Can my dog get a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD), and how to treat and prevent it

Can my dog get a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD), and how to treat and prevent it

Normally when we hear of STDs, we automatically think of how humans are trying out different ways to avoid, treat and prevent them from affecting their daily lives.

Dogs, too, can get STDs which are very uncomfortable conditions and may have dangerous consequences for the dog's health.

STDs are a growing issue among dogs making it important to be aware of risks and ways to help protect your pet and yourself because some dog STDs are transmittable, although these cases are rare.

Read on to learn about the different types of STDs, how some may be quite troublesome and ways to safeguard your dog.

What is STD in dogs?

Sexually active dogs suffer the possibility of contracting and spreading STDs from one dog to the other, while some may be affected from birth by infected mothers.

Intact stray, feral and wild dogs are the most at risk of STD infections.

Awareness of the STDs a dog can transmit, their various symptoms, and treatment and prevention measures is an excellent way to spearhead your dog's perfect health.

Three common sexually transmitted infections in dogs are caused by bacteria, viruses and a transmissible cancerous tumor.

Below is a detailed overview of the three STDs:

  • Canine Brucellosis (Bacteria): This is a highly contagious bacterial infection in dogs caused by the bacterium Brucella canis. It is spread by exchanging body fluids (such as semen, urine and blood) through sexual intercourse, licking or sniffing.

Infected dogs can suffer infections of the digestive system and fertility problems. Male dogs develop epididymitis in a part of their testicles, and an early stage of the condition causes an enlarged scrotum or testicle. Chronic cases often exhibit shrunken testicles. Alternatively, they may have skin rashes on their scrotum.

Females develop uterus infections that see them infertile and have problems getting pregnant. Abortions are also possible in the late stages of their pregnancy with persistent vaginal discharge. If not, they may give birth to weak or stillborn puppies who may die after a few days.

  • Canine Herpesvirus: Thi is a systematically lethal disease in dogs caused by the canine herpes virus. It is considered a reproductive health issue in adult dogs and a lung problem for puppies.

Direct contact of fluids (blood or saliva) between non-infected and infected dogs results in the transmission of the virus. After an infected dog, it may remain hidden in tissues for a while but still transmissible, especially to foetuses in the uterus.

Pregnant dogs infected during the late stages of their pregnancies can face stillbirth and pass herpes to their unborn during birth. This condition is fatal for puppies whose incubation period is 4-6 days. Afterwards, clinical signs appear or worse, sudden death.

  • Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumour (CTVT): This condition arises from the hyperexcitability of histiocytic cells (histiocytes are types of immunity cells randomly in the body, including the skin). It is also known as Sticker's sarcoma or Transmissible Venereal Tumour.

CTVTs emerge from skin histiocytes, causing tumours associated with external genitalia of female and male dogs. This condition is spread sexually by transferring living cancer cells from dog to dog. It may also be transmissible through direct contact with open sore fluids or sniffing, biting, or licking affected areas.

TVT is by far the oldest cancer known to nature. It is believed to have developed thousands of years ago in wild dogs and wolves, mutating genetic materials of basic histiocytes further to make them malignant (cancerous).

How do I know if my dog has an STD?

Each type of STD shows different symptoms depending on gender, health and age.

Common symptoms of STDs include; hair and weight loss, discharge and blisters/sores on infected dog's skin.

However, suppose your dog hasn't been sexually active yet or recently and has symptoms similar to STDs. In that case, it could be an allergic reaction or bacteria infection, at which point it is good to consult a vet. 

Canine Brucellosis symptoms and diagnosis, respectively:

  • Stillborn and weak puppies
  • Late-term miscarriages
  • Shrunken /swollen testicles in males
  • Anorexia
  • Infertility
  • Muscle weakness
  • Clumsiness and lameness
  • Swollen lymph nodes

This condition is diagnosed by repeated or a combination of tests. A vet will further examine the dog's clinical signs and physical health.

