

With this in mind, it’s best to keep an open mind and consider all these possibilities together.

When Can Irish Setters Get Pregnant?

Technically speaking, Irish setters can get pregnant right from their very first heat cycle, which could be as young as six months.

This, however, is not advised and it’s recommended to wait until she’s had about three heat cycles before breeding her.

Pregnancy is super strenuous both physically and mentally and for those that are still young, problems can ensue. Not only is it harder to detect potential health issues in the mom at this age, but it can also be too much for her to handle (mentally).

In many cases, premature breeding can result in long-term behavioral issues for the mother. In addition to behavior issues, there is also a greater chance of her abandoning or giving up on her puppies.

Irish Setter Heat Cycles Explained

There are four stages to every heat cycle. Let’s run through each stage, what they mean, and the signs that will be shown.

1. Proestrus

This is the first stage of the heat cycle and is considered by some the preparation stage. Proestrus usually lasts around 7-10 days and is when your Irish setter will NOT be fertile or willing to mate. Due to this, she will likely demonstrate aggressive behavior towards other male dogs.

Signs of Proestrus:

  • Behavior change (more reserved, needy, lethargic)
  • Tail tucking (covering vulva)
  • Swollen vulva
  • Bleeding / discharge
  • Paying extra attention to her genital area

2. Estrus

The second stage is the most notable stage of the heat cycle. Estrus lasts for around 7-10 days after Proestrus. This is when your setter will be fertile and willing to mate with most intact males. She may even take it upon herself to seek a partner. During this stage, she may be aggressive towards other female dogs.

Signs of Estrus:

  • Flirtation behavior with male dogs
  • Aggessive with female dogs
  • Tail to the side (presenting vulva)
  • Bleeding and discharge may slow a little or change color
  • Frequent urination
  • Mood/temperament swings

3. Diestrus

The third stage of the heat cycle is called Diestrus. This is when your setter’s body begins returning to normal if she has not been impregnated. If she has been impregnated then her body will remain in Diestrus for the duration of the 60-70 day pregnancy.

Signs of Diestrus:

  • Bleeding / discharge coming to a stop
  • Vulva reduces in size and returns to normal
  • Behavior and temperament starts to normalize

4. Anestrus

The last and final stage is called Anestrus. This is considered the resting phase, and your setter actually remains in this stage until her next heat cycle begins and she enters Proestrus.

Tips on Caring For an Irish Setter In Heat

So, how do you best care for your setter when she enters heat? I know this moment can be daunting, and many owners worry that they don’t know what to do. This section will ease some nerves and cover all the essential tips and advice we know.

1. Accept weird behavior and mood swings

You may find your setter’s behavior and moods to swing all over the place, and as an owner, this can be worrying or even frustrating… Just know that these fluctuations are normal, and it’s best if we just go with the flow.

Sometimes she’ll be extra needy and clingy, and then she’ll distance herself for apparent reason. Weird things can happen to their behavior so it’s best not to get too worried about it.

What we can do is be understanding of these random changes, not get frustrated with her if she doesn’t respond to our commands like usual, and just be supportive.

2. Avoid interaction with other dogs

During Proestrus, she will attract males with her strong hormonal smells, however, she will not want to mate. This can result in vicious fighting that can have devastating results.

The same goes for when she’s in Estrus, but this time the aggression can be directed towards other males.

The takeaway here is that we need to be very careful when other dogs approach. Ideally, we want to avoid as much interaction with other dogs as possible while she’s in heat.

3. Exercise at home

The last point brings me to this one, consider exercising her inside your home and yard. By doing this you are eliminating the chances of bad interactions making her day to day calmer and less stressful.

Although setters are fairly big and need a lot of exercise, this is only a temporary change, so keeping to the yard, for now, shouldn’t be too much of a problem. You can play fetch, use a flirt pole, or even tug of war can be a good workout.

If you don’t have a yard and this just doesn’t seem possible, then try to take her out somewhere that has few other dogs.

4. Keep her on the leash outside

If you do decide you want to keep taking her out in public places, then it’s crucial to keep her on the leash.

This is especially important during the Estrus stage. When females are fertile and ready to mate, they may take it upon themselves to find a partner. If she’s out on a walk and smells a male not too far away, your calls will do nothing, and she’ll be gone…

If you do not have a secure yard with high fences, then it’s advised to keep her on the leash in your own yard too (during Estrus). Females have been known to escape from their yards in order to seek a mate.

5. Be ready for extra cleaning

One thing about dogs being in heat, is that it comes with extra mess. Blood spots and discharge can get on all floors if measures aren’t taken to start with.

Grab a bunch of old towels and lay them down in the main area your setter resides. This will protect your floors from staining.

Additionally, to make cleaning easier, most owners keep their setter confined to a few rooms of the house instead of allowing her to roam free.

And be sure to wash her bed every other day to prevent too much bacteria from building up.

It sounds like a lot of work but it isn’t too bad if you set yourself up for success in the beginning. Old towels are your best friend during heat cycles. And have plenty of dog-friendly disinfectants at the ready.

6. Schedule a post heat vet check up

This isn’t a requirement and many owners don’t actually do this, but to ease some nerves there’s no harm in scheduling a vet check-up for when her heat cycle is over.

There are a few potential health issues that could happen after heat, which is why some owners like to follow up with a precautionary check-up. Granted, these issues are very rare and generally unlikely to happen.

What Else Do You Need To Do?

Ultimately, there isn’t much more to do or worry about than what we’ve explained above. This is a natural process that all female setters will go through, and they do a fantastic job of dealing with this themselves…

There will be mood swings, behavioral changes, and a bit of extra mess, so it’s important to be ready for that, understanding, and accepting. It’s worth informing everyone in the household of these expected changes.

Be sure to understand the risks of dog-to-dog interactions while she is in heat, and limit the chances of any dangerous or unwanted situations.

While many owners continue to take their dogs in heat outside, I prefer to keep mine at home in the safety of my own yard. This is ultimately down to you, just be sure to minimize risks.

Should Irish Setters Be Spayed Before or After Heat?

This is a highly debated topic, and even most veterinarians can’t see eye to eye on this.

The trouble with this decision is that there is conflicting data on each side.

On one hand, spaying before their first heat is said to reduce the chances of further health issues later on down the line and is overall beneficial for longevity.

On the other hand, spaying before their first heat has been linked to an increased chance of developing mammary tumors. And in addition to this, spaying too early will stop her hormones and estrogen from developing, which supposedly leads to a calmer, better behaved dog down the line.

It’s a difficult question to answer, and the best advice I can give you now is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a full health check-up and tailored answer. After a thorough check-up, the answer may become more obvious, depending on your setter’s current health.

How Many Puppies Do Irish Setters Have?

Irish setter litter sizes vary from between 7-12 puppies on average. With 10 puppies being the most common litter size for this breed.

An Irish setter in Germany gave birth to a record-breaking litter size at 18 pups! 12 healthy females, and 7 healthy males. Can you imagine!? Cuteness overload.

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Before making any decisions that could affect the health and/or safety of your dog, you should always consult a trained veterinarian in your local area. Even though this content may have been written/reviewed by a trained veterinarian, our advice to you is to always consult your own local veterinarian in person. Please read our full dislcaimer if you have any questions.