An unspayed female can be prone to several medical conditions. If you have an unspayed female, you need to be aware of them. Some of these conditions can occur shortly after pregnancy, or after a heat cycle. Hormones have a major role in whether these conditions can occur. Whether you have an unspayed female and you are thinking about breeding her, or you haven’t gotten around to having her fixed, this article will make you aware of some health issues that can occur. I discussed some of these conditions briefly in a previous article “Should I breed my dog”.
1. False pregnancy
This condition can leave many pet owners baffled. Your dog who hasn’t been around any intact males suddenly exhibits signs of impending pregnancy. You see nesting behavior, she adopts toys as her puppies, and she even comes into full milk. Sometimes her abdomen may seem distended as if puppies are developing inside. So why does this happen? It all about the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is the hormone responsible for maintaining a pregnancy in dogs through changes in the uterus. False pregnancy usually occurs 2-3 months after a heat cycle. Dogs who exhibit these signs have high progesterone levels as if they are pregnant. This is due to progesterone producing structures developing in the ovaries. The progesterone levels drop when these structure are gone leading to the behavior changes that are seen. This stimulates a hormone called Prolactin which causes the mammary glands to enlarge and produce milk even though there are no puppies to feed. This particular condition can last for about 3 months and in most cases do not involve medical treatment. The dog would have to be spayed to prevent future occurrences. If you have your dog spayed, it is recommended that she is not showing signs of false pregnancy at the time of the surgery. This can lead to a persistence of this condition despite removal of the uterus.
Any dog that experiences an enlargement of mammary glands whether it is due to false or actual pregnancy is at risk for this. Mastitis involves the bacterial infection of the mammary gland leading to firm, swollen, and painful glands. An infected gland will often produce pus or blood when expressed. Dogs are more at risk for this infection if they are in milk and living in unsanitary conditions. This increases the likelihood of bacteria entering the mammary gland and causing an infection. Damage to the mammary gland by puppy teeth, or the teats being stepped on can also increase the risk for infection. Puppies often have to be prevented from feeding on the mother depending on how severe the disease is. Treatment involves a course of antibiotic therapy. Surgery may be involved if the glands are abscessed or if the tissue has become gangrene. Cold and warm packs can also be applied to infected glands to help with swelling. If mastitis is treated early, the prognosis is usually favorable.
3. Subinvolution Of Placental sites (SIPS)
This is a condition that can be a concern for breeding females. Approximately 2-3 months after giving birth, females with this condition may have persistent vulvar discharge. In severe cases, this discharge may be very bloody. In a normal pregnancy, the inside lining of the uterus undergoes changes to allow for a placenta to attach. Where the placenta attaches are a group of cells that help with the fetus development during pregnancy. Normally these cells are shed a couple of weeks after the puppies are born (involution process) as the uterus returns to its normal size. In some dogs this process is delayed leading to bleeding or discharge from these sites. Sometimes these cells can invade the lining the of the uterus leading to more bleeding from nearby blood vessels. This condition can spontaneously improve before the next heat cycle. Treatment is unnecessary unless there is excessive bleeding or evidence of infection. Treatment may involve blood transfusion and hospitalization for cases with significant blood loss. A spay may need to be performed if treatment protocols are unsuccessful or as a preventative measure.
This is probably the most serious of the conditions discussed in this article. Pyometra can lead to serious illness and even death if your dog is not treated on time. Unspayed females six years or older are at the greatest risk for this condition which can occur a few weeks after a heat cycle. When a female dog goes through a heat cycle, her uterus is first exposed to a high concentration of estrogen and then progesterone toward the end of the cycle. Repeated exposure of the uterus to these hormones without a pregnancy can lead to overactive secretory glands. These overactive gland produce excessive fluid build up inside the uterus. Fluid that accumulates in the uterus is prone to a bacteria infection. The infected fluid turns to pus filling the uterus quickly. Signs of pyometra may include pus coming from the vulva, excessive drinking, a fever, pain in the abdomen, and lethargy. X-rays may show an enlarged uterus and ultrasound will reveal a fluid filled structure (the uterus). The infection, if untreated, can spread to the blood leading to death. The most effective treatment is removal of the uterus followed by antibiotics. Even with surgery, there is a high risk that the pus filled uterus could rupture spreading bacteria in the abdomen. Therefore, surgery is not a guarantee for successful treatment. The only way pyometra can be prevented is if a spay is performed before several heat cycles occur.
It is helpful to be well aware of these conditions if you own an unspayed female. If you are deciding whether it is worth it to breed a female, you need to consider that potential costs to treat these conditions if they do occur. Check out the previous article “Should I breed my dog” for more tips regarding breeding.