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Pyometra: The Gross and Deadly Risk of Not Spaying

Posted 02.26.19 by Sarah Morris, DVM

One of the first things I like to do when I get to work in the morning is look at my schedule for the day. When I see that I have a sick patient coming in, I always try to do a little research on the patient so I can start formulating what I think might be wrong with the patient before I even look at them. I really start to worry when I see that the sick patient is a middle aged to older intact female. When I see client concerns from something not very specific (not eating, lethargic, vomiting, diarrhea, urinating more frequently) to something more obvious (having abnormal vaginal discharge), I will always have pyometra on that rule out list.

Large dog pyometra

Infected uterine horns in a dog

Pyometra is an infection in the uterus that is a life-threatening emergency. It is most common in older intact females, but can be seen in young to middle aged intact females. After many estrus cycles without pregnancy, the uterine wall undergoes changes that promote this disease. It most commonly occurs 1-2 months after a heat cycle. The clinical signs of pyometra depend on whether the cervix is open or closed at the time of infection. When the cervix is open, often time owners will notice discharge coming from the vulva that stains their tail and legs. They may not act as sick at first because the infection has somewhere to drain. If the cervix is closed the owner will not see any discharge, which makes the diagnosis a little more challenging.

Other clinical signs you may notice are: inappetance, lethargy, vomiting, fever, and increased urination. Imaging of the abdomen is the best way to diagnose. Sometimes you can get an answer with x-rays but ultrasound is the most diagnostic. Blood work is also very helpful because it helps us gauge how sick your pet is prior to emergency surgery. The good news is spaying is curative if caught in time!

Pyometra spay

Pyometra after a spay

After a diagnosis is made, your pet will be rushed to surgery. During surgery the ovaries and the uterus are removed (ovariohysterectomy). This is the same procedure as a spay, but it becomes much more complicated because the uterus is very enlarged and very friable. You have to be super careful because the uterus can rupture spilling infectious material into the abdomen. Plus your pet is usually pretty sick to start which makes anesthesia riskier. They usually will need to be hospitalized until they start feeling better. Pyometra left untreated can be fatal. The longer it goes undetected the poorer the prognosis. This is one of the big reasons your veterinarian recommends spaying your dogs and cats if you do not plan on breeding. And if you do plan on breeding, your veterinarian will recommend spaying after the last litter.

Normal dog uterus after spay

Normal dog uterus after spay

It is much cheaper and safer to have a routine spay performed rather than the emergency surgery that is required when a pyometra is diagnosed. We offer low cost spaying at The Pet Hospitals so give us a call for an estimate to get your babies spayed!

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