Why Is My Female Dog’s Private Area Swollen?

As we get to know our pups, we begin to understand what is normal for them.

The sudden development of a swollen vulva can have you second guessing what is standard for your pup, and whether or not this is something you should be worried about.

So what should a dog’s vagina look like, and why would their private area be swollen all of a sudden?

In this article we will discuss the many possible reasons why your dog’s vagina is swollen, and help you better understand what these complications could mean going forward.

Is A Dog’s Vulva The Same As Their Vagina?

When researching information about the canine vagina, you may also see the term vulva listed.

Vulva and vagina may be used interchangeably in some text, but there is a distinct difference between the two.

The term vulva refers to the outer portion of the female reproductive tract, consisting of two folds of tissue that are attached from top to bottom.

The vulva is the portion of the reproductive tract that you see upon first glance, while the vagina is the portion that connects with the cervix.

Why Is My Female Dog Private Area Swollen

What Should My Dog’s Vagina Look Like?

The only way to recognize when your dog’s vagina is swollen is by understanding what a normal canine vagina should look like.

The appearance of each vagina will vary from dog to dog based on many factors, but there is a general description of what you should expect.

If your dog has already been spayed, the appearance of their vagina should not change from day to day.

It should remain the same in terms of color and size, and there should not be a sudden onset of discharge.

However, if your dog has not been spayed, the appearance of their vagina can change drastically throughout their heat cycle.

Their vagina will typically swell when they come in and out of estrus, and they will also experience different shades of vaginal discharge.

This typically happens twice a year for most dogs, with some only experiencing one cycle per year.

Why Is My Dog’s Vagina Swollen?

If you are noticing a sudden swelling of your dog’s private area, there are an array of potential factors to blame.

The possibilities will vary based on whether or not your dog is spayed, but let’s break down each potential cause below.

Heat Cycle

As we mentioned above, the appearance of a dog’s vagina can change frequently if a dog has not yet been spayed.

Different stages of the heat cycle can lead to vulva swelling, as well as the fact that a dog tends to lick their vulva more during certain stages.

To help you better understand canine estrous, let’s break it down by each reproductive stage.

Proestrus

This is the stage in the estrous cycle in which an owner will see obvious changes in the appearance of their dog’s vagina.

Dogs will experience swelling of the vulva and blood tinged discharge, but they will not yet be interested in mating.

This stage typically lasts 9-10 days, and the vulva may even increase in size as the days go on.

Estrus

This is the stage of the estrous cycle in which a dog is most fertile.

Their vagina will still be quite swollen, but their blood tinged discharge will either stop or become extremely light.

This is the point in which a dog will accept the male for mating. This period also lasts for about 9-10 days.

Diestrus

This is the stage directly after when a dog is most fertile.

Their hormonal changes will slow down, and their vulva may even decrease in size.

The dog will no longer have any vaginal discharge, and they will no longer be receptive to a male.

This stage typically lasts anywhere from 2-3 months.

Anestrus

This is the stage in estrous where the visible signs of heat will completely disappear.

There will be no more vaginal discharge, she will not be interested in mating, and the vulva will no longer be swollen.

This stage lasts about 4-5 months for most dogs.

As you can see, a dog’s private area will go through many changes throughout their heat cycle.

If your pup has not yet been spayed, the swelling of their vagina may be completely normal.

Vaginal Infections

A dog’s vagina contains a delicate balance of bacterial flora.

This bacteria exists within the dog’s vagina itself, as well as on the surface of their skin surrounding the vulva.

Anytime this balance is disrupted in any way, a vaginal infection can develop.

This condition is often referred to as vaginitis, and it can occur in either spayed or intact females. 

A dog with vaginitis may experience:

  • Swelling of the vulva
  • Frequent licking of the vulva
  • Rubbing their hind end on the ground
  • Redness of the vulva
  • Increased urination
  • Pain when they are urinating
  • Vaginal discharge

Some male dogs will even be interested in female dogs with a vaginal infection, even if the female is spayed and unable to mate.

Vaginal infections are typically easy to treat when dogs receive medical attention early on.

Most cases are resolved with conservative antibiotic therapy and preventing the dog from licking the area, and typically make a full recovery within 2 weeks of treatment.

Spaying a dog with chronic vaginal infections has also proven to be successful for intact females, as their recurrent infections may be related to their heat cycles.

Vaginal Trauma

Vaginal trauma is another potential cause of vaginal swelling in our furry friends.

Anything from allergic reaction to shampoos to urine scalding can cause trauma to the area, causing the vulva to noticeably swell.

Not only can the trauma itself cause localized swelling, but so can the constant licking of the vulva that most dogs will participate in.

Understandably, this will often make the inflammation even worse.

The standard treatment for a dog’s vaginal trauma will vary based on the original cause.

For example, if the initial trauma developed as a result of an allergic reaction to grooming supplies, your pup may benefit from the use of antihistamines and topical steroids.

No matter the exact cause of your dog’s vaginal trauma, immediate veterinary care is recommended.

Vaginal Tumors

Tumors can cause a drastic change in vaginal appearance if they are present around the reproductive tissues.

Not only can these tumors cause swelling of the vulva and surrounding tissue, but they can lead to other concerning symptoms as well.

These pups may experience vaginal discharge, increased urination, difficulty urinating, and even constipation.

These tumors can even lead to the development of a pyometra, which is a life-threatening uterine infection in dogs.

