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What is Vulvitis and Vaginitis ?

When you discuss vaginitis and vulvitis together, it is refered to it as vulvovaginitis. It is a condition that causes inflammation of the vulva and vagina. It can be caused by a difficult birth, contamination of the reproductive tract, or even from bacteria invading the area leading to infection. Symptoms commonly seen include depression, anorexia, elevated tail, and a foul-odor discharge coming from the genital area. The veterinarian may be able to diagnose this condition by clinical symptoms alone, but may want to run diagnostics for confirmation. She may want to microscopically examine the vaginal discharge to see what is causing the infection. When confirmed, treatment can begin. Antibiotics and washing of the area are used in conjunction to clear the infection and inflammation. If treated properly and in a timely manner, your horse should recover without any long term side effects.

Vaginitis and vulvitis are two conditions that appear simultaneously in female horses. This condition can develop at any time, but is most frequently seen after giving birth. A mild infection is non-life threatening but veterinary treatment should be sought to avoid the condition from developing into a more serious condition.

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Symptoms of Vulvitis and Vaginitis in Horses

Symptoms may include:

  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Elevated tail
  • Arched back
  • Tenesmus
  • Reluctance to urinate or defecate
  • Pain in the pelvic region
  • Odor from the area 
  • Swollen vulva
  • Inflamed vagina 
  • Leucorrhea 

Types

Vaginitis is a form of inflammation of the vagina; vulvitis is inflammation of the vulva. When both conditions are present, it is known as vulvovaginitis. Conditions can be acute or chronic. If the onset of the inflammation is all of a sudden or right after giving birth, onset is said to be acute. If chronic, it means your horse has been suffering from this condition for a while or it returns repeatedly, even after treatment.

Causes of Vulvitis and Vaginitis in Horses

Vulvitis and vaginitis can be caused by a difficult labor or from instruments used to assist labor, such as ropes or forceps. Vulvovaginitis can also be a secondary issue as a result of another simultaneous issue. Chronic contamination of the reproductive tract, bruising, and hematomas can also be causes of vulvovaginitis. Additionally, there are different types of bacteria that can cause this condition and in some chronic cases, a deformity of the area may be allowing the bacteria easy access to the reproductive tract; this can be corrected with a simple surgery.

Diagnosis of Vulvitis and Vaginitis in Horses

Diagnosing vulvovaginitis can be done by a physical exam but additional diagnostics may be helpful. In cases of this condition, inflammation of the vulva and vagina are the most obvious symptoms. The veterinarian will be able to see and palpate this upon physical examination. Another obvious symptom is the presence of discharge being produced from the area. She may take a swab sample from inside the vagina or vulva and examine it under the microscope to see if there is any sort of underlying infection. 

Routine blood work may be suggested in order to check for anemia and to check organ function. The veterinarian may even want to perform an ultrasound of the vagina to check for a tumor, hemorrhaging, or any other abnormality. If an ultrasound is unavailable she may opt for a radiographic image instead to at least get an idea of what is going on inside the vagina.

Treatment of Vulvitis and Vaginitis in Horses

Treatment can vary depending on your horse’s needs. However, the first thing that always needs to be addressed is cleanliness. The canal and womb will need to be freely washed out with a medicinal solution until the solution returns clear. After this, a medicinal lotion may need to be applied in the same method and is to be repeated until the issue is resolved. 

Supportive care will be determined by your horse’s needs. Every case can vary, so the veterinarian will recommend specific treatment options for your horse specifically. She may also want to put her on oral antibiotics to treat what she is currently experiencing and to prevent a secondary bacterial infection from developing.

Recovery of Vulvitis and Vaginitis in Horses

In some cases, the vulvovaginitis can spontaneously clear up. Washing the area with a dilute chlorhexidine solution may speed things up. This condition does not cause infertility but can lead to more severe issues later on, such as mild infection turning into endometritis, a more serious condition. As long as you seek your veterinarian’s medical advice and apply the therapies she suggests, your horse should recover without any long term side effects.