Pyometra is the medical term used to describe a serious infection of the uterus in dogs. It is a common term that some pet parents may have heard of, but what is pyometra in dogs, exactly? In the veterinary world, the prefix ‘pyo’ means pus, and ‘metra’ relates to the uterus, so pyometra means pus in the uterus. The uterus is an important part of the dog’s reproductive system and all dogs who have not been spayed are at risk of developing this condition. Pyometra is very serious and can be fatal if not treated quickly. As a pet parent, it is important to be aware of this common disease and know what signs to look out for.
What Causes Pyometra?
Pyometra is caused by a bacterial infection in the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. Infections most commonly occur in intact female dogs, during the weeks after she has gone on heat. Normally the uterus is very good at preventing infections however after a heat cycle, bacteria from the vagina may ascend through the cervix and cause an infection inside the uterus. This is thought to be possible due to a combination of an inflammatory condition called cystic hyperplasia, ongoing hormonal influences, and harmful bacteria.
Although all female dogs can get pyometra, certain breeds are at higher risk, including Golden Retrievers, Staffordshire Terriers, Collies, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Rottweilers.
How to Recognize Pyometra
The clinical signs of pyometra can be very general and can be confused with many other conditions. The main clue is that your pet has not been spayed and becomes unwell soon after their heat. If in doubt, it is always best to ask your veterinarian.
Signs of Pyometra in Dogs
- Low appetite or reluctance to eat
- Excessive thirst
- Smelly vaginal discharge that may leave wet patches after sitting or on the tail
- Swollen belly
Some dogs become sick very quickly, and others may only have one or two signs that something is wrong. The severity of your dog's illness will depend on the type of pyometra.
A pyometra can be classified as ‘open’ or ‘closed’. A closed pyometra is the most dangerous form and occurs when the cervix remains closed trapping the infection inside. The uterus then fills with pus, expanding like a balloon, and if left too long it can rupture. With the infection trapped inside, bacteria can also enter the bloodstream, leading to life-threatening sepsis, or blood infection. An open pyometra occurs when the cervix is still open and allows the drainage of pus from the infected endometrium. Dogs with an open pyometra may not have many other clinical signs aside from the discharge, however, they can still become very sick.
How Does a Vet Diagnose Pyometra?
Your veterinarian may diagnose pyometra during your appointment using a few different tools. After you describe your dog’s history, and they perform a physical exam, they will likely already have pyometra high on the list of possible causes for your dog’s illness.
To confirm the diagnosis, ultrasound or x-rays are commonly used, as this allows the vet to visualize the distended uterus and rule out other possible causes. They will likely also run a blood test to see how sick your pup is and help determine the best plan going forward.
Treating Pyometra in Dogs
The best method for treating pyometra is by surgically removing the uterus. If recognized early and treated with surgery, the prognosis for pyometra is excellent. The surgery is called an ovariohysterectomy, and it is the same procedure performed when your dog is spayed, although it is much more complicated. If your dog is very ill, your veterinarian will provide intravenous fluid, antibiotics, and pain relief to help stabilize them before the surgery. They may need to stay in the hospital for a few days after the procedure.
Treating pyometra without surgery is rarely effective. Antibiotics alone will not cure pyometra, especially in the case of closed pyometra. Usually, non-surgical treatment is only attempted in dogs that may be required for breeding purposes, however, it is not recommended, and the condition will likely return.
The best method of preventing this disease is to get your dog spayed. With the uterus and ovaries removed, you will prevent the occurrence of life-threatening pyometra. Even if your dog is a little older it is still recommended to have them spayed as the risk of pyometra is higher than the risk of the procedure if your dog is healthy.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can a dog live with pyometra?
A closed pyometra is a rapidly fatal disease due to the dangers of uterine rupture and sepsis. Dogs with this serious condition can die within 24-48 hours. Dogs with an open pyometra may survive for longer but can suffer many complications.
What age is a dog at risk of pyometra?
Pyometra is more common in middle-aged female dogs, usually over the age of 6, however, it has been diagnosed in dogs as young as 4 months, and as old as 16. All intact female dogs are at risk of developing the condition, regardless of age.
If my dog has been spayed, can they get pyometra?
Logically, it would make sense that if a female dog has been spayed, she cannot get pyometra, as her uterus has been removed. Surprisingly, even spayed female dogs can still get a form of the disease, stump pyometra. When a uterus is removed, a small amount of uterine tissue near the cervix will be left behind. In very rare cases this small amount of tissue, or stump, can be affected by pyometra.