Vaginal tumors in dogs can develop as a result of not being spayed, due to sexually transmitted infections, and even for no known reason at all.

No matter the exact cause of a dog’s vaginal tumor, they will need to receive immediate medical intervention to have the best chance at a favorable prognosis.

While some tumors can be surgically removed without any major impact, others can be cancerous in nature.

There is no way to know by simply looking at the tumor yourself, so you will need to have them examined by your veterinarian.

Vaginal Foreign Body

Vaginal foreign bodies are thankfully quite rare in our canine friends, but they certainly can happen for some unlucky pups.

Many dogs often lay in the grass on their bellies, sprawling out and enjoying the warm soil.

While this is a coy posture for most pups, this can make them at risk of vaginal foreign bodies.

Foxtails have been known to attach to a dog’s vulva and burrow into the skin, leading to a vaginal foreign body that can cause significant swelling.

Dogs with a vaginal foreign body may experience:

  • Swelling of the vulva
  • Swelling of the surrounding tissue
  • Frequent licking of the area
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Noticeable discomfort around the vaginal region
  • Scooting their hind end

These dogs will typically lick the area constantly in search of relief, as the foreign bodies can be incredibly painful.

If you think your dog may be suffering from a vaginal foreign body, it’s important to have them seen as soon as possible.

Not only can vaginal foreign bodies be extremely painful, but they can lead to an infection the longer they persist.

To prevent as much trauma to the area as possible, it’s important to have them seen at the first sign of vaginal changes.

Anatomical Abnormalities

Anatomical abnormalities can cause a dog’s vagina to appear more enlarged than usual.

Not only can the anatomical differences cause a dog’s vagina to look different than other dogs, but it can lead to the development of vaginal infections.

These infections can also cause localized swelling, making it obvious to owners that something is wrong.

Though anatomical abnormalities aren’t always a problem in themselves, the secondary complications can be.

The best way to keep an eye out for any brewing complications is by having these abnormalities examined by a doctor, understanding what is normal for your pup, and keeping a close out for any changes to the area.

Urinary Tract Infections

While you cannot see any portion of your dog’s urinary tract when looking at their vulva, the presence of a UTI can lead to minor vaginal swelling in some cases.

The localized swelling of the area around the vulva is often a result of a dog’s constant licking, as they are attempting to resolve the burning they feel each time they urinate.

The licking can cause irritation and swelling of the vulva, causing it to appear a bit enlarged.

Some additional signs of a UTI in dogs include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Squatting many times with only a small amount of urine produced
  • Foul smelling urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting

If you think your dog may be experiencing a UTI, we suggest having them seen by your vet immediately.

Most UTI’s can be treated easily as long as antibiotics are started soon after symptoms develop.

Is My Female Dog In Heat?

If you have never had an intact female dog in your home, you may not be aware of the normal signs of their estrous cycle.

Being in heat is the most common cause of vaginal swelling in a female that has not yet been spayed, so it’s important to know when this is likely the case.

Scheduling an exam with your vet is the easiest way to know whether or not your dog is in heat, but there are a few other questions you can ask yourself first.

First, if your dog is over the age of 5 months old and they have not been spayed, it’s very possible that they are in heat.

Dogs older than 5-6 months of age will typically have two heat cycles per year, so it will likely be a regular occurrence until they are spayed down the line.

Next, you can examine your pup for any signs of heat outside of a swollen vagina.

A dog that is in heat may experience:

  • Blood-tinged discharge
  • Brown discharge
  • Licking their vulva
  • Holding their tail differently
  • Changes in behavior
  • Increased urination

If your pup has not been spayed and they are experiencing any of the symptoms we just listed, it’s very possible that your dog is in heat.

If you are ever unsure, you can always have them examined by your veterinarian as well.

Diagnosing The Cause Of Your Dog’s Swollen Vagina

If you take your pup to the vet for a swollen vagina, there are a few ways that your vet will attempt to get to the bottom of their symptoms.

Your vet will first start by gathering a thorough medical history for your dog, asking you about everything from their current symptoms at home to any previous medical history.

This may include whether or not they are spayed, if they are experiencing any change in behavior, and when their vulva swelling first began.

Next, your vet will perform a thorough physical exam that involves taking a close look at the vagina.

Your vet will search for the presence of vaginal discharge, trauma to the vulva, tissue irritation, and any other sign that could point to a possible diagnosis.

If the physical exam does not offer them an obvious answer, they can then move on to diagnostics.

The standard diagnostics that your veterinarian can explore for their vaginal swelling include a skin scraping of the vulva, a vaginal cytology, a vaginoscopy, and even diagnostic imaging (radiographs and ultrasound) if needed.

Based on the results of their physical exam and diagnostic results, your vet can determine the best treatment plan for your pup.

Treating A Swollen Vagina In Dogs

Due to the fact that there can be multiple factors to blame for your dog’s swollen vagina, there are many different treatment options as well.

Treatment can range from waiting until their heat cycle ends to a round of antibiotic therapy, so it’s important to understand the details of your dog’s specific situation.

Most cases of vaginal swelling can be easily treated with conservative veterinary care, so it’s best to follow the guidance of your veterinarian based on their diagnosis.

Final Thoughts

Vaginal swelling in our canine friends can occur due to multiple underlying conditions.

A quick trip to your vet’s office is the best way to diagnose the cause, as well as determining the best plan of action going forward.

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