What is Pyometra?
Pyometra is a potentially fatal condition where the uterus, which is under hormonal changes, becomes infected and fills with pus. It develops when bacteria enters the uterus via the cervix which opens during the heat cycle or following a pregnancy.
It occurs almost exclusively in dogs who have not been spayed and are middle-old aged. Dogs receiving hormonal treatment, particularly the old oestrous-suppression drugs, are very prone to developing pyometra. Dogs that need especially close monitoring are those who meet any of the criteria above and who’ve recently been in season or have given birth.
There are two main types of Pyometra:
This is an extremely dangerous condition in which the closure of the cervix causes pus to pool in the uterus with no escape. As the infection worsens, your dog’s condition may deteriorate over a short period of time but as other symptoms are not obvious or evident, owners may put off seeing a vet. A delay in treatment may lead to the uterus expanding and eventually rupturing, or to other vital organs failing.
This type of Pyometra occurs when the cervix remains open following infection. Symptoms will usually include discharge around the vulva, and particular care to monitor this must be taken if your dog is or has recently been through a heat cycle. As the pus that’s generated won’t necessarily cause the uterus to swell or rupture, your dog will still require emergency treatment due to the threat of organ failure, particularly of the kidneys. The sooner your dog receives treatment, the better the prognosis will be.
What are the symptoms and best treatment of Pyometra?
Many dogs with Pyometra show almost no symptoms apart from being ‘off-colour’. Many owners are aware that their dog is not well but cannot describe any reason for their feelings. It is vital you don’t ignore the earliest symptoms that your dog may have Pyometra, it could be fatal.
Early symptoms commonly include:
- increased thirst
- increased urination
- loss of appetite
- increased lethargy
As the infection develops, your dog may have noticeable abdominal bloating and discharge from the vulva.
If you notice any of the earliest symptoms it is always best to get your dog to the practice as soon as possible. Pyometra, if left untreated, could mean your dog’s condition deteriorates very quickly and she could die from the infection or from a rupture of her uterine wall.
If Pyometra is suspected, the vet will need to carry out a full examination of your dog to assess whether the cervix is open or closed, and how advanced the infection is.
Although the above history and symptoms may lead to a suspicion of the diagnosis, and feeling the dog’s uterus through her abdomen may increase the suspicion, ultrasound and x-ray may also be used along with blood tests to confirm a marked increase in white blood cells – a hallmark of infection.
The outcome of the examination will determine the next steps and treatment. Because the condition is not purely due to the presence of bacteria, it is very unlikely that a full cure will result from antibiotics alone, although they will always be included in the treatment regime.
A common and serious complication of a Pyometra is that the bacteria involved are commonly gram negative, and release endotoxins when they die. The circulating toxins can cause endotoxic shock and lead to death. Experienced veterinarians will take every precaution to prevent this occurring, but it is critical that all are aware of the possibility.
The most common form of treatment for Pyometra is an emergency ovariohysterectomy or spay. Unfortunately, this common operation has much higher risks in dogs that are now older, have a serious infection and potential circulating endotoxins.
It is also worth considering that a young, healthy dog is more likely to have an easy recovery than an older one following a spay operation. Contrary to some opinions removal of the entire uterus is not necessary.
The best news for your dog is that the London Road Veterinary Centre and Tiptree Vets can offer you keyhole surgery which means (as well as peace of mind for you) some fantastic benefits for your dog including:
- Minimal pain – patients only experience mild discomfort for 24-48 hours
- Targeted microsurgery – only the organs involved are affected and then only the small area that needs surgery
- Reduced trauma – laparoscopy is much less invasive than conventional surgery
- Faster recovery – your pet will be up and about in no time
- Smaller wounds – no need for the ‘Cone of Shame’
- Very few complications – even top surgeons experience a percentage of complications with all routine surgery, whereas the rate of come-backs following keyhole surgery is very low.
Is there anything I can do to prevent my dog developing Pyometra?
Pyometra is entirely preventable. If your dog is successfully spayed before her first season, she will be best protected from this and many other reproductive diseases.
If you are a breeder, you can still protect your dogs by tracking their seasons and closely monitoring any changes in their behaviour.
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