Pyometra – dying to breed

1st February 2018

What is a pyometra?

The word 'pyometra' literally means an accumulation of pus in the uterus (The Greek derivation of pyometra is: 'pyo' = pus and 'metra' = uterus). When we talk about a pyometra, we are therefore referring to a womb infection. Thankfully, this condition is becoming less common as more and more dogs and cats are neutered when young, but we thought it would be helpful to tell you more incase you had any doubts. 

  1. It develops when the uterus changes under the influence of hormones. High levels of progesterone stimulate glands in the uterine wall to become more active. This allows a window of opportunity where bacteria may enter and cause an infection.
  2. It can happen at any time during a female dog or cat's life and at any point during the oestrus cycle; but is more common in older animals after being in season.
  3. A pyometra typically presents as either an open or a closed form. This refers to the state of the cervix at the time of diagnosis. In an open pyometra, the cervix is open and the pus is able to drain out of the uterus. A smelly, sticky pus discharge is often seen around the vulva and on the tail. In a closed pyometra, the cervix is sealed so nothing is seen externally.
  4. A pyometra with large quantities of pus in the uterus can be life threatening
  5. Toxins released from the pus can cause a form of blood poisoning known as toxaemia, which can lead to secondary problems including kidney failure.
  6. Bacteria escaping into the blood will cause septicaemia.
  7. Ruptured uterus – a closed pyometra can literally break open causing pus to leak into the abdominal cavity. A fatal peritonitis may result.

Look for the signs

  • Anorexia or inappetence
  • Lethargy and depression - animal appear generally unwell
  • Vomiting – secondary to toxins and septicaemia
  • Drinking more water (polydipsia)
  • Urinating more frequently or sudden incontinence
  • Elevated temperature (Fever)
  • Bloody purulent discharge from the vulva

What treatment do we use?

As pyometra can be life threatening, prompt treatment is essential. Initially your pet will need to be stabilised. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we often start the treatment with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. This is important to help us flush out some toxins and help maintain kidney function. The treatment of choice for pyometra is the complete removal of the uterus and ovaries (ovariohysterectomy/spay). Unfortunately, surgery in very sick animals can be very risky but in most instances, it is the best chance for long-term survival of your pet.

There are some circumstances where drugs alone can be used to treat pyometra (e.g. using prostaglandins or progesterone), but from experience we feel the most effective treatment is surgery. Our vets will always be able to discuss the options with you to help make the best decision.

Can pyometra be prevented?

Yes, and the most effective way is to have your pet neutered when young. Some owners may choose to delay spaying, thinking they’ll breed from their pet in the future. So often though these patients are often the ones that go on to develop a pyometra infection.

Want to know more? – all you need to do is make an appointment and talk with one of our vets