There are a variety of diseases that can affect the reproductive system of both male and female dogs. The majority of them can lead to infertility if they are not diagnosed and treated at the right time.
In this article, we will look at most of these pathologies and how they can affect the health status of a dog and its fertility.
Female reproductive disease
While infertility can be a significant problem, especially for pet parents who are interested in breeding their canine friends, this is one of the least important things to worry about.
Some of the reproductive problems that female dogs can suffer from can be so severe that they can even lead to the animal’s death. We’ll describe some of the least dangerous ones and move on to the most severe ones.
Vaginitis can be defined as the inflammation of the dog’s vagina. It can happen in adult female dogs and pre-pubescent ones alike, but it seems to be more common in young puppies.
Vaginitis can be developed as a result of an infection, especially of a bacterial nature. It is, however, also caused by viral infections and tumors, as well as the presence of foreign bodies in the vagina.
While it’s fairly easy to resolve in puppies that haven’t reached sexual maturity as it tends to go away on its own, vaginitis can be quite challenging in adult female dogs. The clinical signs that you will notice in a dog affected by this pathology range from vaginal discharge, constant licking of that area and frequent urination to the fact that male dogs always seem to be interested in the patient.
This medical condition can be diagnosed using a variety of tests from endoscopy and physical examination to ultrasound and lab tests.
Female dogs experience vaginal overgrowth, particularly when they are in heat, but it can sometimes occur outside this physiological period. It usually resolves on its own, but in some cases, spaying the animal might be necessary so that it doesn’t lead to infections or other complications.
Generally, it is caused by an excess amount of estrogen in the female dog’s blood. Treatment is not needed if the pet doesn’t experience this issue outside of the heat cycles, but if the animal tends to over-groom the vaginal area, an Elizabethan collar might have to be used.
Follicular cysts are physiological and are a normal part of the reproductive cycle of all female dogs. However, in some cases, they might not retract back into the ovary. If they remain active on its surface, they will continue to produce estrogen, which means that the dog will continue to be in heat.
If your pet experiences heat signs for more than 40 days in a row, she might be suffering from this type of medical condition. Follicular cysts can be diagnosed using a range of methods from lab tests to ultrasounds.
If the female dog is being used for breeding, the vet can administer a number of medications that will produce ovulation, and that will allow the animal to become pregnant. If this happens, in most cases, the follicular cysts will disappear as they don’t have to produce estrogen in order for the pregnancy to be viable.
If you don’t want to breed your pet, you’ll find that most veterinarians recommend spaying since removing the ovaries and the uterus automatically eliminates this complication.
Pseudopregnancy can occur in animals and humans alike. Unfortunately, it can be a rather frequent problem in female dogs. Even if the animal had no contact with a male dog, you might notice pregnancy symptoms at the end of her heat cycle, such as an increase in the size of her abdomen, milk production, and significant changes in the way her mammary glands look.
Most patients that are affected by this medical condition will also experience weight gain and a number of behavioral modifications.
False pregnancy cases are diagnosed using a variety of imaging diagnostic methods such as ultrasonography and X-rays. Even though pseudopregnancy symptoms go away on their own in a time span of 1 to 3 weeks, sometimes treatment might be necessary.
Some dogs can also develop mastitis due to their mammary glands producing milk and not having any puppies to feed. Medications might be necessary, in this situation.
Metritis can be defined as an inflammation of the uterus. Bacterial complications are very common, and since the condition mostly shows up after a female dog has given birth, it can lead to a number of subsequent health problems.
Metritis can be particularly common in female dogs that haven’t had their entire placentas or all of their fetuses expelled while giving birth. If the dog develops this health issue, pet parents might notice a weird-looking secretion being eliminated from the vulva.
Some owners might confuse this condition with pyometra, and in some ways, metritis is similar to the latter. However, pyometra isn’t strictly associated with pregnancy. This health problem can be caused by a wide range of bacteria from Escherichia coli to even more dangerous ones, such as Streptococci, Staphylococci, and Proteus.
Dogs that have metritis are lethargic, feverish, have no appetite for food, or they might cry or be restless. If the condition is noticed by the pet parent in due time, it could be treated with antibiotics, fluids, and a hormone called oxytocin, which stimulates the elimination of the placenta/fetus remnants and secretions from the uterus.
However, if the animal is quite ill and several days from the moment she has given birth have passed, the veterinarian will almost always recommend spaying. Unfortunately, spaying also interferes with milk production, which is why it’s paramount to take your pet to the vet clinic as soon as you notice any postpartum symptoms such as those that we have noted here.
Pyometra is by far one of the most severe medical conditions that can affect female dogs, and that’s because it can often lead to the animal’s death, if it’s not diagnosed and treated at the right time.
It appears in unspayed females (since the spayed ones no longer have a uterus if it was removed during the surgical procedure). Differently from metritis, which we have previously described, pyometra usually occurs around 4 to 6 weeks after the animal’s heat cycle has ended.
