Many if not most of the medical conditions affecting the female reproductive tract are painful and/or life-threatening.
Vaginal Infection - Vaginitis
Vaginitis can be caused by bacterial, mycoplasmal or viral infection but equally it can be caused by an anatomical abnormality that permits urine to pool in the vagina. Affected individuals lick their vulvas more. The interior is often inflamed. Male dogs, being what they are, are sexually attracted to female dogs with vaginitis.
A urinalysis eliminates urinary tract disorders. A culture and sensitivity and vaginal cytology are diagnostic. Accumulated discharge is flushed out by very very dilute antiseptic lavage (Betadine, chlorhexidine). Bacterial infection is treated with an appropriate antibiotic. Severe anatomical abnormalities are surgically corrected
Juvenile Vaginitis In Dogs
Some pups develop a sticky, green-yellow vaginal discharge before they are two months of age. The condition causes no apparent discomfort although the hair on the tip of the vulva can dry into a hard, crusty wick. Treatment is restricted to cleansing the region with very dilute tepid salt water or mild, non-irritating and very dilute antiseptic such as dilute Hibiscub. The condition almost always spontaneously clears when a pup has her first season, For this reason, if not planning to breed from your dog, spaying should be postponed until three months after the first season.
Womb Infection - Pyometra
A womb infection is a potentially life-threatening event. It occurs in the days, weeks or months after an estrous cycle and requires our immediate attention.
The earliest sign of impending womb infection is a mucus discharge (mucometra) after a season. The individual is clinically fine but inside the womb, mucus-producing cells have multiplied, creating a condition called "cystic endometrial hyperplasia". This may not cause a clinical problem but mucus is an ideal environment for bacteria to multiply in. Either in that season or in the next, bacteria do multiply, turning the mucus to pus. If the cervix remains open, pus escapes from the womb and dribbles through the vagina and out the vulva. This is the relatively easily diagnosed "open pyometra". If the cervix has clamped shut, pus builds-up in the womb. This is a "closed pyometra" with faster developing clinical signs. An individual with pyometra has:
- Increased thirst
- Urinates more frequently
- Decreased appetite
- Rests more
- Often has a normal temperature
- A pale green creamy to bloody vaginal discharge if the cervix is open
Shortly later in the course of infection the presence of considerable pus causes signs of shock. These include:
- Rapid breathing
- Racing pulse
Diagnosis And Treatment
Diagnosis of open pyometra is made on clinical signs. In the early stages with little or no discharge a blood sample reveals there is a bacterial infection in the body. Diagnosis of closed pyometra is confirmed by x-ray or ultrasound showing an enlarged uterus. The womb can swell to enormous size, larger than it does for a full litter of pups. An immediate ovariohysterectomy is performed. Intravenous fluids and antibiotics are routinely given.
If the cervix is open with free drainage of pus, it is possible to use drugs to induce the womb to contract and squeeze out the pus. A prostaglandin called PGF 2 alpha is given on consecutive days by injection. This drug is not licensed for use in dogs. Side effects including vomiting and apparent foot discomfort are common. Antibiotics, chosen by culture and sensitivity, are given for several weeks. The likelihood of future womb infections is high.
Vaginal Hyperplasia - Vaginal Prolapse - Vaginal Polyp In Dogs
During the early stages of estrus, under the influence of the female hormone estrogen, the vaginal lining thickens, causing the vulva to visibly swell. This is vaginal hyperplasia. It usually causes swelling in the perineal region but sometimes the lining becomes so thickened it bulges out of the vulva. The protruding pink mass stimulates increased licking. Urinating may appear painful. In the most severe instances the hyperplasia is so extensive the vagina everts out of the vulva producing a doughnut-shaped ring of pink tissue. This can also occur if dogs "tied" during mating are forcefully separated before the male's bulbourethral gland has reduced in size. A vaginal "polyp" is a growth from the lining of the vagina. (To be technical, there is no such thing as a "polyp". A "polyp" is really a "polypoid" vaginal tumour that may be benign or malignant.) It is usually only apparent once it has reached a size where it causes the vulva to appear swollen or is visible as a pink mass bulging from the vulva. "Polyps" are usually fibromas, fibromyomas or sarcomas.
Hyperplasia and prolapse usually occur during estrus but may also occur during birth. (Very rarely, straining from a rectal obstruction can cause eversion of the vagina.) In most instances the only treatment necessary is to keep the tissue moistened with KY Jelly or liquid paraffin. Antibiotic ointment may also be used. Vaginal "polyps" are surgically removed. They are uncommon, but more frequent than vaginal tumours.
Mammary Gland Diseases
A dog or cat typically has five sets of mammary glands extending from the chest to the groin. Mammary tumours are the most common form of cancer they. Dogs most frequently get "mixed mammary tumours" with the potential to become malignant. Cat mammary tumours are usually malignant. Infection and the most severe form of mammary tumour are both most likely to occur in the mammary glands in the groin. Those on the chest are least likely to develop serious medical problems.
While many mammary tumours appear as hard, pebble-like mobile masses under the skin near teats in mammary tissue the most aggressive form causes rapid, painful swelling in the breasts in the groin. Visually it is not possible to differentiate this form of tumour from mastitis and as it is often secondarily infected by bacteria, antibiotic treatment produces initial reduction in swelling and pain.
Removal and histopathology is the only guaranteed way of diagnosing mammary tumours. Discrete masses should be removed by regional (partial) mastectomy. Aggressive, inflamed tumours in the groin are particularly unpleasant.
The risk of mammary tumours is negligible in individuals spayed before their first season. Spaying after the first season still reduces risk by over 99 percent! Subsequent seasons increase risk. Spaying after approximately six estrous cycles does not reduce risk.