Swelling of your female dog's vulva, or vaginal area, is called vaginitis. It can be an indication of a dog health problem, such as an infection. Your veterinarian will look for other symptoms that indicate that the vulva is infected rather than swelling for other reasons. Once the condition is diagnosed, treatment can be undertaken.
What is swelling of the vulva in dogs?
A female dog's genitalia includes the vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, ovaries, and oviducts. The vulva is the only part that is on the exterior of the dog. Because it is visible, it's apparent to a pet owner's eye if there is swelling. If the vulva is swelling, this usually means that the female is in heat, but it could also be an indication of medical problems.
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Why is my dog's vulva swollen?
Possible causes of and health conditions that can result in vulvar swelling in a dog include:
- Allergic reaction: If your dog's genital area came into contact with an irritant, such as a plant, bug, or even shampoo, swelling or inflammation can occur.
- Going into heat: Unspayed dogs will have a regular heat cycle, involving vaginal swelling and some bleeding. But it's possible that for a dog's first heat, there may be no obvious signs.
- Labor: Just before labor, the dog's vagina becomes more apparent, which can appear as swelling.
- Vaginal infection: Dogs can get bacterial infections as well as yeast infections, but they aren't the type of yeast infections that humans get. Dogs will get overgrowth of a yeast that normally lives on their skin.
- Ovarian remnant syndrome: This occurs when a piece of ovarian tissue is inadvertently left behind during a spay.
- Anatomical abnormalities: When a dog's vulva is more tucked in than usual or they have larger skin folds around the vulva, they can get a skin fold infection called dermatitis.
- Breeding: Some dogs who were used for breeding and who are spayed later in life might have a vulva that permanently looks swollen. So, you might notice this if you adopt a dog who is a few years old or older.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI): Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enters the urethra, or urinary tract. Female dogs are more susceptible to UTIs because they have a shorter urethra than male dogs. One symptom in female dogs is vaginal swelling. They will also likely exhibit behavioral changes, including scooting, frequent urination or difficulty urinating and excessive licking of the vaginal area.
- Pyometra: Pyometra is a life-threatening uterine infection in which the uterus fills with pus. Dogs with this infection may also exhibit excessive licking of the vaginal discharge. They may or may not have bloody vaginal discharge, and they may or may not have a swollen vulva. Spaying dogs prevents pyometra later in life.
Treatment for a dog’s swollen vulva
Treatment for swelling of the dog's vulvar area will depend on the underlying cause. If your female dog is unspayed, the swelling may occur for a variety of normal reasons, and treatment is not necessary. However, if your dog is spayed and you notice swelling, you should check with your veterinarian.
In general, it's not recommended to use any kind of topical treatment for vulva swelling, as this is likely to cause more vaginal licking and irritation. UTIs can be treated with amoxicillin or another antibiotic based on urine culture to kill the bacteria.
Prevention of vaginal swelling in dogs
The best treatment for urinary tract infections and other health issues related to the vaginal area is prevention. Make sure your dog gets frequent walks and bathroom breaks as well as plenty of water. Also, as a preventative measure for dogs who have a history of perivulvar (around the vulva) dermatitis, pet owners should use unscented wipes to keep the vaginal area clean.
The vulva is the outer part of the genitalia of a female dog. A pet parent should know that if your dog is unspayed, vulvar swelling may occur during the heat cycle or before or after labor. If your dog is spayed and you see swelling or notice excessive licking or scratching of their vaginal area, check with your DVM to determine the cause and possible treatment.