Copyright © 2011 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Ronald M. Bright, DVM, MS, DACVS
Vaginal Edema in Dogs
Vaginal edema is often referred to as a vaginal prolapse, because
vaginal tissue can often be seen protruding from the vulva.
Edema means that the vaginal tissue is swollen, and sometimes
increased amounts of vaginal tissue actually form on the floor of
the vagina.
Vaginal edema is thought to arise from an exaggerated response
to the hormone, estrogen, by the lining of the vagina. Clinical
signs are usually seen around the time of estrus (when the dog is
in heat), when estrogen levels are at their highest. Vaginal edema
occurs only in intact bitches (female dogs that are not spayed).
Vaginal edema occurs most often in young, large-breed female
dogs. Breeds that may be affected more often include the boxer,
English bulldog, mastiff, German shepherd dog, Saint Bernard,
Labrador retriever, Chesapeake Bay retriever, Airedale terrier, and
Weimaraner. It is not considered an inherited trait, however, and is
not passed on to the offspring.
Rarely, vaginal edema may develop after the animal gives birth
to a litter of pups.
Clinical Signs
The owners often observe a mass of tissue protruding from the
vulva. The quantity of swollen tissue can vary, from a small amount
that is shaped like a tongue or a doughnut to a large amount that
involves the entire end of the vagina. The dog may lick the vulva
excessively, have difficulty urinating, or urinate more frequently.
A bulge may be seen around the vulva or between the vulva and
the anus.
Dogs with this condition often have difficulty in mating.
Vaginal edema tends to recur during future heat cycles.
Diagnostic Tests
A tentative diagnosis can be made based on the fact that the bitch is
in heat and there is a swollen mass protruding from the vagina.
A history of one or more previous episodes of the problem also
supports the diagnosis. Palpation (feeling) of the mass and deter-
mining that it arises from the floor of the vagina confirm the diag-
nosis. In older females, or when the possibility exists that the mass
may be a tumor, a biopsy of the tissue may be recommended.
Treatment Options
Medical therapy may be tried and involves the following
Applying some form of lubricant to the exposed tissue helps
keep the tissue from drying out.
An Elizabethan collar is applied to the dog to prevent self-
induced trauma to the tissue from excessive licking.
The swollen tissue may be manually pushed back into the
vagina and some sutures placed across the vulva to stitch it
partially closed. This procedure may keep the vaginal tissue in
place until the dog goes out of heat.
Insertion of a temporary urinary catheter may be necessary to
ensure that the dog can urinate.
In some cases, hormonal therapy can be tried to shorten the
time the dog is in heat, but often the problem is discovered too
late in estrus for this to be tried.
Surgical therapy is often delayed until most of the swelling sub-
sides, in order to avoid excessive bleeding.
Once the dog goes out of heat, the vaginal swelling slowly
decreases. When the swelling is gone, an ovariohysterectomy
(spay) is often recommended. Spaying is considered the treat-
ment of choice in the nonbreeding dog.
Rarely, it may be necessary to amputate the exposed vagi-
nal tissue, especially if it has dried out and become unhealthy.
Amputation is somewhat risky, because the urethral opening
must be preserved and can be difficult to find and work around.
Follow-up Care and Prognosis
Removal of the ovaries and uterus results in complete remission
of the signs, and recurrences are not a problem. Use of medical
therapy alone runs the risk of recurrence when the dog comes into
heat again.