Overview of Genital Licking in Dogs
Dogs keep relatively clean. In addition to cleaning their legs and body, both male and female dogs will also lick their genital areas in an attempt to remove dirt, discharge, or debris. Excessive licking in this area may indicate a medical problem and be a cause for concern.
Causes for Licking Genitals in Male Dogs
In males, abnormal preputial discharge can result in excessive licking. Preputial discharge is any substance emanating (flowing) from the prepuce (the fold of skin that covers the penis). Preputial discharge may consist of blood, urine, or pus. A normal dog should have no discharge; however, a small amount of whitish-yellow “smegma” can accumulate around the preputial opening and is not considered clinically significant.
Causes of excessive discharge include:
- Disorders affecting the prepuce, including neoplasia (cancer), trauma, foreign body, or balanoposthitis (inflammation of the penis/prepuce)
- Disorders of the urethra, including neoplasia, trauma, or calculi (stones)
- Disorders of the urinary bladder including infection, calculi, inflammation, or neoplasia
- Disorders of the prostate, including prostatitis (infection or inflammation of the prostate), neoplasia, hyperplasia (enlargement), cyst, or abscess
- Coagulopathies (bleeding disorders) including thrombocytopenia (decreased platelet count) and ingestion of rat poison
- Urinary incontinence (inability to hold urine) secondary to an ectopic (abnormally placed) ureter or improperly functioning sphincter (tissue that acts like a door, controlling the release of urine)
Causes for Licking Genitals in Female Dogs
In females, abnormal vaginal discharge can result in excessive licking. Vaginal discharge is any substance emanating (flowing) from the vulvar labia (the external female genitals). Vaginal discharge may be a normal part of the heat cycle in dogs or as a normal finding in the postpartum (afterbirth) period, sometimes lasting 6 to 8 weeks.
Causes of excessive and abnormal discharge include:
- Urogenital tract infections (urinary tract infection, pyometra/infected uterus)
- Neoplasia (cancer) of the urogenital tract
- Vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina) or inflammation anywhere in the urogenital tract
- Coagulation (clotting) disorders (associated with rat poison, low platelets)
- Trauma or foreign body of the urogenital tract
- Urinary incontinence (inability to hold urine) secondary to an ectopic (abnormally placed) ureter or problem with the sphincter (the tissue that acts like a door, controlling the release of urine)
- Retained placenta (the organ that unites the fetus with the lining of the uterus) or fetal death. The presence of genital discharge most often suggests an underlying problem, ranging from a mild, relatively benign disorder to a severe, even life-threatening disease.
What To Watch For
- Excessive licking
- Swelling of genital area
Diagnosis of Genital Licking in Dogs
- A complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, and urinalysis are recommended. Although often within normal limits, there may be evidence of infection or inflammation.
- A bacterial urine culture to rule out a urinary tract infection.
- Cytology (cells obtained from the discharge) and bacterial culture of the discharge.
- A coagulation profile in cases of bloody discharge, and/or if a clotting problem is suspected.
- Abdominal radiographs (X-ray) assess for the presence of a pyometra (infected uterus) in an intact (not spayed) female and prostate abnormalities in a male.
- Abdominal ultrasound is helpful in a more thorough evaluation of the abdominal structures.
Treatment of Genital Licking in Dogs
There are several things your veterinarian might recommend to treat a patient with genital discharge and excessive licking.
- Remove or treat any obvious inciting or underlying cause, such as foreign body, tumor, or infection.
- Daily flushing and cleansing of the vagina or prepuce can be of benefit in many cases.
- Vaginitis in young dogs usually resolves after the first heat; therefore, no therapy is indicated.
Administer all prescribed medication as directed by your veterinarian and observe your pet closely. If the clinical signs are not improving or getting worse, contact your veterinarian immediately.
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