By Jennifer Coates, DVM
Every part of the body can be injured or affected by disease and this includes a dog’s vagina. Symptoms involving the vagina are uncomfortable and may be a sign of a potentially serious health condition. This guide will help you determine if your dog’s vagina is healthy or if you need to make a call to your veterinarian.
Everything You Need to Know about Your Dog’s Vagina
In order to recognize when something is wrong with your dog’s vagina, you need to know what normal looks like.
The outer portion of a female dog’s reproductive tract is called the vulva and consists of two labia (thick folds of tissue) that are connected at the top and bottom. The “vestibule” lies just to the inside of the vulvar opening. The vagina opens into the vestibule, as does the urethra—the tube that drains the bladder. Toward the dog’s head, the vagina connects with the cervix and then on to the uterus.
If a female dog has not been spayed, the appearance of her vulva can change dramatically over the course of her heat cycle. When a dog is in heat (receptive to mating), her vulva becomes swollen and a bloody discharge will be evident. This heat period usually lasts for a week or two but can vary widely between individuals. After this time, the dog’s bleeding should stop and her vulva returns to its normal, pre-heat appearance. Dogs may go through this entire cycle between once every four to once every 12 months.
Does My Dog Have a Vaginal Infection?
Owners often worry that their dog might have a vaginal infection. Symptoms of a vaginal infection—also called vaginitis—include the following:
- Discharge from the vulva, which may contain pus or blood
- Licking at the vulva
- Rubbing the hind end along the ground
- Frequent urination
- Urination-associated discomfort
- Male dogs may show sexual interest in the female even if she is not in heat.
Vaginal infections have a variety of causes. Sometimes bacteria or other pathogens are solely to blame, but in other cases, infections develop as a result of other health problems. Vaginal trauma, foreign bodies, anatomic abnormalities, tumors, problems with the urinary tract, and hormonal disorders can all lead to vaginitis in dogs.
Puppies who have not gone through a heat cycle can develop a condition called puppy vaginitis that has symptoms similar to those listed above. Allowing the puppy to go through a heat cycle before spaying will usually resolve the vaginitis. Make an appointment with your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog has a vaginal infection.
Why Is My Dog Licking Her Vagina?
A dog will sometimes lick her vulva to help keep it clean. Intermittent licking is rarely a problem unless you also notice changes in the appearance of your dog’s vulva, her overall health has worsened, vaginal discharge is present, or the licking becomes more frequent or intense. Excessive licking can be a sign of infection, injuries, or other problems with your dog’s urinary or reproductive tract. Call your veterinarian if you have any concerns.
Why Is There Blood Coming from My Dog’s Vagina?
A bloody discharge from the vulva is a normal part of a female dog’s heat cycle. Dogs typically go into heat and bleed between one and three times a year. However, if your dog has been spayed or you know it is not time for your intact dog to go into heat, the bleeding could be a sign of a potentially serious health problem. Blood may be seen coming from a dog’s vulva as a result of trauma, tumors, infections, anatomic abnormalities, blood clotting disorders, and conditions affecting the urinary tract. Any dog who has blood coming from her vulva should be evaluated by a veterinarian unless she is known to be in heat.
Is My Dog’s Vagina Swollen?
An unspayed female dog’s vulva will become swollen as a part of her normal heat cycle but should return to its “normal” size after the heat is done (anywhere between two and 21 days is considered normal). If the dog has a condition called vaginal hyperplasia, dark pink or red tissue may protrude from the vulva. The tissue swelling that causes this should resolve when the heat cycle ends. Spaying the dog will also take care of the problem and prevent future occurrences.
If your spayed female dog appears to go into heat (e.g., her vulva becomes swollen and a bloody discharge is present), it is possible that some ovarian tissue remained within her abdomen after her spay surgery. Infections, injuries, and tumors can also make a dog’s vulva appear to be swollen. Call your veterinarian for advice if your dog’s vulva is swollen and you know that she should not be in heat.
Is This Color Normal?
The outer surfaces of a dog’s labia are covered with skin and a small amount of hair, which should appear similar to the surrounding skin and hair. Some dark staining may be present due to the presence of fluids, like saliva, that turn reddish-brown when exposed to air. The inner surfaces of the labia are a pink color but are not normally visible.
If you notice changes to the coloration of your dog’s vulva or surrounding tissues, or if a discharge of any color is present, make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out the possibility of infection, injury, and other potentially serious health conditions.
What Is This Discharge Coming from My Dog’s Vagina?
A dog who is in heat will have bloody discharge from her vulva, and a dark green to black discharge is normal in the days after a dog has given birth. However, other types of discharges, which may be watery, bloody, or look like mucus or pus are generally associated with health problems and warrant a trip to the veterinarian. Possible diagnoses include:
- Traumatic injury
- Pregnancy and birth-related problems
- Foreign material within the vagina
- Infection of the urinary or reproductive tract, including a potential fatal uterine infection called pyometra
- Cancer of the urinary or reproductive tract
- Urinary tract stones
- Blood clotting disorders
- Anatomic abnormalities
- Hormonal disorders
There should also be little to no odor associated with a dog’s vulva, so if you smell or see anything unusual in this area, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
What Is This Rash Around My Dog’s Vagina?
The skin that surrounds a dog’s vulva can develop rashes just like any other area on the body. Because the vulva touches the ground whenever a dog sits, it frequently comes in contact with irritants, allergens, and insects that may bite. Parasites or skin infections can also cause rashes around a dog’s vulva. A bath using cool water and a gentle soap might help if your dog’s rash developed due to contact with an allergen or irritant. Rashes that are severe, produce significant discomfort, or persist for more than a day or two should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
What Is This Lump, Bump, or Growth on My Dog’s Vagina?
Lumps, bumps, or growths that are located in or around a dog’s vulva are not normal and may be associated with injuries, infections, anatomic abnormalities, inflammation, cysts, or tumors. Dogs who have not been spayed may develop a mass of dark pink or red swollen tissue that protrudes from the vulva—a condition that goes by the name vaginal hyperplasia. The tissue swelling that causes this should resolve when the dog goes out of heat or when she is spayed. Make an appointment with your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.