What makes this condition extremely challenging is the fact that since the heat cycle has ended, the cervix is closed, so the release of vaginal secretions only appears if the uterus is full of them. Most female dogs that have pyometra will show uncharacteristic signs such as fever, lethargy, vomiting, poor appetite, an increase in water consumption and urination, and a variety of such general clinical symptoms.
Some pet owners might try to treat these symptoms at home, but this can make matters a lot worse since the infection progresses as time goes by.
The only sign, besides the pus-like vaginal discharge that some female dogs might show, and that could tell pet parents that something is wrong is an extended abdomen. As the secretion accumulates inside the uterus, it makes its volume grow to the point that the dog’s belly becomes larger and larger.
Unfortunately, pyometra can lead to septicemia very fast, especially if it is left untreated. Diagnosing the condition can be rather easy once the dog is brought to the veterinary clinic — with X-rays, ultrasonography, blood tests, and others.
Spaying is most commonly used as a treatment for the condition as it is the only fast and effective way of removing the infection. Unfortunately, many female dogs are brought to the vet when their general health status is so severe that they might not be able to survive the operation.
Other reproductive problems that affect female dogs
This is a reproductive disorder that affects females that are in the course of giving birth. Sometimes, they can experience a number of complications for reasons such as the fetuses being oversized (if they were bred with a very large dog breed, by comparison), the female having an already pre-existing uterine problem or the presence of a small birth canal.
There are also dog breeds that have a higher likelihood of experiencing difficult birth, such as Boxers, Pugs, Boston terriers, and Bulldogs.
There are some things that you can do to prevent your pet from experiencing dystocia. If you know that she accidentally bred with a large breed, you can bring her to the vet as soon as the first birthing signs appear, and the vet will administer a number of medications that might make it easier for the female dog to give birth.
If there is a significant problem, such as the labor being too long and intense or one of the puppies having become stuck in the birth canal, a cesarean section might have to be performed.
This is a particularly severe complication that can occur in female dogs that have given birth. Sometimes, the nursing process and their general health status can lead to a significant drop in their calcium blood levels, in which case the mother can go into shock.
Eclampsia is more common in female dogs that tend to produce significant amounts of milk, which usually happens during the first four weeks after they have given birth. To prevent this health problem, ask your vet to recommend a calcium supplement even before your pet gives birth.
Although mastitis tends to be more common postpartum, the truth is that nowadays, it can also be caused by a number of hormonal medications, such as those that you’d administer to prevent and stop your pet’s heat cycle.
Mastitis can also be caused by trauma inflicted by the puppies, but it is usually associated with poor hygiene. If there is a cut or any other entryway for a bacterium, the dog will develop an infectious mastitis case, which can be quite difficult to treat.
In most cases, however, the mastitis that most patients experience after giving birth can be resolved with hormonal drugs that diminish milk production. Treatment can also involve anti-inflammatories, cold compresses, cooling gels, and plenty of fluids.
Mastitis can be problematic in female dogs whose puppies have died or those that have experienced a false pregnancy — as there is no way of the milk being released mechanically.
Male reproductive disease
This health problem involves the inflammation of the penis and prepuce. It can be caused by anything from trauma and allergies to infections, urinary tract stones, foreign objects, and tumors.
The presence of discharge from the penis or prepuce is the most noticeable clinical sign. The color of the discharge is usually yellow or yellow-green, indicating that there is often a bacterial complication.
Since this type of reproductive problem doesn’t usually involve subsequent health issues, especially in healthy, sexually mature individuals, it can be treated with symptomatic medication and therapies, such as clipping the hairs from the prepuce, flushing the cavity with a saline solution or a mild disinfectant, and if it’s necessary, administering an antibiotic for the bacterial infection.
Cryptorchidism can be seen in many dogs. It is a genetically transmitted condition, and it can affect one or both testes. While it doesn’t necessarily have any negative outcome on the dog’s general health status, it can affect his fertility.
In order for a male dog’s sperm to be viable, it needs to be produced at a certain temperature. Retained testes aren’t capable of producing viable sperm, so the dog can be sterile.
Cryptorchidism affects some dog breeds more frequently than others, and they range from Chihuahuas and Maltese dogs to Pomeranians, Pekingese, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Boxers.
Some studies suggest that there is a link between cryptorchidism and testicular cancer, so if you adopt or buy a dog that has this reproductive problem, the veterinarian will most likely recommend early neutering.
