Puppy vaginitis (also called juvenile vaginitis) is inflammation of the vagina in a puppy that has not reached puberty. In contrast, adult-onset vaginitis affects mature spayed female dogs. The cause of either form of vaginitis is not well understood but it is usually a mild condition that is easily treatable.
What Is Vaginitis?
Vaginitis is inflammation of the vagina. Juvenile vaginitis occurs only in puppies. It does not seem to favor any breed and can occur in any type of dog. The condition can cause vulvar inflammation, irritation, and discomfort. The dog may frequently lick the area to try to ease the discomfort.
Signs of Vaginitis in Puppies
Uncomplicated puppy vaginitis has few signs. It is often discovered incidentally during a veterinary checkup. Signs are typically mild, may come and go, and can include:
- Vaginal discharge that is mucous-like, white to yellow, and usually not heavy
- Licking the vulva; some dogs may also scoot on the floor to try to ease the irritation
- Mild irritation of the skin around the vulva
In puppies, if there are additional signs, such as frequent urination, it may be a health issue other than puppy vaginitis. For adult dogs, frequent urination or incontinence may be an additional sign of vaginitis, though this can also be due to another issue.
Causes of Vaginitis
Veterinarians are not entirely sure what causes vaginitis, though there are some factors that may play a role in it. For example, your dog may have a urinary tract infection or a chemical imbalance in her urine that leads to an abundance of pH leading to vaginitis.
It's also possible that the puppy's vagina has too much yeast or that she was born with an abnormality in the anatomy of her vagina. Contamination of the vulva and vagina with fecal material is possible because some dogs have a habit of licking the area. Foreign objects and vaginal injury may also cause vaginitis and these cases may become chronic. Vaginitis can occur in dogs with certain medical conditions as well. Diabetes and liver disease are two of the most common and these may exacerbate vaginitis signs, especially in older dogs. Finally, severely overweight dogs may experience vaginitis because bacteria and moisture can get trapped in extra folds of skin and tissue, causing irritation.
Risk Factors for Puppy Vaginitis
Young female dogs who have not had their first heat cycle are at risk for puppy vaginitis. Signs can show up in puppies as young as 6 to 8 weeks. Female dogs who have been spayed can develop adult-onset vaginitis. Again, there is no breed predisposition and it can occur at any age.
Diagnosis of Puppy Vaginitis
The signs and age of the pup strongly suggest the diagnosis. If you suspect vaginitis, it's best for a veterinarian to examine your puppy. They will likely perform vaginoscopy, a procedure where a flexible camera is inserted into the vulva and vagina. This offers a visual examination of the inner walls of the vagina. If there is vaginitis present, that will reveal a reddened surface. A sample of cells from the vagina examined under the microscope will show changes typical for puppy vaginitis as well.
Your vet may want to do other tests to rule out other conditions that may need treatment. For example, they may take a urine sample to check for a urinary tract infection. A swab of the vagina can be used to check for unusual amounts or types of bacteria that indicate a bacterial infection requiring antibiotic therapy. Other tests may also be recommended by your vet.
The good news is that puppy vaginitis commonly clears up on its own after the dog goes into heat for the first time. Experts are divided on the question of whether to spay pups with puppy vaginitis before their first heat cycle or let them go through a cycle. This is a question you should discuss with your vet about your dog.
In mild cases with no complicating factors such as an underlying infection, treatment consists of daily cleaning of the vulva. This can be done with an unscented baby wipe or an alcohol-free ear cleaning solution. The goal is to keep the area clean and alleviate any irritation from the discharge.
Antibiotics are only necessary if tests for bacteria reveal a higher than normal or unusual population of bacteria. Typically, only adult dogs are prescribed antibiotics if the vet is concerned the infection will not clear up on its own. If your vet found another medical issue along with vaginitis, that will need to be treated immediately. In many cases, treatment of these other conditions causes the vaginitis to resolve. Some vets recommend daily probiotics for your dog, but this is on a case by case basis. While healing, some dogs may excessively lick their genital area. Such dogs need to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent further inflammation and infection.
How to Prevent Complications From Vaginitis
Certain cases of puppy vaginitis may become chronic. This is frequently due to an abnormality with the anatomy of the female dog's genitals. Vets typically wait until the puppy's first heat to see if chronic vaginitis persists. If the vaginitis continues, surgery may be necessary for severe or complicated cases.
Daily cleaning of the vulva is typically all that is needed until the condition resolves on its own. It is important to check with your vet if you notice changes in the nature of the discharge, if any other signs appear, or the vaginitis doesn't clear up in the time the vet stated. Note that in some cases, male dogs can be especially attracted to female dogs with vaginitis. Keep your dog clear of unwanted attention or touching from male dogs during this time, as it may further complicate her healing.