Female puppies can be born with a conformational condition called a recessed or juvenile vulva (RV). A RV is when a puppy’s vulva is inverted or when there is an extra fold or flap of skin around the genital area. Often the inversion will correct itself after either the first or second heat cycle. Think of it like a belly button, some are sunken (an innie) and can fill with lint and dead skin cells, while others are popped out. The innie vulva will likely pop out as the puppy matures, making it is essential to delay spaying until after the six month mark, the age that is often recommended by veterinarians. Most dogs will go into heat before they are a year old. A puppy with a RV has a higher risk of urinary tract infections, but there are several things an owner can do to prevent UTIs. The most successful way to prevent infections is to gently wipe your puppy dry with a clean soft cloth or baby wipe after each bathroom event. This will prevent the urine from pooling in the folds of skin, growing bacteria, and/or burning the puppy’s skin. Bacteria thrives in moisture and heat.
Secondly, you can clip the hair around the genital area to discourage collecting dirt and urine. Thirdly, keep your puppy fit. Rolls of stomach fat will give urine additional places to hide—forming dams—and will make it difficult for your puppy to clean herself. Fourthly, many people tell me that cranberry caps or small amounts of cranberry juice mixed daily into a puppy’s food will guard against infection. It’s a holistic approach and your veterinarian may be able to give you more information on the efficacy of this treatment.
I have known several puppies with RVs to get only a single UTI because once alerted to the condition, the owners take the steps to prevent further infection. Some veterinarians advise surgery (Episioplasty) to correct the vulva and reduce the chances of a UTI and vaginitis, but where RVs often self-correct, I strongly urge you not to put your puppy through surgery until after her second heat cycle. If at that time there is no change and your dog has a history of UTIs, then surgery might be the best answer.
Spaying early will result in a permanent inverted vulva. Many rescue organizations spay and neuter their dogs too early, which translates to the problem of rescued puppies being denied the necessary time to outgrow juvenile conditions. Additionally, early spaying is not advantageous to your puppy’s bone growth and development. Hormones are important. However, if you decide not to spay your puppy, you cannot breed her. While it is entirely possible that she would not pass on this conformational condition to her offspring, there is always a risk. I strongly advise that you monitor your puppy regularly for infections. UTI and vaginitis symptoms are excessive licking of the genital area, scooting, and sometimes dribbling and/or urinary incontinence. UTIs burn, especially after voiding, so if your puppy licks at herself quickly as if bitten post-urination, you should get her urine tested immediately. I am always available to answer any questions and to write a letter to your veterinarian if you would like support in waiting to spay.
Doreen Metcalf: 207-602-8521