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5 Common Reproductive Conditions in Female Dogs

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By Leslie Ingraham

Published: 10/27/2021, edited: 10/27/2021

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Overview

Most dogs experience reproductive maturity and can give birth easily and without complications. For some, however, the female reproductive cycle may go awry, causing problems for the mother and possibly for the unborn puppies. Most reproductive conditions in female dogs can be averted by spaying the mother before she gets pregnant. 

Besides causing discomfort and sometimes agitation in the mother, these conditions can make future pregnancies impossible, or they may have complications that are difficult to treat and cure. Read on to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for the most common reproductive conditions in female dogs.


Infertility

A female dog’s inability to get pregnant may be because the dog isn’t producing eggs or the proper hormones to sustain pregnancy and stimulate birth. If the fertility of the male partner is confirmed, and breeding has taken place at the right time, it’s likely that female infertility is the cause.

Symptoms

  • Inability to complete fertilization and produce puppies
  • Refusal to breed
  • Premature birth

Causes

Several causes may contribute to infertility in female dogs — not all of them are related to a lack of eggs. Causes of infertility in female dogs include:

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of infertility in female dogs is complicated and often takes a long time because of the many potential causes. Tests that will aid in the diagnosis include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Urinalysis
  • Chemistry panel (sodium, calcium, etc.)
  • Screening for infectious diseases
  • Assay of levels of hormones (progesterone, estrogen, estradiol, and relaxin)
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • Vaginal cell examination and bacterial culture

Treatment

Treatment of infertility will depend on the results of the physical examination and testing. Some conditions, such as tumors and cysts, may require surgery. Chemistry and hormonal insufficiency may be treated with replacement medications. Infections will likely be treated with antibiotics or antivirals. Other treatments include:

  • Surgical intervention: cysts, polyps, or tumors
  • Replacement or supplementation of hormones
  • Supplements for abnormal metabolic and other chemicals
  • Antibiotics or antivirals for infections
  • Optimization of breeding times and methods
  • Creation of a low-stress environment
  • Adequate nutrition (avoid raw diets because of potential infection)
  • Artificial insemination


Pyometra

Pyometra is a bacterial infection of the uterus that's relatively common in unspayed dogs. Pyometra is seen most commonly in dogs more than 5 years old and occurs 2 to 8 weeks after estrus. It occurs when the uterus collects tissue in preparation for pregnancy but the dog does not become pregnant. The tissue build-up eventually becomes infected.

There are two types of pyometra: closed and open. If the vagina is open, fluids and pus are able to drain. If it’s closed, pus is not able to drain and a much more serious condition results.

Symptoms

Open:

  • Abnormal discharge from the vagina 
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression

Closed:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme listnessness
  • Severe depression
  • Distended abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Thickened uterine walls
  • Presence of fluid in the uterus

Causes

Even without pregnancy, levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone prepare the uterus for pregnancy. When estrus (female heat) is complete, the uterus develops thick tissue to support any resulting fetuses. If the dog hasn’t become pregnant over consecutive heats, the tissue builds up, eventually causing cystic tissue overgrowth (hyperplasia). This produces the right environment for bacteria to grow.

Other causes of pyometra include:

  • Unspayed female
  • Consecutive heats with no pregnancy
  • Hyperplasia in the uterus
  • Bacterial entrance through the vagina
  • Inability to drain pus in closed pyometra

Diagnosis

Several diagnostic tools are used to confirm pyometra in a dog. A complete medical history and physical exam are followed by imaging and bloodwork to determine the type and seriousness of the condition. Early in the illness, slight vaginal discharge may be present but may not raise any red flags if no other symptoms are apparent. Kidney function tests and urinalysis can point to septicemia and kidney involvement

Further investigation, particularly in dogs who have had pyometra for some time, turns up other symptoms, such as a dog exhibiting abdominal pain, fever, and a history of not eating but drinking excess amounts of water. Water consumption rises when the infection has traveled through the bloodstream to the kidneys, affecting their ability to function properly.

Diagnosis of pyometra will typically include the following:

  • Medical history including spay status
  • Comprehensive physical examination
  • Abdominal palpation
  • Bloodwork showing high white blood cell count, high protein content
  • Urinalysis
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound if uterus is enlarged to differentiate between pyometra and pregnancy

An ultrasound will demonstrate thickened uterine walls in a larger-than-normal uterus, along with evidence of fluid accumulation.

Treatment

The preferred treatment for pyometra is spay surgery. While it may be slightly more complicated than a routine spay, dogs in the early stages of disease recover well. Sicker fur-babies with more advanced pyometra will require IV fluids before surgery. Antibiotics are usually administered, both before and after the procedure.

To avoid surgery, treatment with hormones called prostaglandins helps relax the opening of the uterus, simultaneously contracting the uterine muscles to expel the bacteria and pus. The prostaglandins may not work adequately, and they carry some side effects, such as vomiting, excessive drooling, and abdominal pain.

Treatments for pyometra include:

  • Spay surgery to remove the reproductive organs
  • Antibiotics
  • IV fluid support
  • Prostaglandin therapy
  • Pain medication

Without timely treatment the prognosis is very poor, often resulting in death.  


