Puppy vaginitis (also called juvenile vaginitis) is the inflammation of the vagina in a puppy that has not reached puberty (meaning it hasn't come into heat for the first time). The condition can cause inflammation and irritation and may result in your puppy having vaginal discharge or licking its vulva, so it's important to notice the early signs of this uncomfortable problem.
There are various factors that may have caused your puppy's vaginitis. Your pet may have a urinary tract infection or a contaminated vulva due to exposure to fecal material. Vaginitis is usually treatable when caught early on. It often disappears on its own once the puppy matures. However, certain cases may become chronic and will require surgery.
Learn the steps you can take to prevent vaginitis and what signs to look for.
What Is Vaginitis?
Vaginitis is inflammation of the vagina, which can happen for many reasons, but is often hormonal. Juvenile vaginitis occurs only in puppies, most often between the ages of 8 weeks and 6 months. It can occur in any breed of dog. The condition can cause vulvar inflammation, irritation, and discomfort. The dog may frequently lick the area to try to ease the discomfort.
Symptoms 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:
The most common symptom of puppy vaginitis is excessive licking of the vulva or reddened skin in the area. You might see your pet scooting on the ground in an effort to relieve the itch and burn of the condition. Some puppies have vaginal discharge, which is usually cloudy white or yellowish. This discharge might dry into the fur around the puppy's vulva. Your dog also might need to urinate more often than usual.
Some puppies don't display many symptoms, however, beyond mild redness of the vulvar skin.
Causes of Puppy Vaginitis
Veterinarians are not entirely sure what causes puppy 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 the urine that leads to an abnormally high or low pH. Either of these problems can cause irritation, stinging, and inflammation of the delicate skin around the vagina. Contamination of the vulva and vagina with fecal material can also irritate the skin directly, or encourage the growth of bacteria that leads to a urinary tract infection. An overgrowth of yeast is another fairly common cause of vaginitis in puppies.
Although not so common, some puppies have congenital defects in their vaginal anatomy that make vaginitis more likely, such as a hooded or recessed vulva. Foreign objects or injury to the vagina may also cause vaginitis, as can tumors or cysts in the area.
Diagnosing Puppy Vaginitis in Dogs
The age of the puppy, along with characteristic symptoms, strongly suggest the diagnosis. If you suspect vaginitis, it's best for a veterinarian to examine your puppy. Most likely, your vet will order a urinalysis, which can reveal urinary tract infections, as well as blood work to rule out any serious health issues beyond simple vaginitis. Occasionally, a swab of the vagina can be used to check for overgrowth of bacteria as well as determine the best antibiotic to treat the infection.
Occasionally, a veterinarian will perform a vaginoscopy. During this procedure, a flexible camera is inserted into the vulva and vagina. This offers a visual examination of the inner walls of the vagina and can reveal structural abnormalities, cysts, tumors, or injury. Usually, this procedure includes a swab of the inner vagina to gather cells for microscopic examination. The cells will usually show changes typical of vaginitis.
The good news is that puppy vaginitis commonly clears up on its own after the dog goes into heat for the first time. If your puppy is old enough to be spayed, talk to your veterinarian about the best age to perform the surgery.
In mild cases of puppy vaginitis with no complicating factors such as an underlying infection, treatment usually consists of daily cleaning of the vulva until the puppy outgrows the condition. This can be done with an unscented baby wipe or a gentle antibacterial soap. The goal is to keep the area clean and alleviate any irritation from the discharge.
If your vet is concerned about a bacterial infection, your puppy will need to take an antibiotic until the infection is gone. And if your dog has a structural abnormality, it is possible that surgery will be required to correct the problem. Often, as the puppy grows, these structural problems will resolve, however.
Prognosis for Dogs With Puppy Vaginitis
The vast majority of puppies with vaginitis will outgrow the condition as they mature and will have no further problems. Keeping the area clean and dry will help keep your pet more comfortable during this time. For puppies with structural problems that do not correct themselves as the dog matures, however, it is possible that surgery will be required.
How to Prevent Puppy Vaginitis
Spaying your puppy once it is old enough can help ward off puppy vaginitis. Keeping the vulva and vagina clean and dry in dogs too young for spay surgery will help prevent the itch and burn of vaginitis, but it is not always possible to prevent this mild but annoying condition entirely.