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Pyometra in Cats & Dogs

01 Feb Pyometra

What is a pyometra and why should I care?

A pyometra is the word veterinarians use for an infected, pus-filled uterus (pyo=pus, metra=uterus). When the uterus becomes infected, toxins and bacteria are then free to move from the uterus and into the bloodstream, resulting in a very sick dog. The uterus itself then starts to die and the pus that was inside the uterus can leak into the dog’s’ abdomen. Without prompt treatment the dog will die.

How do I know if my dog has a pyometra?

A dog with a pyometra will typically be a female that is older and intact. Usually she will have have recently finished a heat cycle. Your dog will usually not want to eat, be vomiting, or be drinking a LOT of water.

There are two types of pyometra a dog can develop: open or closed. An open pyometra means that the cervix remains open, and often smelly pus can be seen coming out of the dog. A closed pyometra means that the cervix remains closed. Because the pus cannot leak out, this type of pyometra is much more serious and these dogs can be much sicker.

After you bring your dog to the veterinarian with a suspected pyometra, the veterinarian will run a series of tests to confirm the diagnosis. These typically include bloodwork, x-rays, and sometimes an ultrasound is required to confirm that there is a pyometra present.

OK so my dog has a pyo, how do we treat it?

The treatment for a pyometra is more often than not surgery. We must remove the ovaries and the uterus in order to completely cure the pyometra. Though pyometra surgery is essentially a spay, it is by no means as straightforward. Dogs that have a pyometra are very ill and can be very unstable. The uterus itself will have a lot of extra blood vessels, and the contents of the uterus are toxic and extreme care must be made to ensure no pus enters to dogs abdomen during the removal of the uterus. Typically pain-relief, antibiotics, and extra hospitalization is also required to ensure that the patient recovers well from the surgery. For all of these reasons, a pyometra surgery typically costs 5-10x as much as a routine spay!

Though surgery is still the best option for pyometra treatment, if the dog is valuable for breeding purposes, an injection with prostaglandin to encourage uterine contractions to expel the pus can be attempted. This treatment can only be used on dogs with an open pyometra so the pus has a place to go and the dog must be bred at the next heat cycle, though pregnancy rates decline after a dog has had a pyometra, sometimes to as low as 50%. If the dog is not bred then the chance of pyometra recurring can be as high as 77%. This technique also carries a greater risk of the uterus bursting with every contraction, which would cause a life-threatening peritonitis. For these reasons surgery is still the mainstay of treatment for a pyometra.

Yikes! How do I prevent a pyometra?

The only way to prevent a pyometra is to have your dog spayed. Your veterinarian will remove your dogs’ ovaries and uterus in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies and pyometra. Routine spays have additional benefits, such as reducing your dogs chance of developing mammary gland tumors. Ideally a dog should be spayed before her first heat in order to prevent mammary gland tumors and the development of a pyometra. But even adult dogs can benefit from being spayed as the chance of developing a pyometra as an adult can be as high as 25%.

A few words about cats

Intact female cats can also develop a pyometra. In cats the disease is just as serious, though cats can take longer than dogs to show clinical signs of being unwell. Discharge can be present as well as a swollen belly than can sometimes be mistaken as pregnancy as the cats will often still be eating and drinking normally. Diagnosis is made similarly to dogs.

If you’re concerned about your dog or cat, contact your veterinarian.

References:
– Brooks, Wendy C. “Pyometra – VeterinaryPartner.com – a VIN Company!” Pyometra – VeterinaryPartner.com – a VIN Company! The Pet Health Library, 1 Jan. 2001. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
– Kustritz, Margaret V. Root. “Determining the Optimal Age for Gonadectomy of Dogs and Cats.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 231.11 (2007): 1665-675. Web.

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