What is Pyometra?

Bobbi cropPyometra is a condition affecting unspayed bitches (and less commonly cats) where the womb, or uterus, becomes infected. In mild cases it can come on fairly slowly with only slight changes in the uterus, but the worst cases happen very quickly and the womb becomes swollen like a balloon, but filled with pus. These are urgent and life-threatening.

Pyometra happens when the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) changes under the influence of the bitch’s hormonal cycle. It nearly always happens a few weeks after she has been in season and is more common in older bitches. The use of certain hormonal drugs to postpone seasons has been linked with an increased risk of pyometra. Rarely, a spayed bitch can develop a similar infection in the remaining part of the uterus, called a “stump pyometra”, but this is uncommon.

The first symptoms are not very specific, with the bitch appearing a little unwell and off her food. Usually the thirst will increase and there may be some vomiting, but not all symptoms happen in all cases. If the cervix (the junction between the uterus and the vagina) remains open, there is often an unpleasant vaginal discharge. If the cervix is closed, the discharge cannot escape and these cases are more serious. The temperature may be raised, and when toxins enter the bloodstream the bitch will become seriously ill. In a small number of cases, kidney failure and death will result.

It is usually easy to diagnose a pyometra from a combination of the history and the physical examination. If there is any doubt, x-rays or ultrasound scans can help in the diagnosis. Blood tests can also help by confirming high levels of infection-fighting white blood cells.

The treatment for pyometra is the surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries, also called ovaro-hysterectomy or spay. It is a more difficult operation in a bitch with pyometra than the regular spay operation in a young healthy bitch. The uterus is often enlarged and fragile. If it should leak or burst, there is a high risk of peritonitis. Having said that, the operation is nearly always successful. It is usually carried out immediately after diagnosis, unless the bitch needs to be stabilised first to allow her a better chance of coming through the operation.

After-care would include antibiotics and possibly fluids by drip if the bitch was very poorly. Exercise will be restricted for a minimum of 10 days while the wound heals, and pain relief will be given.

There have been attempts to treat pyometra with drugs rather than surgery, but it is unlikely that severe cases would respond to anything but surgery. In mild cases which improve for a time there is every chance that the condition will come back after the next season.

It is often said by owners after the bitch has recovered from a pyometra operation that they are healthier than they have been for years. In these cases the condition had probably been grumbling for a long time but not enough to worry anyone until recently. The changes in the bitch’s behaviour which had been put down to advancing years are reversed, often giving a whole new lease of life.

The best way to prevent pyometra is to spay whilst the bitch is young and healthy. Unless you really want puppies, with all the responsibility and expense that goes with them, it is best to spay either before the first season or about three months after it. Your own vet can advise on the best time for your particular bitch. The added advantages of spaying young are the reduced risk of mammary tumours and the avoidance of further seasons and unwanted pregnancies. There could be a slightly increased risk after spay of developing urinary incontinence, and some bitches develop a fluffy coat instead of a sleek shiny one. These drawbacks are greatly outweighed by the benefits.

It is always a good idea to take note of changes in your dog’s behaviour or general wellbeing. Noticing small changes in appetite or thirst could be crucial in diagnosing this type of condition early. If you are worried about any of these symptoms, always ring your veterinary surgery for advice.

Our Interactive Symptom Guide can help you check out any unusual symptoms and advise on how soon you should visit your vet. Earlier diagnosis usually means more successsful treatment.

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12 thoughts on “What is Pyometra?

  1. Sadly I lost a bitch to this terrible illness. The problem was it wasn’t totally text book so went undetected for too long and she died in my arms (there was a rip in her uterus that leaked out the pus so it didnt look like the obvious symptoms of pyo). I think this is wonderful to put this on your website – if this advice prevents just one person/dog having to go through what I and my Irish Setter went through then it will be worth it! Keep the good work up!

  2. Sadly I lost a bitch to this terrible illness. The problem was it wasn’t totally text book so went undetected for too long and she died in my arms (there was a rip in her uterus that leaked out the pus so it didnt look like the obvious symptoms of pyo). I think this is wonderful to put this on your website – if this advice prevents just one person/dog having to go through what I and my Irish Setter went through then it will be worth it! Keep the good work up!

  3. Hello Louise,
    Im very sorry to hear that you lost your Irish Setter to a pyometra. It is
    certainly more difficult to diagnose in some cases than others, and it is
    heartbreaking when the outcome is not good.
    Thank you for your comments about the item. Jenny

  4. Hello Louise,
    Im very sorry to hear that you lost your Irish Setter to a pyometra. It is
    certainly more difficult to diagnose in some cases than others, and it is
    heartbreaking when the outcome is not good.
    Thank you for your comments about the item. Jenny

  5. Hello Jenny,
    Thank you for a very useful article. I just found it as was searching for a treatment that can help my dog.
    She has been diagnosed with pyometra today. She is a labrador retriever of 13 years old. Her behaviour did not change but she was very thirsty for the last couple of days and urinated everywhere, which is very unusual for her. The vet was called immediately and after a UV scan confirmed my suspicion… I can only hope that we detected pyometra early enough. No operation is possible – she lives in Belarus, where a new law was recently passed of no anaesthetic for dogs anymore. She is too old to have an operation without an anaesthetic. The dogs are just left to die. We will be trying the antibiotics, homeopathy and hormonal treatment. She was very responsive to antibiotics before. The vet gave her today the first dose of antibiotics and something to open the cervix even more so the pus can come out.
    If you know of any other ways to help my dog, I would really appreciate any advice.
    Thank you and regards,
    Katya

