Female Dogs

Here are the most common problems seen in female dogs and as you can see if a bitch is not going to be used for breeding there is a good reason why vets advise spaying!!


Most female dogs come into season every 6-9 months. Seasons last 1-3 weeks starting with a period of bleeding called Proestrus, followed by a few days in the middle when ovulation occurs and then a period after when they remain attractive to males. Obviously, caution must be taken when walking bitches in heat to avoid a mismating.


Pseudopregnancy (also known as false pregnancy) can occur at the end of a season. Severity varies from mild behavioural changes such as nesting or mothering toys to more physiological changes of weight gain, enlarged abdomen and milk production. Most cases will resolve without treatment in 1-3 weeks, but if there is significant milk production or aggressive behaviour a drug can be used to stop this. Spaying is advised as pseudopregnancy tends to recur with subsequent seasons.


Follicular cysts occur in the ovaries and lead to prolonged seasons of over a month in duration. They can be diagnosed with an ultrasound. Spaying is the recommended treatment.


Mastitis most commonly occurs after whelping and is a bacterial infection of 1 or multiple mammary glands. The glands are hot and painful, and the bitch often has a fever. Rapid treatment with antibiotics is required for the health of the mother and also to maintain milk production for the puppies. In severe cases hospitalisation with intravenous therapy may be required.


Metritus is a bacterial infection of the uterus following whelping. The bitch will usually have a pussy vaginal discharge, poor appetite and feverish. Treatment with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories is usually curative but some cases may require spaying.


Pyometra is a bacterial infection of the uterus that occurs due to hormonal effects on the lining of the uterus. It is most commonly seen in bitches over 5 years old and the risk increases with each season. Symptoms occur about a month after a season. If it is an ‘open’ pyometra there will be an obvious pussy vaginal discharge, poor appetite and increased thirst. In cases where the cervix remains ‘closed’ the infection stays trapped in the uterus. These dogs rapidly become very poorly and there is a risk of peritonitis if the uterus ruptures. Spaying is the advised treatment.


Vaginal hyperplasia occurs when the vagina becomes excessively swollen during oestrus. The condition resolves after the season but will return (often more severely) at subsequent seasons so spaying is advised.


Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina most seen in puppies. Symptoms include a persistent vaginal discharge, frequent urination or constant licking of the vulva. Some cases require antibiotics but most resolve spontaneously.


Urinary incontinence is very common in older spayed bitches and is caused by a weak sphincter allowing urine to overflow from the bladder. A lack of oestrogen is the major cause, but obesity is a contributing factor. The most common symptom is wet patches where your dog is sleeping. It is very easily treated with a daily tablet or liquid which acts to increase the muscle tone of the bladder allowing good control of urine flow.


Uterine tumours are relatively rare and can be benign or malignant. Symptoms include abdominal swelling, straining to pass urine or faeces, constipation and weight loss. Masses can often be palpated or diagnosed with an x-ray or ultrasound. Treatment is spaying which is curative if the tumour is benign but may not be if malignant and the tumour has already spread.


If your bitch was spayed before her first season, then the risk of developing mammary tumours is zero. The risk increases after each subsequent season (although is still very low if dogs are spayed after the first season) and is very common in unspayed bitches. Approximately 50% will be benign adenomas, these are usually small firm nodules in the mammary tissue. They are cured by full surgical excision. Malignant tumours are often very aggressive, they tend to invade local tissue and neighbouring mammary glands. Full excision may not be possible in these cases and once spread to the lungs prognosis is very poor.

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