The impact of gender and/or hormone variations on a wide variety of neural functions makes the choice between studying males or females (or both) of a given species difficult. Although female rats are widely used experimentally, few studies control for the stage of estrus. More detailed information about how to distinguish the various stages of the estrous cycle is needed. For the present study, vaginal smears were obtained once a day and stained using an adaptation of the Papanicolaou (PAP) procedure. Images are provided of unstained "wet" samples and the corresponding PAP stained smears illustrating the cellular profile for each stage of the cycle as well as post-ovariectomy. The different cell populations across the cycle were quantified and ratios determined to show trends between the predominant and other cell types in each stage of the estrous cycle. Both stained and unstained images and cell quantification data provide valuable guidelines for distinguishing the stages of the estrous cycle.