What is Vaginitis in Dogs?
Vaginitis in dogs is a condition where the vagina in female dogs becomes inflamed. Vaginitis can affect both entire and desexed dogs (females without their reproductive organs). It can occur in puppies and adult dogs.
There are a few common reasons that a dog can develop vaginitis, which will be covered in this article and how vaginitis is diagnosed and treated.
Anatomy of the Female Dog Vagina Explained
Female dogs are mammals, just like humans, meaning they carry very similar anatomy to female humans.
The main organs of the female reproductive tract are listed below:
- Ovaries: Dogs have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. Ovaries are responsible for producing eggs which become fertilized by sperm to produce pups.
- Fallopian tubes: Also called oviducts, these connect the ovaries to the uterus. The eggs travel down the fallopian tube to enter the uterus to be fertilized.
- Uterus: The dog uterus has two compartments, called horns. This is different from humans, who only have one compartment. This extra space is to allow for litters of multiple pups. The uterus is where dogs go from fertilized eggs to fully developed puppies ready to be born.
- Cervix: This is attached to the uterus, and most of the time, it is closed. It only opens briefly during a dog’s heat cycle to allow sperm entrance to the uterus and during labor when puppies pass through the cervix to the outside world.
- Vagina: This is the muscular walled tube that connects the cervix to the outside wall.
- Vulva: This is the external structure of the genital tract.
The dog vagina is a muscular tube that connects the external genitals (vulva) to the internal reproductive organs (cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries). At the exit of the vagina is a structure called the vestibule, where the vagina and urethra meet before ending as the dog’s vulva.
The vagina is lined by cells called squamous cells (the same cells that make up skin). In a healthy dog without vaginitis, the vagina will be a pink color without inflammation or bleeding.
In an intact female dog on heat, the labia (skin folds on either side of the vagina) become thickened and protruding, and blood will be present from the vagina. In a desexed dog, the labia will not be noticeable. A small amount of clear discharge is normal in spayed dogs and those that are not in heat.
Clinical Signs of Canine Vaginitis
A dog with vaginitis will have a few common signs. However, please note a dog with vaginitis will not necessarily have all of these signs.
This is caused by inflammation in the area being irritating, making your dog think they need to relieve themselves.
Excessive Licking of the Vagina and Vulva
The irritation can be enough that it bothers your pet, making them lick the area.
Scooting or Rubbing the Area
Similar to above, when the vagina is inflamed, this may be irritating and cause your dog to rub the area to provide relief.
Changes in Dog Vaginal Discharge
Your dog’s discharge may be white, red, and more copious if they have vaginitis.
Canine Vulva and Vagina Changes
You may notice the vulva of your dog become enlarged, and the mucous membranes (the pink internal part) become red and swollen.
If you think your dog has vaginitis, arrange a visit to your veterinarian for your animal to be examined. However, these signs can also be caused by other conditions such as pyometra which is very serious, so do not delay getting your dog seen.
The Causes of Vaginitis in Canines
Many things can cause dog vaginitis. Some of these include:
- Urinary tract infection: As discussed above, the urethra exits into the vagina at the point of the vestibule. If there is an infection in the urinary tract, this will often also affect the vagina.
- Unclean genitals: If the vulva and anus are not kept clean on a dog, bacteria can proliferate and cause infection and inflammation. It is important to keep your dog clean, especially if they have a problem doing it themselves. Conditions such as arthritis, diarrhea, obesity, and post-delivery (after whelping) are times when your dog might need to be cleaned more regularly. An unscented baby wipe can work well to clean the area.
- Urinary incontinence: In dogs with urinary incontinence, the urine can dribble out of the vagina as the urinary sphincter is not working appropriately.
- Birth defects: Some female dogs are born with ectopic ureters or poor conformation, leading to urine pooling and vaginitis.
- Vaginal tumors: A tumor located in the vulva or vagina can lead to vaginitis.
- Trauma: Injury to the vagina or vulva can cause vaginitis.
- Foreign bodies: In some instances, small objects such as grass seeds can become lodged in the vagina, introducing infection and inflammation caused by irritation.
- Prepubertal (sexually immature) vagina: Prior to sexual maturity, the vagina and vulva are underdeveloped, which may lead to vaginitis.
