Female dogs can reach reproductive maturity around nine to ten months, but many can go into heat as early as four months. Our Carrollton vets are here to tell you about common reproductive issues female dogs can face.
Reproductive Issues in Dogs
Most healthy dogs will reach reproductive maturity and can give birth without complication. There are, however, cases where a female dog has reproductive issues that can lead to dangerous pregnancies, stillborn puppies and even an inability to reproduce. Most reproductive conditions in female dogs can be averted by spaying the mother before she has the chance to get pregnant.
Besides causing discomfort and sometimes agitation in the mother, these conditions can make future pregnancies impossible, or they may have complications that are difficult to treat and cure.
Common Reproductive Issues in Female Dogs
There are a number of reproductive issues that can affect your female dog. Here are 9 of the most common ones to look out for if you choose not to get your dog spayed.
Abnormal or Difficult Birth (Dystocia) for Dogs
There are many factors that can lead to your dog having a difficult birth including uterine problems, an abnormally small birth canal, or an oversized or abnormally positioned fetus during birth. Some breeds, such as Boxers or Bulldogs are more likely to have difficult births than others.
Dystocia should be considered in any of the following situations:
- Your dog has a history of dystocia.
- A birth that does not occur within 24 hours of a drop in rectal temperature to less than 100°F (a sign of impending birth).
- Continuous strong contraction for more than 1–2 hours with no birth.
- Active labor for more than 1 to 2 hours without a birth.
- A resting period during labor that lasts more than 4 to 6 hours.
- Obvious pain or illness in the mother (for example, crying, licking, or biting of the vulva).
- Abnormal discharge from the vulvar area.
Once the cause is identified, the appropriate treatment can be determined. X-rays or ultrasonography can show how many fetuses are present. Medication may help the labor progress if the mother and fetuses are still in stable condition and there is no obstruction. Surgery (cesarean section) is performed if the mother or the fetuses are not stable, there is an obstruction, active labor is prolonged, or medications do not work.
False Pregnancy (Pseudopregnancy) in Dogs
False pregnancy is seen quite often in female dogs. It occurs at the end of the heat cycle and is characterized by weight gain, enlarged abdomen, swelling of the mammary glands, milk production, and behavioral changes. Some dogs behave as if delivery has occurred and “mother” by nesting inanimate objects (such as toys or shoes) and refusing to eat.
Treatment is often not recommended because the condition usually ends on its own in 1 to 3 weeks. Treatment can be given to animals that are uncomfortable because of milk production or to those with behavior that is troublesome.
Mastitis in Mother Dogs
Mastitis is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the mammary glands that occurs in dogs after having puppies.
Risk factors for developing mastitis include poor sanitary conditions, trauma inflicted by offspring, and whole-body infection. This condition can often show signs such as teats being painful and hot to the touch as well as lumpy. If mastitis progresses to a generalized infection, signs of illness such as fever, depression, poor appetite, and lethargy may be seen. The mother may also neglect her puppies.
Warm compresses should be applied to the affected glands 4 to 6 times daily, and the puppies should be encouraged to nurse from these glands. An abscessed mammary gland should be lanced, drained, and treated as an open wound.
Dog Ovarian Remnant Syndrome
Ovarian remnant syndrome is caused by ovarian tissue that was left behind when a dog was spayed. This is a complication of the surgery. The most common signs are those of heat (swelling of the vulva, flagging, and standing to be mounted). Laboratory tests are done to confirm the presence of functional ovarian tissue. The ovarian tissue must be removed by surgery.
Follicular Cysts in Dogs
Follicular cysts are fluid-filled structures that develop within the ovary and lead to the prolonged secretion of estrogen and continuous signs of estrus (heat) and attractiveness to males. Follicular cysts should be suspected in any dog showing signs of heat for more than 40 days.
The treatment of choice is to have your dog spayed, which will cure your dog of this condition. If your dog is part of a breeding program, the administration of drugs that cause ovulation might resolve the condition; however, these dogs must be monitored closely because they can develop uterine disease.
Pyometra in Unspayed Dogs
Pyometra is a bacterial infection of the uterus due to hormonal changes in unspayed dogs. After estrus, the level of progesterone stays high to prepare the uterus for pregnancy by thickening its surface. If pregnancy does not occur for several cycles, the lining inside the uterus continues to thicken and cysts can form within the uterus. These cysts and accumulated uterine fluids provide an ideal environment for bacterial infection. Pyometra can also occur due to the administration of estrogen- or progesterone-based medications.
