Vaginal prolapse

What the heck is that poking out?

Vaginal prolapse in dogs is quite striking - and hard to miss. If you haven't seen one before, it is akin to a ewe with a bearing.

It can begin as a small fleshy mass coming out of the vulva, but can enlarge to anything up to 10cm in diameter.  It is slightly different to a ewe bearing; in dogs, it isn't the inverted vagina coming out in a tube - it is actually a massive swelling of a gland on the floor of the vagina, which then pokes out like a giant growth [instead of polyp].

Similar to ewes, prolapses in bitches sometimes enlarge to a point where they prevent urination; this is a serious state of affairs and needs to be remedied as soon as possible.

The swelling of the gland is in response to hormones when the bitch comes on heat. Some bitches are overly sensitive to these hormones and the gland swells out of proportion. It is a problem seen only in entire (not speyed) bitches and so we do see it most often in working dogs. Huntaways seem to be over-represented - Heading dogs don't have this problem nearly as often.

Once the bitch comes off heat, the drop in hormones causes the gland to shrink; sometimes however it doesn't completely reduce back to its original size.  A bitch that does this once will do this every heat. And it is hereditary - so affected bitches shouldn't be bred from.

The best option for treatment is desexing (speying) - removal of the uterus and ovaries permanently removes the source of the hormones. However we can't perform this surgery until four weeks after their heat ends. This is because when bitches are on heat, their uterus is full of engorged blood vessels and is very fragile.  It therefore has the potential for massive haemorrhage - which we are not at all fond of during surgery.

Treatment in the meantime is based on keeping the prolapse clean, dry and lubricated so things like tail hairs and kennel floors don't cause any damage. We can also use some hormone- suppressing tablets to try and end the heat sooner.

Please do not try and suture the prolapse in.  Because it is a mass rather than actually being part of the vaginal wall, the bitch will strain to push it out again, and all kinds of horrible ripping out of sutures can occur.

If the prolapse is small and not bothering the bitch, keeping it clean with warm water and applying an obstetrical lubricant (e.g. calving or lambing lube) is fine. If it is larger and becoming rubbed and irritated, or the bitch is uncomfortable, please don't hesitate to bring her into the clinic for a check-up.