A pyometra is a serious infection of the uterus, usually seen in older un-neutered bitches. This can be life threatening if left untreated. When a female comes into season, hormonal changes occur within the uterus. After many years of oestrous cycles the wall of the uterus can become the ideal environment for bacteria to multiply.
What are the clinical signs?
During the early stages of a pyometra the clinical signs are not obvious. Clinical signs depend on whether the pyometra is 'open' or 'closed'. If it is an open pyometra this means that the cervix is open and discharge can often be seen from the vagina. It is commonly noticed on the skin or hair under the tail and on bedding or furniture where the dog is laid. Loss of appetite, lethargy and depression may be present.
If the pyometra is closed no discharge will be seen, pus that has formed is unable to drain and so collects in the uterus - this can sometimes cause swelling of the abdomen. Toxins from the bacteria are released into the circulation resulting in the bitch becoming severely ill; signs can include lethargy, depressionm vomiting and diarrhoea. The toxins that are released can also affect the kidneys' capabilities to retain fluid leading to an increased thirst and increased urination - this can be seen with both open and closed pyometra.
How is pyometra diagnosed?
In part, diagnosis is based on the signs described above - pyometra must be considered in a female who has not been neutered, is drinking more, has an enlarged abdomen and/or a vaginal discharge. In addition, blood tests can be carried out - an increased white cell count will help confirm the presence of infection. If the pyometra is closed then x-rays or an ultrasound examination may be needed to confirm the diagnosis (an enlarged uterus will often be seen in this way).
How is it treated?
The best treatment is surgery to remove the uterus and spaying is advised as soon as possible. This surgery carries a higher risk than a routine neutering as the bitch is often very unwell at the time of the operation. The patient will receive intravenous fluids and antibiotics at the time of the surgery and will usually be prescribed further antibiotics to continue after the procedure.
Can pyometra be prevented?
If you are not intending to breed from your bitch then spaying will prevent the risk of pyometra.