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Common Dog Reproductive Problems: Symptoms & Treatment

Nicole Cosgrove

Deciding to breed your dog is a serious undertaking, no matter if you have a male or female pet. Of course, the risks are greater for the latter, with the possibility of problems during birth. We strongly urge you to get your pup examined before making any plans. Some conditions may exist already that can affect your decision.

Some breeds are more prone to some issues than others. Age is another risk factor. The best ways to prevent reproductive problems are regular veterinary care and a healthy diet suitable for your pet’s life stage and size. We suggest putting these things in place several months before breeding your dog.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t refute a common misconception that all females should have one litter. It’s not necessary for your pet’s health. Likewise, neither is spaying or neutering your pet a given. Some breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, are more prone to develop joint conditions if their sex is altered. However, working with a vet is imperative for a good outcome.

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Female Reproductive Problems

Pregnant,Pug,Dog_Ezzolo, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Ezzolo, Shutterstock

Pregnancy is risky for females, even in the healthiest of pets. There are several possible causes of potential problems, from genetics to bacterial infections to complications after birth. Some are detectable before breeding. Others occur without warning. Knowing your pet’s background can help identify some issues. We strongly recommend pre-breeding health screening.

  • False Pregnancy

A false pregnancy mimics the symptoms of a real one with all the signs that you’d expect. Your dog will gain weight. It may even look and act as if it’s pregnant. Some pets take it to the extreme by playing mother to its toys. Confirming whether it’s a true or false pregnancy is easy with an x-ray. It usually resolves itself within three weeks.

  • Silent Heat

This term describes a female that doesn’t show the outward signs of being in heat or estrus. There isn’t any bleeding or vulvar swelling that you typically see during the typical 14-day cycle. Several things can cause this condition, making an exam necessary to start the proper treatment.

Australian Stumpy Dog_Yana Tinker, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Yana Tinker, Shutterstock
  • Follicular Cysts

A telltale sign of this condition is a prolonged heat that surpasses the 21-day mark. Cysts develop as fluid or semi-fluid-filled sacs in the female’s ovaries. Ovulation is unlikely. However, pregnancy is still possible by inducing it. It will likely be your pet’s only pregnancy. Unfortunately, the typical treatment is spaying the dog.

  • Primary Persistent Anestrus

This condition occurs if a pet hasn’t had its first estrus in 2 years. Causes range from hormonal imbalances to malnutrition to some autoimmune diseases. Your vet will run bloodwork and hormone assays to determine a cause. They may order an ultrasound to look for physical reasons. These tests will set the course of treatment.

  • Abortion

Some pets are able to conceive but will not carry the litter to term. Common causes are diabetes, hormonal imbalances, or infections, such as Brucellosis. Lab work will provide the necessary information for a diagnosis and treatment.

  • Vaginitis

This term describes a bacterial infection with the dog’s vagina. It triggers an immune response with the typical symptoms of discharge, redness, and swelling. A female will avoid copulation if it’s painful. Your vet will begin treatment with antibiotics by first determining the type of bacteria through lab work and a physical exam.

It’s worth noting that other things can cause this condition, such as viruses or even cancer. It often occurs in puppies before their first estrus. It is often self-resolving in these pets.

  • Difficult Birth

Dystocia, or difficult birth, is one of the risk factors of pregnancy that can harm both the mother and her puppies. Physical factors can cause it. That’s one reason we advise against breeding larger dogs with smaller females. The mere size of a pup’s head could cause prolonged labor. Some breeds are also prone to this condition, such as Boxers.

The female will show evident signs of distress, with excessive licking, discharge, and pain. Veterinary intervention is imperative. They may opt for a conservative approach with medication first before resorting to invasive surgery.

  • Retained Placenta

This condition occurs when the mother doesn’t expel the entire placenta after birth. It represents a significant risk factor for bacterial infections that can ultimately affect the survival of the puppies, too. Treatment involves administering drugs to induce the elimination of any remaining tissue and antibiotics, if necessary. Your vet may also recommend spaying.

