Pyometra: what to look out for

Continuing on a reproductive theme, vet Marc Abraham looks at an extremely common life-threatening condition that affects unspayed female dogs, yet is easily preventable

Pyometra - literally 'pus in the womb' - presents with a range of signs, from the obvious (thick creamy pus discharging from the vulva) to the subtle (loss of appetite), all determined by how long the infection has been established and whether the accumulating pus is able to escape from the womb.

However, bitches with classic pyometra are usually older (pictured, right), usually show increased thirst (polydipsia), a swollen abdomen, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue and depression. This may be accompanied by an obvious fever, and her previous season will have typically been between one and three months ago.

The above describes the 'open' scenario, in which the bitch's cervix is open, allowing visible pus to drain out. Less apparent is 'closed' pyometra, which occurs when the cervix remains closed - effectively sealing inside any pus and making the condition harder to spot. So to diagnose pyometra, your vet may recommend further blood tests, ultrasound or X-rays.

But why does this disease occur? There's no simple answer: pyometra is caused by one or a combination of underlying factors, including the microscopic behaviour of the womb lining, hormonal imbalances, and a source of infection arriving from the vulva, blood stream or other infected area of the body.

Treatment options may vary depending on your vet, with most advising surgical removal of the infected uterus when it's safe to do so, usually after administering shock-reducing intravenous fluids, as well as antibiotics and pain relief. A short course of misalliance (mismating) injections can sometimes help expel pus from an infected uterus, further normalising the bitch and resulting in an even safer surgical candidate.

But if pyometra is just an infection, can't we just treat it with antibiotics? Due to the amount and thickness of the pus, unfortunately not: most injected or swallowed antibiotics can rarely penetrate such fluid successfully. Besides, underlying medical conditions, such as abnormal hormone levels, would usually lead to a recurrence of the infection after medication.

For this reason, surgical removal of the infected uterus - as well as the ovaries, as with spaying - is the most likely option. However, unlike spaying, an emergency pyometra procedure carries a high risk from infected tissues and usually costs more, as it requires a full investigation and round-the-clock care.

Pyometra is one of the primary reasons that we vets advise you to get your bitch spayed early, thus preventing life-threatening diseases and emergency surgery - so why not get your dog booked in today?

Marc Abraham is a TV vet who regularly gives the nation pet advice on This Morning, BBC Breakfast and Daybreak. As well as promoting responsible pet ownership, rescue pet adoption, microchipping and responsible dog breeding, Marc is also an active campaigner against the puppy farming industry and is the founder of Pup Aid. Marc has also written the books Vet on Call and Pets in Need and also has the Canine Care iPhone app for dog owners. For more about Marc, visit or follow him on Twitter @marcthevet