The Two Types of Vaginitis Unpacked
There are two main types of vaginitis, the first type is called juvenile or puppy vaginitis, and the second is called adult-onset vaginitis. As their names suggest, we can differentiate vaginitis depending on when the dog develops it in their life.
Puppy vaginitis occurs in dogs that have not gone through heat and are not sexually mature. There is no breed predisposition, and most dogs show few signs of vaginitis. Common signs include small amounts of mucoid discharge at the vulva, but this can also be a more significant amount of discharge, and some dogs will lick at their vulva.
Adult-onset vaginitis most commonly affects spayed (desexed) female dogs. There is no apparent association between age or breed. Most commonly, you will see a mucoid or pustular discharge from the vulva.
Other common signs include regular licking of the vulva, increased urination, and urinary incontinence. Some dogs may have other conditions such as diabetes which can make the vaginitis worse.
How Does a Vet Diagnose Canine Vaginitis?
The diagnosis of vaginitis is the same for puppy and adult-onset vaginitis. Initially, your veterinarian will start by collecting a thorough history about your dog, the behaviors you’ve seen, any discharge you’ve noticed, and they will want to know if your dog is entire or desexed.
Once a history has been collected, a physical exam will begin where your dog will be examined. Your veterinarian will check your dog all over and inspect the vagina.
After the examination, veterinarians will commonly collect a sample from the vagina using a cotton swab, and tests can then be run on this sample. The most common tests are cytology, where cells are looked at under a microscope and bacterial culture to see if there is an infection present. It is essential to realize that the vagina of dogs has bacteria present naturally, so growing bacteria in the lab doesn’t confirm vaginitis, but it can help guide treatment.
Other tests your veterinarian might perform include urine testing to look for signs of infection and vaginoscopy, where the vagina can be examined in more detail. This will usually require sedation.
Blood tests may also be considered if other tests do not help with diagnosis or if your veterinarian is concerned there could be a systemic condition causing vaginitis in your dog, e.g., diabetes.
How to Treat Vaginitis in Dogs
Puppy onset vaginitis will typically resolve with time and conservative therapy. If there is excessive discharge, antibiotics may be prescribed; otherwise, regularly cleaning the area with baby wipes may be all that is needed. Once your puppy matures, its vaginitis is expected to resolve.
Adult-onset vaginitis will have different treatments depending on the cause. Most common treatments will be antibiotics for urinary tract infections, medicine for urinary incontinence, surgery to correct anatomical abnormalities, treating the systemic condition, e.g., insulin for diabetes.
In some cases, the cause may not be found. These cases are called idiopathic vaginitis. In these situations, veterinarians will treat them symptomatically.
Can a Dog With Vaginitis be Bred?
It is not recommended to breed a dog with vaginitis, the vagina is inflamed, and breeding can be traumatic, which can cause pain to the female dog. On top of this, an infection could be spread to the male which could be costly.
It is best to get your dog’s vaginitis under control first before breeding to ensure a successful pairing.
Prevention Against Vaginitis in Dogs
The best thing you can do as an owner to prevent vaginitis is to make sure the vaginal opening is clean for your dog. In most cases, a dog will be able to do this themselves, but if you notice excessive fur or dirt building up in the area, it is your responsibility to manage it.
Regular grooming and baby wipes can be used. However, do not use harsh chemicals or cleaning products on the vulva or vagina. The skin is fragile and can become irritated.
Ensuring your dog is in good health and has the correct weight for its size will also help prevent vaginitis. If you think your dog might have vaginitis be sure to get them examined by a veterinarian.
The Future Prospects of a Female Dog With Vaginitis
The good news is that vaginitis will often respond well to conservative treatment, and many dogs will return to normal in just a few weeks. However, in some cases, surgery is required to correct conformational issues in dogs, and the prognosis depends on the severity and duration of their problem.
Although vaginitis might be an awkward conversation to have, you must get your pet seen by a veterinarian if you think there might be a problem. This is just another part of your animal, and it is nothing a veterinarian hasn’t seen or heard about before. Prompt treatment can help ensure a good outcome, and your pooch will thank you for it.
Helen is a small animal veterinarian from New Zealand. Animals have always been a big passion of hers and working with them is a dream come true. In her spare time Helen loves traveling to exotic locations and volunteering her time and skills to help animals around the world. Education is a
passion of hers and she is excited to be able to contribute to I Love Veterinary to inform passionate animal-lovers around the world.