Any un-neutered female is at risk of developing a pyometra, but it is more common in older animals. Although this article mainly talks about dogs (as this is the species we more commonly see with pyometras) it can occur in other species as well e.g. cats and rabbits.
What Causes A Pyometra?
Although pyometra is a bacterial infection in the uterus it is down to the hormonal changes that occur in the uterus during each season that make the infection more likely.
There are two types of pyometra – open or closed. This refers to whether the opening of the uterus the cervix is relaxed and open or tightly shut. It is possible that 1 in 4 older female entire dogs may develop a pyometra.
What Are The Signs Of A Pyometra?
- Lethargy and anorexia (not wanting to eat)
- Drinking and urinating more
- Panting and weakness
- Increased licking of the vulva
- Thick smelly discharge from the vulva (this will only be seen in open pyometras where the cervix is relaxed and allows the pus to leak out)
- Swollen or a change in shape of her tummy
These signs will usually be seen 1–3 months after your dog has had a season.
How Is A Pyometra Diagnosed?
A lot of the time your vet will be suspicious that your dog might have a pyometra by talking to you in a consultation. They will examine your dog to find out about their clinical signs and looking for any vaginal discharge. After this consultation it is likely that your dog will be admitted for further investigations:
- Blood tests – a blood test may show that your dog has a high white blood cell count, which is often an indication of an infection. It will also help us to rule out any other causes of any of the clinical signs your dog is showing and to assess the overall health of your dog.
- Ultrasound – this allows us to look directly at the uterus and look to see if it is enlarged and full of fluid.
How Is A Pyometra Treated?
Often these cases are initially treated with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and pain relief. The aim of this is to stabilise your dog and treat them for shock and make sure that they are hydrated.
Once your dog is stable and well enough, they would have a general anaesthetic and surgery to remove the infected uterus. During this operation the entire uterus and ovaries are removed getting rid of the infection.
Medical treatment is also available but is only possible in the case of an open pyometra. This is a course of injections that causes contractions of the uterus and the pus to be expelled from the uterus (they are also given antibiotics). This can often take a while to see significant improvements so is not advised if your dog is very unwell.
We would usually recommend surgery as the treatment of choice as this will prevent a pyometra from happening again as the uterus is completely removed at surgery. They will not have any further seasons, which is the risk factor in developing a pyometra.
The sooner your dog receives treatment the better the chance of survival. Many dogs will have a full recovery from pyometra especially if treatment is carried out as soon as possible.
Is There Anything That Could Make My Dog At A Higher Risk Of Developing Pyometra?
Dogs that suffer from phantom / false pregnancies could be at a higher risk of developing pyometras, along with those that have had treatment to either delay their seasons or treat mis-mating.
What Do I Do If I Am Worried My Dog Is Showing Signs Of Pyometra?
The best thing you can do if you are worried that your dog is showing any of the signs associated with pyometra is to contact your vet as soon as possible.
Can I Prevent My Dog Getting A Pyometra?
Pyometra is a completely preventable condition if your dog is neutered at a young age. This can also protect them against other diseases such as mammary tumours, and avoid them having to have surgery when they are older and unwell.