Bladder infections, urinary tract infections and extended use of antibiotics are the three most common medical reasons causing juvenile and adult-onset canine vaginitis in female dogs. While juvenile (female dogs less than one year old) vaginitis is idiopathic and typically resolves itself spontaneously, adult vaginitis requires immediate attention as bacteria and/or yeast microorganisms will proliferate exponentially in the urinary tract without treatment.
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Signs of vaginitis include:
- Inflammation and swelling of the vulva
- Changes in urine color (may be tinged with blood)
- Vaginal discharge (color and consistency depends on the cause)
- Difficult urinating/straining to urinate/”dribbling”
Since antibiotics may actually worsen vaginitis by increasing levels of “bad” bacteria, pet owners are discovering that probiotics for canines with vaginitis works safely and effectively to eliminate “bad” bacteria responsible for the infection while promoting growth of “good” bacteria.
Juvenile Vaginitis in Female Dogs
Vaginal inflammation in prepubescent female dogs is called juvenile vaginitis. The majority of affected dogs diagnosed with juvenile vaginitis do not show visible signs of the disease. Instead, the condition is usually discovered by veterinarians examining the dog for another reason. Some puppies with juvenile vaginitis may exhibit a slight discharge that is easily missed by the owner or the pup will remove the discharge when cleaning the area before the owner notices this symptom.
Veterinarians rarely prescribe antibiotics for juvenile vaginitis since the condition typically resolves itself once the dog reaches adolescence.
Adult-Onset Vaginitis in Female Dogs
Adult-onset vaginitis is more commonly seen in spayed dogs than unspayed dogs and can affect adult dogs of any age. In addition, all breeds are equally susceptible to suffering vaginitis.
Symptoms of adult-onset vaginitis involve:
- Mucoid, vulvar discharge that may or may contain whitish pus or blood
- Frequent licking and rubbing of the vulva by the dog
- Excessive urination/urinary incontinence
Male dogs are often extremely attracted to unspayed female dogs with vaginitis because of the visible redness and swelling of the dog’s vagina. Even though the dog is not in heat, she may be accosted by unneutered or even neutered dogs.
Causes of Adult-Onset Vaginitis
If the dog is suffering a urinary tract or bladder infection (cystitis), the act of urinating will force bacteria out of the bladder or tract and into the vagina. Once in the warm, moist regions of the vagina, bacteria begin colonizing and reproducing rapidly. Urinary incontinence exacerbates the infection when urine “dribbling” allows urine to remain in contact with the vaginal lining. A condition called “urine scald” can further irritate the dog’s vagina, promote bacteria growth and produce secondary infections.
Other causes of vaginitis in adult dogs include:
- Antibiotic or steroid use that interferes with the normal balance of bacteria in the reproductive tract
- Herpes virus infection (reduces functioning of the dog’s immune system)
- Shampoos containing ingredients that irritate the vagina
- Structural abnormalities of the vagina and/or trauma to the vagina
- Foreign bodies (such as foxtails) lodged in the vagina
- Vaginal tumors/abscesses
If the dog’s feces contains infectious pathogens, vaginitis can also result from these yeasts or bacteria being transferred from the anal area of the dog to the vagina when the dog cleans herself after defecating.
Consequences of Untreated Vaginitis in Adult Female Dogs
When vaginitis is caused by a bladder or urinary tract infection, neglecting to treat the underlying disease can result in serious health issues. Kidney infections, development of kidney stones that inhibit urination, high fever, increased pain and dehydration are just a few of medical problems emerging from untreated vaginitis.
Taking the dog to a veterinarian immediately for correct diagnosis of the infection is imperative to keeping the dog healthy and free of potentially dangerous health complications.
How Vaginitis is Diagnosed by a Veterinarian
Diagnostic testing of adult-onset and juvenile vaginitis involves the same tests:
- Microscopic examinations of vaginal discharge and epithelial cells to determine scope of bacterial infection
- Urinalysis/examination of urine bacteria cultures
- Digital vaginal examinations/vaginoscopy to detect any anatomical abnormalities (performed on dogs under sedation)
- Complete blood count testing/biochemical profile (elevated white cell count indicates infection)
Vaginoscopies help veterinarians find urinary tract lesions commonly seen in female dogs suffering a herpes infection. Complete blood counts are also necessary to rule out the presence of systemic or chronic diseases (especially diabetes mellitus) that directly promote bacteria growth.
Treating Adult-Onset Vaginitis
Veterinarians generally prescribe antibiotics if they determine vaginitis stems from a bladder or urinary tract infection. Unfortunately, indiscriminate antibiotic use often promotes colonization and rapid growth of infectious bacteria in the dog’s vagina. In addition, antibiotics may also encourage the development of opportunistic, secondary yeast infections.
Treatment for vaginitis caused by urinary incontinence requires treating the vaginitis first and then addressing “dribbling” issues. In spayed, adult female dogs, urinary incontinence is almost always associated with a hormone imbalance involving an estrogen deficiency. Estrogen is needed to contract bladder muscles so that urine is eliminated normally. Without enough estrogen in her body, a female dog will not be able to control her bladder muscles. Problems with incontinence due to estrogen loss is often seen in spayed dogs.
Advantages of Probiotics for Dogs with Vaginitis
Like humans, dogs harbor hundreds of different types of bacteria and other microorganisms in their bodies necessary for maintaining physiological health. “Good” bacteria, such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, break down and digest food, absorb essential vitamins and minerals for use by the body and defend our immune system against “bad” bacteria.
Unlike antibiotics, which not only kill the bad bacteria but also the good bacteria, probiotics work to restore health to a dog’s reproductive system by increasing growth of good bacteria so that infection-causing bacteria are naturally eliminated.
In addition to preventing and treating vaginitis by restoring balance to bacteria populations, probiotics also relieves gastrointestinal disorders (diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome), strengthens the immune system, clears up bacterial skin infections and can help improve resistance to allergens in dogs suffering allergies.
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Disclaimer: the advice and information in this article is not intended to be used as a replacement for seeking medical attention if your dog has vaginitis or other health issues.