Inflammation of the testes and epididymis
This complication can occur as a result of injuries and infections, but also due to trauma that involves the testes being twisted. Unfortunately, it is one of the most painful reproductive conditions that can affect male dogs, so pet parents are quick to notice some of the following symptoms:
- Local inflammation
- Pain in the testes
- The dog avoids having his genital area touched
- Inflammation of the scrotum
Dogs that experience this issue have to be taken to the vet as soon as possible as the inflammation can have severe negative outcomes. If an infection is diagnosed, antibiotics and fluids will be administered intravenously, but if the cause of the inflammation seems to be purely mechanical, the dog might receive anti-inflammatory medication and have cool water packs placed on the scrotum.
If you don’t care so much about your dog’s fertility and you don’t want to use him for breeding in the future, neutering can be an appropriate therapy as it automatically eliminates the local inflammation, regardless of its cause.
Prostate enlargement is one of the typical clinical signs that characterize any prostate pathology. This gland is located close to the urinary system of any male dog, and while it might not seem to be important in the reproductive capabilities of the animal, it’s in fact essential to how the reproductive system functions.
The prostate gland produces part of the fluids that are present in a male dog’s semen, so if it malfunctions, the dog can suffer from infertility. Moreover, in almost any prostate medical condition, male dogs find it difficult, if not impossible, to urinate or defecate, which can, in turn, lead to more complicated medical conditions.
Some of the most common prostatic diseases that male dogs can suffer from are the following:
- BPH (Benign prostatic hyperplasia)
- Prostatic carcinoma
- Prostatic and para-prostatic cysts
- Prostatic infections and abscesses
Besides difficult urination and defecation, here are some signs of prostatic disease in dogs:
- Thin feces
- Pus or blood in the urine
- Pain while urinating or defecating
- Lethargy, weight loss, vomiting, loss of appetite
- Recurring urinary infections
In dogs, prostatic disease can be diagnosed through a number of tests that range from urine sample analyses to imaging tests such as X-rays and ultrasonography. If a neoplasm is suspected, the animal might have to undergo a biopsy that can reveal the nature of the inflammation and the type of cancer, if that is what the pet is suffering from.
If you want to prevent any of these prostatic pathologies, most vets agree that the best way of doing so is through castration. Neutering around the age of 6-7 months is recommended as it allows the male dog to reach skeletal maturity and it prevents a variety of diseases, including testicular cancer. Even if you let your dog breed for a number of years and decide to neuter him later, you can still prevent prostate cancer as the procedure reduces the gland’s activity.
Venereal diseases in dogs
Did you know that our canine friends can suffer from sexually transmitted diseases like any other mammals, including humans? The most common ones are the following:
- Canine Herpesvirus
- Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumors
CHS (Canine Herpesvirus) is by far the most common venereal disease that affects dogs. According to some studies, approximately 70% of all dogs can be virus carriers, but most of them don’t show any symptoms as the pathogen remains latent. Adults aren’t symptomatic, but if you are the pet parent of a female dog that got pregnant and is a carrier, her puppies might contract the disease while in the womb and die before they reach the age of 1 month. There is no vaccine against this disease at this time.
Brucellosis is another frequent STD of dogs, but it is caused by a bacterium. Most dogs that have it can be asymptomatic, but as is the case with CHS, this one, too, can lead to the death of puppies if they became infected while in the mother’s womb. Making sure that your dog doesn’t breed with an untested male or female is the best way of preventing the infection. Brucellosis can be transmitted to humans, so prevention is paramount.
CTVT (Canine transmissible venereal tumors) is by far the most dangerous STD of dogs. Like others, it can be asymptomatic for a period, but it is usually diagnosed when it has caused complications, both on the dog’s genitalia and on its face. This happens because as the animal realizes that something is wrong with their genitalia, he or she will try to groom the area through licking, therefore spreading the cancer to the face.
Since all of these three major sexually transmitted diseases are primarily carried by intact stray dogs, spaying and neutering your canine companion can eliminate most of the risks. So, if you are not interested in getting puppies from your dog, we strongly advise you to have the procedure done around the age of 6 months.
A note on canine infertility
Infertility in female dogs can be caused by a number of reasons, including the diseases that we have described in the first section of our article. There are four main causes of infertility:
- Failure to breed
- Abnormal heat cycles
- Pregnancy loss
- Failure to conceive
Females can be unwilling to breed if the time of the fertility is incorrect. Usually, at least 10 days have to pass from the moment a female dog shows any signs of being in heat in order for her to be responsive to a male. Females that are stressed or taken to another environment than their own might also refuse to copulate.
Pregnancy loss can be caused by infections, trauma, hormonal imbalances, as well as certain medications (which can cause fetal death).
Any problems related to the heat cycles have to be assessed using blood tests. Some dogs can experience primary or secondary persistent anestrus while others can experience persistent estrus or irregular cycling.
Failure to conceive is most commonly associated with medical conditions such as the inflammation of the uterus, infections such as Brucellosis or Canine herpesvirus, malignant tumors, or abnormalities of the reproductive system that are hereditary or congenital.
Fortunately, most of the conditions that lead to canine infertility can be treated with the appropriate medication.