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Pyometra: A medical emergency in intact female dogs and cats

Posted on Tuesday, February 26, 2019
small dog on exam table with veterinary assistant and veterinarian on either side
Associate Veterinarian Dr. David Molinas and Coordinator of Patient Services Janice Scheibe examine a patient prior to her sterilization surgery in our Susan M. Markel Veterinary Hospital. This pup will never have to worry about pyometra!

Overpopulation, mammary and reproductive cancers, urine marking: these issues are some of the more commonly understood consequences associated with not spaying our pets.

On World Spay Day, we hope to bring awareness to a lesser known risk for intact female dogs and cats: pyometra. While completely avoidable through spaying, this condition can be deadly.

What is pyometra?

Pyometra is an infected uterus, which can only occur in female animals who have not been spayed. Pyometra occurs in cats as well as dogs, and age is not a limiting factor. Dr. Courtney Bowers, associate veterinarian at the Susan M. Markel Veterinary Hospital, says, “Pyometra can occur at any age. We’ve seen it in dogs as young as eighteen months.”

Even with concerted efforts to encourage spaying and neutering (clients of the Susan M. Markel Veterinary Hospital must agree to spay or neuter their pets), pyometra cases are still present. “As a full-service medical facility, we do treat patients diagnosed with pyometra,” says Dr. Bowers. “These patients require immediate medical attention, and most cases result in surgery.”

Surgery is always advised for “closed” pyometras, where the infection is actually retained within the body. A closed pyometra often goes unnoticed by pet guardians until the patient is in critical condition since even the most diligent guardians are unable to see symptoms externally. While any version of pyometra is serious, closed pyometra cases often have the poorest prognosis.

What are the clinical signs of pyometra?

If you encounter an intact female dog or cat, being able to recognize clinical signs of pyometra can save a life. The following symptoms may be an indicator of pyometra:

  • Lethargy or tiredness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vaginal discharge (particularly if increased or discolored)
  • Vomiting
  • Increased urination due to internal pressure
  • A distended or “swollen” abdomen, due to uterine enlargement

If you are concerned that a pet is suffering from any of the above symptoms, please seek immediate veterinary care. According to Dr. Bowers, “Pyometra is potentially fatal and should always be considered a medical emergency.”

How is pyometra diagnosed and treated?

Pyometras are diagnosed through a combination of doctor examination, a history of any or all of the symptoms mentioned above, and abdominal radiographs. Bloodwork is also a helpful diagnostic tool.

Though antibiotics are typically warranted in each case, the only cure for the vast majority of pyometra cases is to surgically remove the uterus.

“This incredibly painful condition is 100 percent preventable,” says Dr. Bowers. “Spaying is best for your pet. If cost is a factor, please remember that a routine spay is much less expensive than a critical surgery.”

There are numerous benefits to spaying and neutering that will likely be brought to attention during this year’s World Spay Day, February 26. Our team hopes that raising awareness to pyometra – a deadly condition that may be unfamiliar to many pet guardians – will help keep our pet community healthy.

Lindsay Brockman is the director of our Susan M. Markel Veterinary Hospital. Lindsay is a licensed veterinary technician and has a background in emergency veterinary medicine. After graduating from George Mason University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations in 2009, she went on to earn a degree in Veterinary Technology from Blue Ridge Community College.

When she is not working at the Richmond SPCA, Lindsay enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, as well as her two dogs, cat and guinea pig Harriet.

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