What Is Pyometra?
Pyometra literally means pus in the womb/uterus and is one of the most common life-threatening conditions seen in female dogs and occasionally cats. Sadly this condition is still seen all too often at the veterinary practice despite the raised awareness about neutering.
This condition can affect un-neutered female dogs (bitches) and cats (queens) of any age and is usually seen after they have been in season (in-heat).
Pyometra is one of the biggest reasons why vets advise that bitches and queens are neutered, because this condition can be fatal if it is not treated and can be very expensive to treat successfully.
What Causes Pyometra?
Pyometra may be caused by a one or a combination of factors including hormonal imbalances, infection, and/or problems with the womb lining as the animal gets older.
Pyometra only occurs in un-neutered animals.
Clinical symptoms are usually seen 1-3 Months after a season in bitches and 2-8 weeks after a season in queens.
- Licking/cleaning genital areas more frequently
- Off Colour
- Off Food
- Drinking More
- Urinating More Lethargy
- Swollen (Often Painful) Tummy
- Increased Heart Rate
If the Pyometra is an ‘Open Pyometra’, you may also see a discharge from the animal’s vulva because the infection/pus that has built up in the womb is leaking out. However, if the bitch or queen has a ‘closed Pyometra’ there will be no discharge seen.
Sadly, if the Bitch or Queen is not treated quickly, eventually the symptoms become worse and she will die from the toxin build up in her blood and shock.
How Is Pyometra Diagnosed?
If the dog or cat has an ‘open Pyometra’ diagnosis is usually obvious to the vet due to the vulval discharge, however, if it is a ‘closed Pyometra’ there will be no discharge and diagnosis may require an ultrasound scan to examine the womb/uterus and confirm a diagnosis of Pyometra.
A blood test will also be performed so that the vet can determine if the infection and toxin build up has affected any other organs or body systems.
How Is Pyometra Treated?
The vast majority of bitches and queens will need to be admitted and given intravenous fluids and intensive nursing, to help combat shock, dehydration and stabilise their condition.
Surgical removal of the infected uterus (Spaying the animal) is advised as soon as she is well enough to have an anaesthetic because this will completely remove the source of the infection. This operation can be a tricky one for the veterinary team as the infected tissue is often fragile, may break down easily and there is a risk of abdominal contamination from the pus in the uterus; the good news is, that the removal of the infected uterus is usually curative and should result in the patient making a full recovery.
The patient will also require pain relief and antibiotics as well as lots of home care and tlc from the owner.
Is There A Non-Surgical Treatment Option?
Medical treatment of a Pyometra might occasionally be tried if the bitch or queen’s reproductive potential is of great importance to the owner (usually this only applies to pedigree dogs and cats from ‘valuable lines’).
It is important to know that medical management is not always successful and will never be recommended in a very ill animal. Unfortunately, due to the amount of infection/pus in the uterus, any antibiotics given will rarely be able to treat the infection effectively and even if they do the condition is may well recur, especially if it is caused by hormonal imbalances and/or problems with the lining of the uterus.
How Can Pyometra Be Prevented?
Pyometra is completely preventable, it only occurs in un-neutered animals so if you have your bitch or queen neutered when recommended by the veterinary team, she will never have this problem.
If you have decided not to have your bitch or queen neutered for breeding purposes, please remember to stay vigilant and watch for the clinical symptoms after their season.
If you would like to know more about the pros and cons of neutering your pet, please read our article ‘Should you have your pet neutered?’ for more information.