If your female puppy has vaginal discharge, you are right to be concerned. Vaginal discharge in puppies is not something that happens very commonly, and therefore, it can be indicative of something requiring a vet's assessment. In most cases, the vaginal discharge turns out just being a case of what's known as "juvenile puppy vaginitis." Luckily, treatment of puppy vaginitis is often pretty straightforward and easy, and only the more severe cases generally require a course of antibiotics.
Juvenile Puppy Vaginitis
Juvenile puppy vaginitis, as its name implies, is vaginitis affecting young female dogs generally under the age of one. The condition is seen in female puppies before undergoing their first heat cycle (pre-puberty).
When dogs female dogs generally go in heat? Generally, depending on dog breed and size, the first heat cycle may occur anywhere between the ages of 4 months (in small dog breeds) and 18 months (in large breeds.)
Fortunately, puppy vaginitis, as its name implies, is an ordeal that is limited to puppyhood. Once the puppy reaches puberty, it should go away on it's own.
Signs of Trouble
Not always dog owners notice their puppy has vaginal discharge right away. Puppies may readily "lick off any evidence" before their dog owners even have time take notice. When dog owners notice the vaginal discharge it is usually when it's copious as it drips from the opening of the vagina and its surrounding areas where it collects (vulvar lips). The discharge is often noticed after the puppy urinates.
The discharge is often described as being mucoid (resembling mucus) in consistency and of a white-yellowish color (also green at times). In some cases,, the consistency may be sticky enough to cause the surrounding fur to appeared matter or even to cause the puppy's vulvar lips to stick together. At times, the discharge may have a strong odor.
The quantity of the discharge may vary to barely noticeable (especially when readily licked off!) to a high volume that causes puppy owners to be concerned. At times, the surrounding skin may also appear irritated.
Causes of Discharge
In normal, healthy female puppies, the vagina does not produce a discharge. Discharge in female dogs may only appear later when the dog goes in heat (if not spayed by that time.) A vaginal discharge in a young puppy prior to a heat cycle, is therefore considered abnormal. The next question therefore is "what causes vaginal discharge in female puppies?"
Several potential causes for vaginal discharge in puppies may range from presence of bacteria, yeast or a foreign body in the dog's vaginal area (like a grass awn).
On top of that, anatomy can play a role as well. For instance, puppies with a congenital defect of their vagina (passed down from one generation to another) may be particularly predisposed. Examples of anatomical defects may include ectopic ureters or excessive vulvar hooding or a "deep seated vulva" where the the area becomes prone to skin problems due to moisture accumulating in the skin fold.
At times, puppy vaginitis may occur secondary to a urinary tract infection. As the infected urine passes through the vagina, it's easy to understand how it can cause a case of vaginitis.
At the Vet's Office
Your vet will gather some information about your puppy, such as since when you first noticed the discharge, what color it is, and how often you notice it. The vet will likely also ask you if you have noticed any other accompanying symptoms such as excessive licking at the area, scooting or your puppy urinating more frequently and in small amounts or your puppy having trouble urinating.
Your vet will then examine your puppy paying particular attention to the vaginal area. A digital vaginal (finger) examination can help reveal anatomical anomalies.
Your vet may check for any signs of irritation of the skin. If your vet is able to, he or she may decide to collect a sample of cells taken from the inner walls of your puppy's vagina. This test is known as "cytologic examination of vaginal epithelial cells." A sample of these cells can help with diagnosis, ruling out other conditions.
A sample of the discharge itself can also prove helpful. The sample will be looked at closely under a microscope to identify presence of bacteria or yeast. It can be cultured to determine exactly what type of organisms are present.
Your vet may also decide to test your dog's urine for signs of a urinary tract infection, which as seen can be a contributing factor for puppy vaginitis. The urine sample is often collected directly from the urinary tract using a needle, a procedure known as cystocentesis.
Treating the Inflammation
Treatment for puppy vaginitis may vary based on the extent of the problem and whether there are any predisposing factors at play.
If the inflammation is very mild, the vet may just suggest conservative therapy, which simply entails keeping the area clean, removing any globs of discharge.
Products that may help clean the area include baby wipes or even an ear cleanser that doesn't contain alcohol, suggests Dr. Autumn P. Davidson, a veterinarian specializing in internal medicine. Ask your vet for specific recommendations on which products to use.
Using probiotics such as Fortiflora, may also be beneficial adds Dr. Davidson.
For more severe cases, where the culture finds moderate to heavy bacterial growth (3+ to 4 +) a course of antibiotics may be needed.
If there is a foreign object, removing such object is key to resolution of the problem. For congenital issues, your vet may suggest surgery to correct them.
" I recommend Hibitane soap (also called chlorhexidene soap)... Mix the soap 1 tablespoon per cup of warm water. Scrub the affected area, and hold a hot compress on there for 2 or 3 minutes if your dog lets you. Do this 3 times daily for 3 days, then twice daily for the rest of the week. Rinse well with plain water. Pat dry especially in any folds."~Dr. Fiona, veterinarian
- Clinician's Brief: Vulvar Discharge in a Puppy
- Veterinary Partner: Puppy Vaginitis