This article was updated on August 26th, 2023
There are certain times in a female’s dog life where brown discharge is considered normal. The rest of the time, brown discharge is cause for concern and should warrant a veterinary visit, especially in spayed dogs. The difficulty with discharge in dogs is that you more than likely will see other signs, such as excessive licking, before you notice the discharge.
Brown discharge in female dogs: it is a cause for concern?
A difference between spayed and intact females, other than the ability to have puppies, is the amount of vaginal discharge that is normal. That just means that intact females will have a lot more instances of normal discharge than those that are spayed due to heat cycles and giving birth. Brown discharge can even be considered normal at certain times of a dog’s life. It can also indicate that something is wrong. In this article, we will review when a brown discharge is normal and when it is a cause for concern.
When is a brown discharge normal?
In some cases, a brown discharge from a female dog can be considered normal. During a dog’s heat cycle, which occurs approximately every six to nine months, it’s common for there to be a scant discharge that transitions from red to pink or even brown as the cycle progresses.
A dog’s heat cycle lasts for 2-4 weeks, with discharge lasting 7-10 days. This discharge is a normal part of the reproductive cycle and will often be accompanied by increased urination, swelling of the vulva, aggressive behavior, and attracting male dogs. Brown discharge during heat is considered normal as long as it doesn’t last for an extended period, doesn’t have a foul odor, and your dog is feeling normal (see this picture from DogListener.co.uk).
Another time when brown discharge in a dog is considered normal is after they have given birth, or whelped. As the uterus clears out all of the fetal tissues and pregnancy fluids, a dog will normally have reddish-brown discharge for up to three weeks. As long as this discharge doesn’t have an odor and your dog is feeling alright, it is considered normal.
Top causes of abnormal brown discharge in female dogs (in heat or not in heat)
If you see brown discharge outside of a dog’s heat cycle or if your dog is spayed, the discharge may be due to one of the following. Watch for any accompanying signs and contact your veterinarian.
- Vaginitis: Inflammation of the vagina which can lead to irritation and mild bleeding, causing discharge to appear brown. Discharge will typically have a foul odor and may be brown, yellow, or red. Dogs may also urinate more frequently and lick or rub her genital area.
- Urinary tract infection: Infection in the urinary system can cause discolored discharge. UTIs often present with a small amount of blood that can look brown when diluted in other secretions. Dogs will also urinate more frequently or strain when urinating.
- Pyometra: Serious infection of the uterus that may result in discharge presenting in an array of colors, including brown. Dogs may also run a fever, have a decreased appetite, lethargy and abdominal pain. This is an emergency, so see your vet immediately.
- Hormonal imbalance: Disruption in hormone levels can lead to abnormal discharge.
- Trauma or injury: Injury to the reproductive organs can cause red or brown discharge.
- Neoplasia: Tumors or abnormal growths in the reproductive system can lead to discharge.
Other symptoms typically seen along with an abnormal brown discharge
It’s rare that abnormal discharge will be the only sign that your dog is showing. Along with the discharge look for any of the following:
- Frequent urination or difficulty urinating
- Lethargy or decreased energy
- Changes in appetite or thirst
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Swelling or redness in the genital area
- Foul odor accompanying the discharge
- Behavioral changes, such as excessive licking or restlessness
- Blood in the urine or stool
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Weight loss or unexplained weight gain
When is it okay to wait and see?
For intact females, you may decide to monitor the situation if the brown discharge is minimal, occurs during the normal heat cycle or following whelping, and your dog appears otherwise healthy. However, for spayed females or if the discharge is excessive, persists for more than a few days, or is accompanied by concerning symptoms, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
Is there anything I can try at home first before seeing the vet?
While it’s important to consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis, there are a few steps you can take at home to support your dog’s well-being as long as they are feeling otherwise normal:
- Keep the genital area clean by gently wiping with a warm, damp cloth (only do this as needed, in order to avoid causing unnecessary irritation that could worsen discomfort and discharge)
- Ensure your dog’s bedding is clean and comfortable; wash or replace any soiled bedding with fresh, clean, dry materials
- Avoid using any harsh chemicals or irritants in the vicinity of your dog’s genital area.
- Monitor your dog closely for changes in behavior, appetite, or other symptoms.
- Do not attempt to administer any over-the-counter medications without direct input from your dog’s veterinarian
When to see your vet
You should consult with your veterinarian any time you are concerned, and/or if:
- The brown discharge is persistent, excessive, or occurs outside of the normal heat cycle.
- Your dog exhibits any other concerning symptoms or behaviors (such as those listed above)
- The discharge is accompanied by an unusual odor or changes in appetite or energy levels.
- You have any doubts or concerns about your dog’s health.
- If your dog is spayed, brown discharge is more commonly a reason for concern
Diagnosis and treatment
To determine the underlying cause of the brown discharge, your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination. From there, they may collect a vaginal swab for microscopic analysis, conduct blood tests and a urinalysis, or perform imaging studies if necessary. The treatment will depend on the specific diagnosis, and it may involve antibiotics, surgery, or other interventions as deemed appropriate by your veterinarian. It’s crucial to follow your vet’s instructions closely and attend any recommended follow-up appointments for the best possible outcome.