Does your female dog suffer frequent bladder infections? Or regularly drags her rear along the ground? Or has a bad smell from her nether regions?
These are just some of the symptoms linked to a frequently overlooked condition that leads to problems such as:
- Repeated episodes of cystitis (urinary tract infections)
- An itchy vulva
- Bacterial or yeast infections of the skin folds around the vulva
- Vaginal infections
- Dribbling urine
These 5 symptoms all have 1 thing in common: They can be caused by a “juvenile vulva.” Other names for this include a recessed, hooded or hypoplastic vulva.
What Is a Juvenile Vulva?
This is a common condition affecting the anatomy of the vulva. It means that the vulva is cloaked or hooded by the skin folds. It is most frequently a problem when dogs are spayed at a young age, are overweight or belong to a large or giant breed.
Thus, those dogs most at risk are medium-to-giant breeds of dog that are overweight and were spayed at a young age. On the other hand, the condition is extremely rare in females who still have their womb.
Recognizing a Juvenile Vulva
Simply look at your dog’s nether regions between her back legs and see if her vulva is visible or not. A juvenile vulva is often “invisible” because it’s hidden behind skin folds covered in fur.
If your dog is affected, there’s no need to panic, but it’s a good idea to be vigilant for signs of trouble.
I’ll let you into a little secret here: When a female dog presents with recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs), many vets overlook checking for a juvenile vulva. This is a shame because it’s a predisposing cause and correcting the anatomy can improve things tremendously.
Why Does a Juvenile Vulva Cause Problems?
It’s a bit of a bizarre analogy, but it helps to think of the vulva (anatomically speaking) like an ear.
Infections and Itchiness
Dogs such as spaniels that have hairy drop ears are at greater risk of ear infections. This is because that heavy ear flap creates a warm, airless and humid environment where bacteria and yeasts can have a party.
With a hooded vulva, a similar sort of environment is created. The folds of skin trap bacteria, yeasts, skin debris and secretions, and generally make it a great place for bugs to breed.
This leads to infections, signs of which include:
- Itchiness: The dog licks her nether regions obsessively or drags her bottom.
- Skin fold dermatitis: The dip between folds is especially prone to infection, leading to redness, soreness, ulceration and a bad smell. Sometimes a discharge is present that ranges from purulent to dark brown.
- Cystitis: Bacteria work their way upstream and enter the bladder to cause repeated episodes of cystitis.
In addition, the folds of skin can trap urine, causing it to pool and then be released when the dog moves or sits. This gives the impression of urinary incontinence, although the dog does have bladder control, so it’s not a true incontinence.
What Can Be Done?
Recognizing the problem is a big step toward sorting things out.
- Hygiene: For the majority of female dogs, improving their hygiene helps matters to no end. This involves getting up close and personal to wipe out the folds on a daily basis. A weak chlorhexidine solution on cotton wool helps get rid of bugs before they breed out of control. Dry the area well afterward, and in some cases applying Sudocrem can act as a useful barrier to stop the skin from chapping.
- Antibiotics: Check her nether regions daily. In some circumstances, antibiotic cream or tablets will be necessary, but spotting the problem early makes it easier to treat.
- Weight control: Carrying too much weight leads to extra rolls of fat everywhere, including her nether regions. Keeping a female dog slim will pay dividends when it comes to managing several problems, including a juvenile vulva.
- Surgical correction: Unfortunately, sometimes there’s nothing but surgical correction that will remove the problem. This is a procedure known as vulvoplasty. This is the rear end equivalent of a face lift, whereby folds of extra skin are removed so they no longer hide the vulva.
Cystitis, itchiness, skin infections, cystitis and dribbling urine are 5 good reasons to check your female dog’s rear end. Recognizing the problem empowers you to control the complications and save her discomfort, so don’t be bashful — check her nether regions today!
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed May 5, 2017.