  • Uterine Prolapse

The obvious sign of uterine prolapse is a noticeable mass protruding out of your pet’s vagina after giving birth. Veterinarians grade them based on how much is visible. The primary concern is whether it blocks your dog’s urethra and affects its ability to urinate. It’s considered a medical emergency in these cases.

Your vet will treat mild cases with hormones so that they can self-resolve. More serious situations require surgery and follow-up care. You may also have to spay your dog to prevent further problems.

  • Metritis

Metritis is a bacterial condition of the uterus caused by risk factors of a difficult birth, such as a retained placenta. It’ll cause inflammation symptoms, including fever and lethargy, if left untreated. It also presents a risk to the puppies if the female is too painful to take care of its young.

Treatment includes a definitive diagnosis of the bacterium, followed by antibiotics and supportive care for the female. Your vet will also treat the underlying cause.

  • Mastitis

Mastitis or inflammation of the mammary glands occurs after birth. It describes a bacterial infection caused by physical damage of the teats by the puppies or unclean living quarters. The signs are typical of what you’d see in similar conditions. They include redness, swelling, and warmth. It can become serious if left untreated.

Treatment typically includes antibiotics and supportive care with warm compresses. Your vet may also recommend that you feed the pups to give your pet a chance to heal.

  • Infertility

You should suspect infertility if your dog has failed to conceive after several breeding attempts. Several things can cause it, from genetics to infections to irregular cycles. It could also be simply bad timing. A female can only conceive after the ##th day of estrus. Your vet will begin with a physical examination and bloodwork to determine the cause and treatment.

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Male Reproductive Problems

wolf dog hybrid_Ingrid Pakats_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Ingrid Pakats, Shutterstock

Male dogs are also at risk of some reproductive issues, even if you don’t breed them. Unlike female problems, many have nothing to do with mating at all. Some are short-term conditions caused by pathogens or disease-causing organisms. Others are genetic and require different treatments.

  • Cryptorchidism

Cryptorchidism describes a condition in which one or both of the testicles doesn’t descend from the abdominal cavity into the scrotum. It normally occurs by the time the dog has reached sexual maturity. While a pet can still mate with a female with one, breeders typically will not breed these animals since it is a genetic disorder.

If both didn’t descend, the male is sterile. Smaller toy and miniature breeds are most prone to this condition. There is also a heightened risk of testicular cancer in these animals.

Dog,Sniffing,Other,Dog's,Rear,Before,They,Have,Sex,,Close-up
Image Credit: atiger, Shutterstock
  • Phimosis

The classic sign of phimosis is the failure of the dog’s penis to emerge from the prepuce. While the pup may show normal mating behavior, it cannot mate with the female. Several things can cause it to occur, from bacterial infections to injury to genetics. If you don’t intend to breed your pet, you needn’t treat it, although you might consider neutering it.

  • Balanoposthitis

Balanoposthitis is an infection that affects both the prepuce and the penis. Symptoms include excessive linking, discharge from the penis, and inflammation. Several things can cause it, such as phimosis, injury, and allergies. Treatment is primarily supportive with regular grooming of the area and antibiotics if necessary.

  • Orchitis

Orchitis is a general term describing inflammation of the testicles. Bacterial infections and injury are common causes. Treatment usually includes sedation because of the resulting pain. It will address the underlying cause, using antibiotics if required. Sometimes, it becomes chronic, leaving a pet infertile. Unfortunately, the prognosis is poor in these cases.

  • Paraphimosis

Paraphimosis is the opposite of phimosis, where the penis can return into the prepuce after mating. Unlike the latter, this condition is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. It is often prolonged, with surgery necessary in more severe cases.

Donggyeongi dog_KoreaKHW_Shutterstock
Image Credit: KoreaKHW, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

It’s essential to consider the risks before breeding your dog. After all, some reproductive problems exist with both female and male pets, as you’ve seen. Unfortunately, many go unnoticed until you’ve made that decision. Interestingly, spaying or neutering is often a part of the treatment plans for several of these conditions.

The takeaway message is that regular veterinary care is critical to the health of your best friend, no matter if you choose to breed it or not. It’s the single best thing you can do to ensure a good quality of life for your pet.

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Featured Image Credit: Jan Steiner, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.