Pyometra is a disease that involves the presence of infection and pus within the uterus. Middle-aged or older female dogs that have not been spayed are at greatest risk for developing a pyometra. The normal hormonal cycle and uterine changes that occur after a dog has been in heat sets up an ideal environment for bacteria to flourish within the uterus. Pyometras most frequently develop approximately one to two months after a heat cycle has ended.
Typical symptoms of pyometra in dogs include lethargy, depression, increased thirst and urination, vomiting, and usually but not always discharge from the vulva. A veterinarian will often suspect pyometra in an unspayed female dog with the above symptoms, but blood work, x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, and examining a sample of cells swabbed from a dog's vulva under the microscope can all help confirm the diagnosis and plan appropriate treatment.
The best treatment for pyometra is to immediately spay the dog (i.e., surgically remove the uterus and both ovaries). Pets that are in poor condition may need fluid therapy, antibiotics and other types of supportive care before surgery can be attempted. If retention of a dog's breeding potential is important and spaying is not desired, hormone injections that help the uterus to contract and empty can be successful in some cases. Antibiotics are frequently prescribed no matter which course of treatment an owner elects. Pyometra is a fatal disease unless it is treated rapidly. The best way to prevent the condition is to spay female pets early in their lives.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008