  6. Hello Jenny,
    Thank you for a very useful article. I just found it as was searching for a treatment that can help my dog.
    She has been diagnosed with pyometra today. She is a labrador retriever of 13 years old. Her behaviour did not change but she was very thirsty for the last couple of days and urinated everywhere, which is very unusual for her. The vet was called immediately and after a UV scan confirmed my suspicion… I can only hope that we detected pyometra early enough. No operation is possible – she lives in Belarus, where a new law was recently passed of no anaesthetic for dogs anymore. She is too old to have an operation without an anaesthetic. The dogs are just left to die. We will be trying the antibiotics, homeopathy and hormonal treatment. She was very responsive to antibiotics before. The vet gave her today the first dose of antibiotics and something to open the cervix even more so the pus can come out.
    If you know of any other ways to help my dog, I would really appreciate any advice.
    Thank you and regards,
    Katya

  7. Hi Debra-I did email you.I would keep an eye on her. Teddy would have his once a month and they got worse and worse each month.Sometimes they just have them my Vet says what she means by that is if they are once a year or so just to keep an eye on them. Do not let seizures go for more that 5 -15 muitnes EVER. They can die from lack of oxygen to the brain.I would contact your VET regardless and let them know exactly what happened. I’m sure your Vet will tell you to watch her and they will take it from there. Teddy is on Potassium Bromide daily. I also have a Valium shot on hand from the vet which I inject into his butt at the start of any seizure. The seizure goes away within seconds. It is really a life saver to have around. At least for him.I again, would keep a close eye on your girl. Teddy started with like one a year and they progressed as time went on.thank you,Deb

  8. Hi Debra-I did email you.I would keep an eye on her. Teddy would have his once a month and they got worse and worse each month.Sometimes they just have them my Vet says what she means by that is if they are once a year or so just to keep an eye on them. Do not let seizures go for more that 5 -15 muitnes EVER. They can die from lack of oxygen to the brain.I would contact your VET regardless and let them know exactly what happened. I’m sure your Vet will tell you to watch her and they will take it from there. Teddy is on Potassium Bromide daily. I also have a Valium shot on hand from the vet which I inject into his butt at the start of any seizure. The seizure goes away within seconds. It is really a life saver to have around. At least for him.I again, would keep a close eye on your girl. Teddy started with like one a year and they progressed as time went on.thank you,Deb

  9. My 14 year old Labrador Molly dog was bleeding for 10 days and we assumed she was in Heat.
    Over the weekend she became lethargic and the bleeding turned very brown so we took her to the vet who checked her temp and her gums and stated that she may be on heat and will leave a week and then if not stopped to bring her back for ultrasound.
    I wasn’t happy on Sunday so took her to emergency vets who diagnosed Pyometra and said he didn’t think at 14 she would survive the operation.
    We took her home and the next morning I called another vet who asked me to take her in.
    He immediately stated he would operate else she would die. The operation was a success he stated but in recovery for 2 hours and she then relapsed. The vet explained he believed a blood clot may have gone to her brain or lung due to having a high white blood cell count.
    I had never heard of Pyometra and did not know it was such a deadly disease.
    I am absolutely heartbroken and just wished I had taken her to the vets earlier and she may have had a better chance of survival ?

  10. My 14 year old Labrador Molly dog was bleeding for 10 days and we assumed she was in Heat.
    Over the weekend she became lethargic and the bleeding turned very brown so we took her to the vet who checked her temp and her gums and stated that she may be on heat and will leave a week and then if not stopped to bring her back for ultrasound.
    I wasn’t happy on Sunday so took her to emergency vets who diagnosed Pyometra and said he didn’t think at 14 she would survive the operation.
    We took her home and the next morning I called another vet who asked me to take her in.
    He immediately stated he would operate else she would die. The operation was a success he stated but in recovery for 2 hours and she then relapsed. The vet explained he believed a blood clot may have gone to her brain or lung due to having a high white blood cell count.
    I had never heard of Pyometra and did not know it was such a deadly disease.
    I am absolutely heartbroken and just wished I had taken her to the vets earlier and she may have had a better chance of survival ?

  11. I just picked up on this because I was researching pyometra. My 6 year old bitch has never been very active – she does go out for walks with the others but has never been that interested. Anyway, i had plans to spay her but one thing after anotehr kept cropping up, so instead i would put her on a hormone drug each season to stop the heat. Four days ago she went off her food and tehn started drinking copious amounts and weeing everywhere. the light went out of her eyes. Yesterday she wouldnt leave me alone, kept putting her head on my knee and gazing at me. I already had plans to call the vet anyway and that pushed me into doing it. took her in straightaway, she had bloodtests and scans which confirmed advanced pyometra. They operated on her immediately, and successfully. We now have to keep an eye on her to make sure that there is no sign of any infection lft – she has strong antibiotics to take – but i firmly believe she was asking me for help. What concerns me is whether the hormone pills could have caused this – they were prescribed ones. I have another, younger bitch and sh is going in for spaying in January – that will be three months after her last season. I never want to go through that again.

  12. I just picked up on this because I was researching pyometra. My 6 year old bitch has never been very active – she does go out for walks with the others but has never been that interested. Anyway, i had plans to spay her but one thing after anotehr kept cropping up, so instead i would put her on a hormone drug each season to stop the heat. Four days ago she went off her food and tehn started drinking copious amounts and weeing everywhere. the light went out of her eyes. Yesterday she wouldnt leave me alone, kept putting her head on my knee and gazing at me. I already had plans to call the vet anyway and that pushed me into doing it. took her in straightaway, she had bloodtests and scans which confirmed advanced pyometra. They operated on her immediately, and successfully. We now have to keep an eye on her to make sure that there is no sign of any infection lft – she has strong antibiotics to take – but i firmly believe she was asking me for help. What concerns me is whether the hormone pills could have caused this – they were prescribed ones. I have another, younger bitch and sh is going in for spaying in January – that will be three months after her last season. I never want to go through that again.

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