Q: I have an 8-year-old female dog named Baby. She is my baby, too. I thought I would breed her — she is a perfect Maltese — but I never found a male to breed her. I noticed the other day that she had a large amount of blood and infected drainage coming from her female area, and it was not time for her to be in heat. I called my vet and they wanted to see her because they said that she may have an open pyometra and that is a serious condition. What do I do? They are booked up for two weeks out. Should I go to another vet or wait for my vet to see her?
A: Ideally you would wait on your veterinarian to see her, but this case is different. I would call your veterinarian again and tell them you are worried about the drainage and ask to walk in as this condition is close to an emergency and will need a surgical treatment sooner rather than later. They taught us in school to “never let the sun set on a pyometra” or you might just lose that patient.
So, what is a pyometra? Pyo means pus and metra means uterus, in Latin. So a pyometra is a pus-filled uterus that can and will leak toxins and bacteria into the bloodstream and in some cases across the uterine wall into the abdomen, causing a toxic event and ultimately death to the patient.
Patients with an open pyometra will present as sometimes normal but with an odd discharge from their vulva. Sometimes they will lick excessively and other times they don’t seem to mind the drainage, but their owners notice it. Other dogs will show signs of sickness including excessive thirst, a fever, vomiting and anorexia. They are just sick. Lab work, X-rays and sometimes an abdominal ultrasound can be used to attain the diagnosis. But the signalment is the best clue — an older female that has not been spayed. She is 1-2 months after her heat cycle and has a temperature.
There is another type of pyometra that is called a closed pyometra. Here, the cervix never opens up and the pus-filled uterine contents are not able to drain out. They just continually build up until they cause the uterus to rupture. In this case, the diagnosis is a little more challenging, and the threat of death from a ruptured uterus can be even more serious if quick action is not taken to save the life of the pet.
You wonder: Why does this infection happen after all this time? When dogs go into heat, their uterine lining swells in preparation for a possible pregnancy.
If there is no pregnancy, it goes back to normal. Over time, some uterine tissue can become persistently swollen and glandular and not go back to normal.
Bacteria from the vagina can migrate through the cervix to the uterus and there you go, a developing pyometra has started. So the more heat cycles and the older the dog, the more likely a pyometra will develop.
The treatment is to quickly spay the pet before they get toxic or before peritonitis develops. It is a more complicated spay as no infection from the uterus can be allowed to drip into the abdomen, and every last piece of ovarian tissue must be excised with the surgery.
If any ovarian tissue is left in the patient, they will continue to have hormonal surges and can at that point develop a stump pyometra.
This is an unwanted complication to say the least. Pain management, fluids, antibiotics and rest are the only medical treatments needed post-op. These pets typically recover completely and can go on to live a normal life.
Prevention, you ask? You guessed it — SPAY YOUR PET! There has never been a case of a pyometra in a spayed animal.
Having a litter of puppies is emotionally and financially draining. There are sometimes C-sections to pay for, as well as vaccines and worming for 2-12 puppies. And then there’s all the cleaning needed to bring a healthy litter of puppies into the world. Why go through all that when there are lots of wonderful puppies that need caring homes and are currently living in shelters and with rescue groups? These are the puppies we need to support.
So get your girl spayed now so you can enjoy her company for years to come. Good luck!