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Pyometra: what to look out for

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 www.marcthevet.com or follow him on Twitter @marcthevet

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Christine Bridges
My dog, a goldie, did not have any of the classic symptoms. The reason I found out was a week after her season had finished, I went a walk in a local park where lots of dogs and their owners walk together. All the male dogs, all neutered, would not leave Misty alone, it was if she was in season still but I knew she wasn't. I took her to the vets later that day where she was admitted for an emergency spay and she,made a full recovery. The discharge gives off the same odour to other dogs as a bitch in season.
Excellent advice. I have just gone through a night mare with my bitch, She is almost 12, and never had any issues with her. Untill 6 weeks ago, when she started drinking like there was no tomorrow and became depressed. Took her to the vet, who suspected pyo, ( and so did I to be honest) First on a course of anti-biotics, as she had stopped eating by then, and we needed to get her a bit stronger. Then a week later, emergency spay, and it took the Vet 4 hours!! She stayed at the Vet's for 4 days, on the fourth I really thought I was going to lose her... The vet then decided to let her go home as she was not eating, and getting really depressed at the vet's Luckily that was the turnaround and she started eating again. The vet took a swab and got the results of which bacteria, so he could give specific anti-biotics. She is now off the tablets and doing great, but what a nightmare! I also then made the decision of having my rottie spayed, she is 9, and is fine, the op was half an hour, and it took her about half a day to get over it :) I never gave spaying a second thought really, , mine are all rescues, and seasons have not bothered me, simply house arrest was fine, I always had the males done though :) Probably just something I grew up with, we always had bitches, never had puppies, we were always very careful so that we would never have an accidental mating . I am glad they are both done now, and will advise anyone to do it !!
karen harvey
We routinely took our Golden Retriever Bonnie after her first season to be spayed and the vet discovered she had the start of a pyometra and was able to take the appropriate action, whatever that was, that was when she was under a year old, she is now eight years old. I dread to think that if we hadn't taken her when we did, it would have been so much worse.Would recommend anyone to get their bitch spayed early to prevent this potentially fatal condition.
My girl is 5 she has had two litters fine she went to mate this time had two successful ties but bled heavy for 31 days pups re absorbed and she two week away from having them she off her food and depressed no infection seen temp normal could she have pyometra

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