The signs are variable and include lethargy, poor appetite, increased thirst and urination, and vomiting.
Removal of the ovaries and uterus ("spaying") is the recommended treatment in most cases. For younger animals that are not seriously ill and that will be bred in the future, antibiotics, intravenous fluids, and prostaglandin can be administered.
Vaginal Prolapse in Female Dogs
In vaginal overgrowth, the vaginal tissue becomes swollen during estrus (heat). The swollen vaginal tissue may be seen through the vulva. This condition is caused by estrogen and is most common in young dogs. Vaginal overgrowth resolves on its own as soon as the estrogen-producing phase of the cycle is over. However, it usually recurs with every heat. If it is not causing a problem, treatment may not be necessary. Treatment may include daily cleansing of the affected area, prevention of trauma, and antibiotic ointment. An Elizabethan collar may be necessary to prevent self‑trauma.
The condition often interferes with breeding, but these dogs may be bred by artificial insemination. Spaying cures the condition in dogs that will not be bred in the future.
Metritis After Your Dogs Spay
Metritis is inflammation of the uterus that occurs after pregnancy and is typically caused by a bacterial infection. Factors such as prolonged or difficult delivery and retained fetuses or placentas may cause metritis.
The primary sign of infection is a pus-like discharge from the vulva. Female dogs with metritis are usually depressed or feverish, have a reduced appetite, and may neglect their offspring. Pups may become restless and cry incessantly.
Treatment includes administering fluids, supportive care, and antibiotics. Medications can also be given to expel a retained fetus or placenta. Your veterinarian will recommend if and when spaying is appropriate for dogs with metritis.
Infertility for Female Dogs
A female dog’s inability to get pregnant may be because the dog isn’t producing eggs or the proper hormones to sustain pregnancy and stimulate birth. If the fertility of the male partner is confirmed, and breeding has taken place at the right time, it’s likely that female infertility is the cause.
symptoms include the inability to complete fertilization and produce puppies, a general refusal to breed, and if breeding is successful, they will often give birth prematurely.
There are countless factors that can lead to dogs developing infertility including:
- Improper breeding
- Uterine or ovarian tumors
- Interruption of the breeding cycle
- Ovarian cysts
- Prenatal death
- Uterine infections (herpes virus, brucellosis)
- Cushing’s disease
- Malformations of the uterus or other reproductive organs
- Insufficient hormones to support ovulation, conception, pregnancy, and/or birth
- Sexually immature female
- Cystic endometrial hyperplasia
- Uterine polyps
- Stressful environment for the female dog
When To See a Vet
If your female dog is showing clear signs of a reproductive disorder you must bring her to the vet right away. In some cases, these can be life-threatening issues that require urgent veterinary intervention. If you wish for your dog to remain in your breeding program, or provide you with an adorable, healthy litter of puppies, prompt veterinary care is a must. If caught early, theses issues may be able to be resolved without the loss of fertility.
You know your dog better than anyone, if she starts displaying behaviors that are abnormal, it's always a safe bet to have your vet check her out. If your dog's issues go beyond the scope of your primary care veterinarians they will refer you to a veterinary internal medicine specialist for dogs near you.
Should Your Dog Be Spayed
It is generally recommended that all female dogs are spayed There are many health benefits and advantages to spaying your dog and spaying also helps reduce the pet overpopulation crisis; however there is emerging evidence to support delaying the surgery in large breed dogs.
The advantages of spaying your female dog
There are countless reasons to spay your dog if she is not intended to breed in the future. Here are some important reasons:
- Prevention of heat or estrus.
- Eliminate the drive to escape and find a mate during estrus.
- Prevention of uterine infection known as pyometra.
- Prevention of breast cancer. Dogs spayed before their first heat have less than 0.5% chance of developing breast cancer.
- Elimination of the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer.
- Spayed dogs generally live longer lives than those that are unspayed.
- Reduces the likelihood of dogs having separation anxiety or fearful elimination.
- Treatment of intractable false or phantom pregnancy.
- Treatment of irregular or abnormal cycles due to ovarian cysts.
- As an aid in diabetes treatment.
- After dystocia (difficult birthing) or post cesarean-section surgery.