Pyometra is a dangerous womb infection in unneutered female dogs. Around 1 in 4 entire bitches will have a pyometra by the time they are 10 years old. Without treatment, the condition is fatal.
Pyometra means ‘pus in the womb (uterus)’ and it’s a medical emergency. The outlook is best for bitches who have prompt surgery to remove the diseased uterus. But surgery is expensive, and around 3% of treated bitches won’t survive. The best way to protect your bitch against pyometra is to spay (neuter) her.
What is a pyometra in dogs?
Pyometra happens because of hormone changes after your bitch’s season.
- Hormones thicken the womb lining
- The womb produces more fluid
- Bacteria get into the womb more easily and infection leads to pus
- Pus in her womb makes your bitch very sick
- Infection can spread into the bloodstream, leading to organ failure, including the kidneys and heart
- Sometimes the swollen uterus bursts, and pus escapes into the abdomen.
- Pus in the abdomen (septic peritonitis) becomes life-threatening very rapidly.
Vets describe pyometra as ‘open’ or ‘closed’
The muscular cervix guarding the entrance to the womb stays tightly closed.
- The muscular cervix guarding the entrance to the womb stays tightly closed.
- Pus can’t escape the womb
- No vaginal discharge so no early warning clues
- Greater risk of womb rupture
- Symptoms become more severe more quickly
- Increased risk of sepsis and organ failure
- Outlook is more uncertain
The cervix is open.
- Pus can drain from the infected womb to outside the body
- Vaginal discharge and/or licking under the tail provide visible clues
- Earlier diagnosis and treatment are possible
- Good outlook with prompt treatment
It’s an uncommon form of pyometra in neutered bitches.
When a female dog is neutered, her ovaries are removed. This stops the production of hormones that lead to pyometra. But a small stump of the womb is always left behind after spaying. And if a tiny piece of ovary also remains in the tummy, it can still produce hormones. This can cause pyometra to develop in the stump of womb tissue. Symptoms are like those seen with the other types of pyometra, but they are vaguer and harder to diagnose.
Symptoms of pyometra in dogs
Symptoms of pyometra usually develop between 4 and 8 weeks after your bitch’s last heat (season) ends and include:
Open pyometra only:
- Licking under tail
- Vaginal discharge: bloody, yellow, green, creamy or grey coloured
Dogs at higher risk of pyometra
Pyometra only affects unneutered females and is most common in bitches between 6 and 10 years old.
Higher risk groups of bitches include:
- Certain breeds: Bullmastiffs, Golden retrievers, British bulldogs, Dogue de Bordeaux, English bull terriers and Rottweilers.
- Younger than average age in Bullmastiffs (5yo) and Dogue de Bordeaux (3yo).
- Older ages in Yorkshire Terriers and Border Collies (10+).
- Bitches who have had false pregnancies.
- Bitches whose seasons have been controlled by steroid hormone injections.
Pyometra does not spread between animals or from animals to humans.
Diagnosis of pyometra in dogs
Vets diagnose pyometra based on the following:
- Symptoms in an unneutered bitch between her heats
- Ultrasound scan
- Blood tests
How do vets treat pyometra in dogs?
Surgery is the only treatment which will permanently cure pyometra.
Treatment includes emergency care and an operation.
- Stabilising the symptoms: antibiotic injections, and life-saving fluids given via a drip into your dog’s vein on their leg.
- Emergency surgery to remove the diseased womb and ovaries.
Antibiotics alone won’t cure pyometra, not even an open or stump pyometra. It’s only going to prolong your dog’s distress, add to the cost, and reduce the likelihood of a positive outcome.
On rare occasions, bitches who are too old or frail for surgery are treated with a combination of injections to empty the womb and treat infection. Injections are repeated over several days, and their effects are monitored by ultrasound scans and blood tests. Although this approach can be successful in the short term, recurrence is likely. 70% of bitches treated medically get pyometra again within 2 years.
Home care for a dog with pyometra
There are no home remedies for pyometra. Your dog needs emergency treatment from a vet and will not survive without it.
Home care after pyometra surgery
- Keep your dog’s wound clean and dry
- Use a cone collar to prevent licking
- Lead exercise only until stitches come out
- No jumping on furniture or beds!
- Give them any medication as advised by your vet, such as pain relief and antibiotics
Tips to prevent pyometra in dogs
Neutering (spaying) your bitch prevents pyometra. The ideal age of spaying depends on breed, size and lifestyle factors.
- Small breed puppies – from around 6 months old
- Large breed puppies – when growth stops, around 9-15 months
- Discuss the best age to spay your bitch with your vet
Spaying your bitch when she is young also reduces the risk of unwanted pregnancies, false pregnancies and even diabetes.
There are 2 options for spaying:
- Conventional surgery: removing the womb and ovaries completely.
- Laparoscopic or ‘keyhole’ surgery: removing just the ovaries and leaving the womb intact.
Both options are effective because the ovaries produce the hormones that cause pyometra. Without ovaries, the womb is inactive.
When to worry
When to worry about a dog treated for pyometra
Your dog has had a serious illness and a major operation. She may take some time to recover after surgery.
Call the nearest vet if a dog who’s had pyometra:
- Is still vomiting after surgery
- Is still drinking more after coming home
- Has opened their wound
- Has collapsed
Joii can help with:
- Recognising the symptoms of pyometra
- Advice on neutering your bitch
- Caring for wounds
- Monitoring recovery