Pyometra in dogs is caused by bacterial infection of the uterus (dog’s womb) that causes accumulation of pus, leading to clinical disease. It can be life-threatening because of complications if it is not diagnosed early and treated correctly.
In this article, we'll provide information to help you understandthe disease, its cause, diagnosis, and how to avoid it. Let’s begin!
What Is Pyometra In Dogs?
The “pyo” in pyometra means “pus,” whereas “metra” refers to the “womb or uterus”. Pyometra is a condition in which pus accumulates in the uterus due to infection. The uterus is closed by the cervix, which only opens for sperm to pass through during estrus.
In pyometra, the bacteria find the opportunity and invade the uterus. The immune response results in the formation of pus and causes pyometra. This accumulated pus may or may not leave the uterus, and based on this, pyometra is classified into two main types in dogs:
The protective structure of the uterus, called the cervix, protects the uterus from the outer environment as it opens only, when needed, in heat for mating. If pyometra occurs and it remains open, allowing the accumulated pus to drain outside, this condition is known as open pyometra.
On the other hand, closed pyometra occurs when this cervix is closed, and the accumulated pus cannot drain. It causes excessive accumulation of pus inside the dog’s womb, leading to severe infection.
What Causes Pyometra In Dogs
Pyometra usually occurs as a secondary infection resulting from hormonal changes in dogs. During estrus (heat), the cervix is open, and the lining of the uterus thickens under the influence of hormones.
This provides an ideal environment for bacterial growth, causing infection. That is why a female dog is more likely to develop this condition within two to eight weeks after being in heat.
The increased thickening of the uterine lining stops the proper contraction of uterine muscles, so they cannot expel the bacteria that enter the uterus.
Symptoms Of Pyometra In Dogs
Pyometra is more common in older dogs, although it can affect young and middle-aged dogs. Most cases clinically diagnosed with pyometra usually have a history of being in heat within the last four weeks.
The early signs of pyometra in dogs can be challenging to recognize. Following are some commonly observed symptoms :
- Increased thirst
- Vaginal discharge
- Excessive urination
- Loss of appetite
The dog may develop a high fever (104F to 106F), abdominal pain, and vomiting as the infection progresses. If left untreated, pyometra can lead to sepsis (blood poisoning) and may cause fatal organ failures.
Diagnosis Of Pyometra In Dogs
Diagnosing pyometra in dogs typically involves a physical examination, medical history, and diagnostic tests. Blood work can help determine if the infection has spread to other organs. X-rays or ultrasounds help identify the presence of pus in the uterus.
The radiographic imaging also reveals the extent and amount of accumulation of pus in the dog’s womb. Early diagnosis is beneficial in checking the progress of infections and is critical to treatment success.
Treatment Options For Pyometra In Dogs
Surgery to remove the uterus and ovaries (ovariohysterectomy) is the most common and effective treatment for pyometra, especially closed pyometra. However, your veterinarian may first attempt antibiotics and hormone therapy for milder cases such as open pyometra. Commonly used hormones to treat pyometra include:
The preferred treatment depends on factors such as:
- Severity of the infection
- Dog’s overall health
- Age of the dog
Uterine drainage may be an option for older dogs at high risk for surgery. Closed pyometra is best addressed by surgery. Open pyometra may be managed with medication but needs close monitoring.
Alternative Treatment Options
If your dog is a breeding female and spaying is not desirable, your veterinarian may recommend an alternative treatment, but it is only sometimes effective. Some homemade remedies, homeopathic or herbal medicine, and supplements also claim to treat and prevent this condition from developing by supporting the dog’s immunity.
These products may show promising results in treating the disease but you’ll need to work with a qualified professional (eg herbalist, homeopath or other holistic practitioner) on these alternative treatment methods.
Recovery And Follow-Up Care For Dogs With Pyometra
The recovery phase of the dog is slow, and it needs close monitoring and care until the infection is eliminated and the diagnostic tools confirm that there is no infection or pus in the dog’s womb.
The spaying procedure in a complicated pyometra should be distinct from regular spaying as it is more complex with increased risk of complication. Your vet may also suggest hospitalization for a few days.
Your dog may need antibiotic therapy for about two weeks. However, your vet can suggest different specific to your dog’s condition. The general treatment involves painkillers and intravenous therapy along with antibiotics.
How Long Can A Dog Live With Pyometra?
Pyometra is a serious medical condition that should be treated on a priority basis as a medical emergency. The dog has a meager chance of survival if surgery or hormonal therapy treatment is not started in time.
The pus buildup puts immense pressure on the uterus, causing it to rupture and spread infection in the abdominal cavity, causing fatal toxic shock. As a result, bacterial toxins spread through the blood, causing multiple organ failures.
How Good Is The Prognosis Of Pyometra
The prognosis is good if diagnosed early with proper treatment and care.
The following factors influence the prognosis:
- The age and overall health of the affected dog.
- How severe is the infection?
- At what stage or how early was the condition diagnosed?
- The line of treatment adopted.
The earlier the diagnosis and treatment, the more chances the dog has to fully recover and live a normal, healthy, and happy life.
Pyometra is a severe condition that requires prompt diagnosis and treatment to ensure the best possible outcome. Middle-aged or older female dogs are more at risk of developing pyometra. That makes it more important for pet owners to take preventative measures such regular veterinary check-ups and possibly spaying if appropriate.
You should rush to your veterinarian immediately if you observe that your dog might be developing pyometra so that it can be treated before any complication develops.
Frances O Smith. Canine pyometra. Theriogenology, Volume 66, Issue 3, August 2006, Pages 610-612
Fieni, F, Topie, E and Gogny, A (2014), Medical Treatment for Pyometra in Dogs. Reprod Dom Anim, 49: 28-32.
Jitpean, S, Ambrosen, A, Emanuelson, U et al. Closed cervix is associated with more severe illness in dogs with pyometra. BMC Vet Res 13, 11 (2016).