Getting your dog spayed can prevent reproductive diseases.

Some pet wellness plans cover the cost of routine care, like spay/neuter and microchipping. Start comparing pet wellness plans to find the right fit for your fur-baby.


Vaginal inflammation

Vaginal inflammation, also known as vaginitis, is one of the most common conditions associated with the reproductive system of the female dog. Vaginitis can occur at any time during a dog’s life, but it’s especially common among puppies. Most cases of vaginitis in dogs are caused by bacterial infections, although there may be other causes, such as cancer or viruses.

Vaginitis in puppies usually resolves naturally after the first heat cycle. Adult dogs with the condition will require treatment to avoid chronic vaginitis.

Symptoms

Outward signs of vaginitis can be subtle and can go unnoticed until the condition progresses to more obvious signs, like smelly discharge, constant licking, and frequent urination. Symptoms include:

  • Discharge from the vulva
  • Swollen vulva
  • Frequent grooming of the vulva
  • Frequent urination
  • Attraction of male dogs
  • Pain

Causes

Many conditions other than bacterial infection may cause vaginal inflammation. Some may arise from malformations or injuries. In general, the symptoms will be similar, but further investigation is needed to determine the exact root of the problem. Some of the causes include:

Diagnosis

Diagnostic tools used to confirm vaginitis in dogs include:

  • History of symptoms and behaviors
  • Thorough physical exam
  • Endoscopy
  • Ultrasound
  • X-rays
  • Bloodwork and other lab tests

Treatment

The first step of treating vaginal inflammation in dogs is identifying the underlying cause. Curing bacterial, viral, or yeast infections may only require antibiotics or antivirals. More complex causes, like tumors or structural abnormalities, may take longer to diagnose and treat, perhaps involving surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy. Various treatments include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antiviral medication
  • Anti-parasitic medication and removal
  • Treatment of urinary tract infection
  • Anti-fungal medication
  • Douching
  • Replacement hormone therapy


Mastitis

Inflammation of the mammary gland or glands is called mastitis. A bacterial infection causes this condition in nursing mothers. Risk factors for mastitis include trauma from suckling puppies, poor sanitary conditions, and septicemia.

Dogs who have had mastitis are vulnerable to developing it with subsequent litters. In rare cases, male dogs have been known to have mammary gland infection as well.

Symptoms

There are a variety of signs and symptoms of mastitis in dogs. Nursing dogs who are exhibiting any of the following symptoms should be seen by a veterinarian immediately before the condition worsens and spreads:

  • The affected teats are warm to the touch, painful and feel lumpy
  • There is a bruised look to the mammary gland area
  • The mother avoids nursing
  • The mother exhibits irritation when puppies try to nurse, such as growling or snapping
  • Milk is discolored
  • Milk has blood in it
  • Dog is restless and crying
  • There are signs of dehydration such as frequent water consumption
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Whimpering or crying
  • Fever

Causes

Cracked nipples from suckling puppies and dryness can allow bacteria to enter the breast, resulting in infection. The breasts should be washed with warm water and soap after nursing, and, if necessary, a moisturizing cream should be applied to prevent dryness and cracking. Causes include:

  • Trauma inflicted by nursing puppies
  • Generalized infection that travels to the mammary glands
  • Poor sanitary conditions
  • Ineffective or no hygiene

Diagnosis

Your vet may use the following diagnostic methods to confirm mastitis:

  • Cultures to discover the bacteria involved
  • Physical exam
  • Blood tests for white blood count and other components
  • Evaluation of the dog’s milk
  • Thyroid profile to rule out causative hypothyroidism
  • Ultrasound to rule out abscesses or tumors

Treatment

Treatment will be based on the cause of the condition. Potential treatments include:

  • Warm compresses to the affected glands, 4–6 times a day
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery to lance an abscess or to biopsy/remove a tumor
  • Encouraging puppies to nurse from the affected glands
  • Intravenous fluids for dehydration


Vaginal prolapse

During estrus (heat), the vaginal tissue may become swollen and can be seen under the vulva. This may interfere with breeding. The condition is most common in younger dogs and typically recurs with every estrus.

Symptoms

A dog with vaginal prolapse may experience discomfort, particularly during breeding. The enlarged vaginal canal protrudes through the vulva and may be subject to trauma. Symptoms include:

  • Protrusion of the vagina, visible through the vulva
  • Licking of the area
  • Signs of infection/vaginitis such as vaginal discharge
  • Reluctance to mate
  • Difficulty urinating

Causes

The condition is caused by the presence of estrogen during estrus. Certain other risk factors may be present, including:

  • Unspayed female dogs of breeding age
  • Proliferation of the vaginal tissue 
  • Prolonged straining 
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Prolonged labor or obstructed birth
  • Genetics

Diagnosis

The following methods can confirm vaginal prolapse:

  • Physical examination
  • History
  • Endoscopy
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • Lab tests

Treatment

Treatment focuses on relieving discomfort and removing possibilities of infection or other secondary conditions. The most common treatments include:

  • Spaying, if not breeding in the future
  • Artificial insemination in the case of difficulty mating
  • Elizabethan collar to prevent licking




Reproductive conditions in female dogs can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog is at risk of developing a reproductive condition, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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