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Pyometra in dogs: definition, symptoms and treatment

Black Staffordshire Bull Terrier advice

The most common method of treating pyometra is surgery

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With pyometra being a pretty serious infection for a female dog, your pet will need to be seen by a vet to get better.

By Dr Karen Ingleby BVetMed MRCVS

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Pyometra (often shortened to pyo) is an infection of the womb (or uterus) in a female dog who has not been spayed. The definition of pyometra is ‘full of pus’.

It is a serious infection that can be life-threatening and can cause your dog to lose their appetite, affect how much they drink, be more tired than usual and sometimes have a discharge out of their vagina. This may progress so that your dog does not want to move and, if left untreated, can be fatal.

It most commonly happens around four to eight weeks after she has finished bleeding from her last season.

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What organ becomes infected in dog pyometra?

Dog pyometra is an infection of the womb, or uterus, in a female dog. It happens in female dogs who have not been spayed. It is only seen in female dogs, as male dogs do not have a uterus.

When a female dog is having a season, there are hormonal changes in the uterus that produce the right environment for an infection and this then can cause a pyometra. 

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What are the signs of pyometra in a dog?

Dogs with pyometra will show all or some of the following symptoms: they eat less or stop eating, drink more or stop drinking, they can appear to be unusually tired and dull, and some animals will produce a vaginal discharge and vomit. You may also notice them looking a little bloated in the stomach region.

These symptoms normally develop about a month after they finish their last season (bleed). If your dog is displaying any or all of these, please contact a vet.

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What colour is pyometra discharge in a dog?

Dogs suffering from a pyometra may have a visible white or brown discharge coming from the vulva. Yet there are two types of pyometra: an ‘open' pyometra and a ‘closed' pyometra. In the case of a closed pyometra, you may not see any discharge at all, as the infection stays inside the uterus, and this form can often be more serious. So just because your dog doesn’t have a discharge, this does not mean she doesn’t have a pyometra. If she is showing other symptoms, then please call a vet.

What does pyometra in a dog smell like?

A dog with pyometra may smell no different to a dog without one. If your dog has an ‘open’ pyometra, then some of the pus from inside the uterus can sometimes be seen coming out of her vagina and this can have a strong, rotten smell. But if there isn’t much discharge and your dog is very good at cleaning herself, you may notice it on her breath from licking herself clean, rather than around her back end.

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How is pyometra in dogs diagnosed?

If you take your dog to the vet and she is showing some or all of the symptoms of pyometra, then it is likely your vet will suspect the condition just from the signs. Yet further diagnostic tests like blood samples and an ultrasound may be advised to confirm their suspicions or to rule out any other causes.

How do you treat pyometra in dogs?

The most common method of treating pyometra is surgery to remove the infected womb. Although it is the same procedure as a routine spay, there is a greater risk to your dog as she will be sick, and the uterus may be large and inflamed. But after surgery most dogs improve quickly with the help of fluids, antibiotics and pain relief.

Non-surgical treatment of a pyometra using hormone injections is occasionally recommended, but usually only when the animal is unlikely to live through surgery. It should only be attempted in ‘open’ pyometras and it can often take two to three days to see any improvement. Also using this method often results in the dog having another pyometra after the next season.

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Can pyometra in dogs be treated with antibiotics?

Treating pyometra with antibiotics alone is not recommended. The most effective treatment and highest chance of a good result is from surgically removing the infected womb and then giving supportive treatment including fluids, antibiotics and pain relief.

What antibiotics are used to treat pyometra in dogs?

Speak to a vet, as they are the best person to be able to advise you on what antibiotics (and other treatments) are needed for your dog if they have pyometra.

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Can dogs survive pyometra?

Although pyometra is a serious infection and untreated can result in the dog dying, many recover fully from this with no complications. The earlier your dog receives treatment, the greater chance of survival and return to a normal healthy pet. So, if you are at all concerned that your dog may have a pyometra, please go and see a vet.

Can dog pyometra cure itself?

It is extremely unlikely that a pyometra will self-cure, and the longer you leave your pet with the condition the more serious it can become – and may even be fatal. The most effective treatment, and highest chance of a good result, is from surgically removing the infected womb and then giving supportive treatment including fluids, antibiotics and pain relief. Please contact a vet and discuss it with them, if you think your dog may have pyometra.

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Is pyometra painful for dogs?

A pyometra is an infection of the uterus and this causes some inflammation of the lining of the womb, which can produce severe discomfort. This is especially true if it is a ‘closed’ pyometra, where the pus is not draining out, as the abdomen can become larger and even more uncomfortable. All dogs suffering from pyometra will benefit from some pain relief. Please discuss it with a vet.

How common is dog pyometra?

Pyometra is unfortunately a common condition in unspayed female dogs, with about 25 per cent of them suffering from a pyometra before they are 10 years old. That means 1 in 4 unspayed female dogs will suffer from this.

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How much does dog pyometra surgery cost?

Pyometra surgery can be expensive, but the exact cost will depend on the size of your dog and how sick she is. Dogs that are very sick may require longer, post-surgery treatment and hospitalisation. But leaving a dog with pyometra untreated is not acceptable. If you have pet insurance, then most policies are likely to cover some or all of the costs. Please discuss all this with a vet and the insurer.

How serious is dog pyometra?

Pyometra is a serious infection and, if left untreated, can result in the death of the dog. But the earlier your dog receives treatment, the greater their chance of survival and return to being a normal, healthy pet. So, if you are at all concerned that your dog may have pyometra, please go and see a vet.

Is pyometra in dogs an emergency?

As a rule, vets would consider pyometra to be an emergency. Often by the time a vet sees a dog with pyometra, they are already showing signs of being off-colour and sick. Vets know that the earlier the dog receives treatment, the greater their chance of survival and return to being a normal, happy pet. As such, it is crucial if you are concerned about your pet, then please contact a vet.

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What happens after pyometra surgery for dogs?

After a successful surgery, dogs are likely be kept in the practice for a couple of days for observation and to receive more fluids, if they are on a drip. When the animal gets home, they need to have severe restrictions on what they can do for several days. Gentle, short lead walks to go to the toilet are all that are needed.

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You will need to keep a close eye on the surgery wound on their abdomen to make sure it stays clean and is not licked by your dog. If necessary, you may need to use a collar to prevent your dog getting to the wound. The vet will send your dog home with further antibiotics and pain relief and is likely to want to have her back in two to three days for a check-up and then another seven days later to remove the stitches. If you are at all worried about your dog or the surgery wound after she comes home, contact the vet immediately.

How do you prevent pyometra in dogs?

You can completely prevent the risk of your dog suffering from pyometra by getting their uterus removed in a routine spay surgery. This can happen before they ever have a season or between seasons. Please speak to a vet and see what they advise.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk

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