Serology tests [such as agar gel immunodiffusion (AGID) and rapid slide agglutination (RSAT)] check antibodies in the blood, indicating that the dog has been exposed. Still, results could be falsely negative if the disease is in its early stages.

This can be because the dog's immune system hasn't produced antibodies yet. In this case, a culture test is done. It is important to consult a vet as they know which tests to run each time.

Canine Herpesvirus symptoms in adult dogs:

  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Inflammation on penis foreskin
  • Eye discharge and inflammation
  • Abortion and stillbirths
  • Nasal and virginal discharge

Canine Herpesvirus symptoms in puppies:

  • Eye discharge and swelling
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Yellow or grey soft stool
  • Cold body temperatures
  • Diarrhoea and seizures
  • Coughing and crying
  • Decreased nursing
  • Red spots on the skin

Herpes diagnosis is based on clinical signs and is confirmed by a post-mortem check of tissues from dead or stillbirth puppies. A vet may take blood samples to test antibodies to help treat other puppies and dogs.

CTVT symptoms and diagnosis, respectively:

  • Bloody discharge
  • Urinary problems from blockage of the urethra
  • Excessive licking of the area
  • Multinodular tumours along the mouth
  • Irregular thickening of penis and vulva tissues

CTVT is diagnosed through cytology, a microscopic study of cell samples collected either by fine-needle aspiration or swabbing. The cells are placed on a microscope slide and examined.

Cytology results may not be clear, necessitating biopsy. This is the surgical removal of a piece of the tumour and checked by a veterinary pathologist under a microscope.

How do I treat my dog's STD?

Dogs infected by canine brucellosis are said to be infected for life. There are antibiotics to control the condition but no treatment to completely kill off the bacteria.

In canine herpes cases, puppies may be administered antiviral medication, alienating the puppy to nurse mothers with antibodies and keeping the puppies warm, preferably 95 degrees.

Treatment for adults may not be necessary because the symptoms are mild and may go away on their own. However, vets may recommend treatments like eye drops, cough medications, pain relievers and antibiotics.

For CTVT treatment, chemotherapy, complete surgical ablation, and radiotherapy have proved effective, but chemotherapy is the most efficient.

In each case of STD infection seeking a vet should be the best thing to do as soon as the dog shows its first signs and symptoms. This gives the vet ample time to diagnose the infection in its early stages and implement treatment plans.

How can you prevent a dog from getting an STD?

Regarding the three common canine STDs, brucellosis is zoonotic and can be transmitted from animals to humans. It rarely happens, but it can!

Veterinarians and breeders are more at risk of contracting this infection. It is highly advised that persons with imperialistic immunity should stay away from infected dogs.

In case of any contacts, it is wise to thoroughly sanitise or wash hands with clean soap and water and wear disposable gloves.

Prevention measures are:

  • Regularly test dogs used for breading for any STDs
  • Have the dog neutered or sprayed to help reduce other health problem risks
  • Unless you're sure that both dogs are healthy, do not let your dog mate with the other
  • Quarantine new dogs before introducing them to a kennel situation
  • For brucellosis, treat the dog with proper antibiotics for about 12 weeks
  • Dogs with TVT should be permanently isolated until the vet confirms that all tumours have been successfully eliminated
  • For herpes, isolate pregnant dogs and puppies three weeks before and after giving birth
  • Keep birth kennels sterile and clean
  • Practise general hygiene while disinfecting contaminated surfaces

Final Thought

STDs pose great risks for a dog's health, especially to puppies.

It is practically impossible to teach dogs to abstain, use protection or practise safe sex, so the duty falls upon owners to keep their themselves, family and dogs safe.

Responsible breeding, neutering, spraying and reducing stray populations are some of the authentic practices to start safeguarding your dog's health.

Even though cases of contracting STDs from dogs are rare, it is good to practise safety measures by sanitising and thoroughly washing hands and rinsing with clean water.

Simple precautions can help your dog greatly, and so do regular veterinary checkups.