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Home > Dogs > What Are Female Dogs Called? Vet Approved Facts & How to Refer to Them

What Are Female Dogs Called? Vet Approved Facts & How to Refer to Them

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Veterinarian, MRCVS

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Female dogs are known as bitches, which is a word that has caused controversy in recent years, with many thinking that it is offensive even when used to refer to female dogs. But what is the origin of this word, and why do we use it? Most people can identify which dog is male or female by just looking, but knowing if they have been sterilized is harder with females. Like some other animals, such as cats or cows, domestic dogs have specific terms for their male and female counterparts. While the term “bitch” refers to the official title of a female dog, it has gained traction as a negative term in society, so it isn’t used often.

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What Is a Female Dog Called?

The female dog is known as a “bitch.” Etymologists believe that the word comes from the Old English word, “bicce,” meaning “female dog.”

In the Middle Ages, farmers bred dogs to help with their work, such as guarding their livestock and hunting. Farmers would refer to the females as “bitches” because they were the ones that were pregnant and/or nursing puppies.

Over time, the word evolved, and it’s now used to refer to female dogs and as a slang, derogatory term for women.

The name for a female parent of puppies is a dam. This is usually reserved for breeding paperwork to show parenting lineage and the father is termed the sire.

white female samoyed dog standing on a fallen log in the snow
Image By: Monika Hodanova, Shutterstock

Dictionary Definitions of a “Bitch”

There have been many attempts to change the definition of the word “bitch.”

Here are a few common definitions of the word:
  • The Oxford English Dictionary defines “bitch” as “used as a disparaging term for a spiteful or malicious woman, or as a term of abuse applied to a woman.”1 The Cambridge and American versions define the word simply as “a female dog.”
  • Merriam-Webster defines “bitch” as “the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals.”2
  • The Online Etymology Dictionary states that the word is the Old English “bicce,” likely from Old Norse “bikkjuna,” which means “female of the dog, fox, wolf, and other beasts.”3

How to Refer to Female Dogs

If the term “bitch” makes you uncomfortable, there are still ways to directly refer to a female dog while remaining accurate in your description. “Female dog” is the most formal way. “Dog” is also a perfectly acceptable word to use, although it doesn’t specify sex.

cute female maltese dog
Image By: tsik, Shutterstock



While there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the word, a female dog is officially termed a “bitch.” The term is likely derived from the Old English word, “bicce,” which also meant female dog. However, the derogatory meaning of the word in slang English means that many people are uncomfortable using the term. Using the words “female dog” instead is perfectly acceptable if you wish to avoid being offensive.

Featured Image Credit: Tatyana Vyc, Shutterstock

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