Pyometra is Greek for “pus womb.” This is a grotesque but accurate description of pyometra in fully intact female dogs. The bad news is that pyometra can quickly kill a dog. The good news is that it is completely preventable by spaying. There are two types of canine pyometra – draining and non-draining. Both should be considered medical emergencies. Female dogs of all ages, even puppies, can suffer from pyometra.
The main cause of both draining and non-draining pyometra is hormonal changes in the dog’s body during her cycle. Dogs go into season about every six months. During this hormonal roller-coaster, the lining of the uterus thickens to get ready to nurture puppy fetuses. In a normal cycle when the dog is not bred, the uterine lining shrinks back to original size. This does not happen for an unlucky dog with pyometra.
When the uterine lining stays thicker for longer than usual, the dog will develop cycstic endometrial hyperplasia. Bacteria, which normally do not bother the uterus, suddenly grows wild. One of the common bacteria found is E. coli. The dog’s immune system cannot control the sudden bacterial growth. Pus forms in the uterus. Non-draining pyometra is more dangerous than draining pyometra because the more pus the dog retains, the more infection she is suffering from.
Signs and Symptoms
The first signs of canine pyometra are loss of appetite, fever distended abdomen and urinating far more often than usual. The dog may or may not also have diarrhea or vomiting and will be restless due to abdominal pain. The dog may drink more often than usual. Drinking and urinating more often than usual are big signs of diabetes as well as pyometra, so get the dog to a vet immediately.
With draining pyometra, pus and blood will drip from the vaginal opening. This mixture usually reeks with the foul smell of decay. The vulva may be swollen. In non-draining pyometra, all of the signs are the same with the exception of the appearance of pus or bloody discharge. The vulva may or may not be swollen. Signs for either type of pyometra begins one to two months after estrus.
If your female dog or puppy has not been spayed and begins showing these signs, take her to a vet immediately. Time is of the essence, especially if she is suffering from non-draining pyometra. The danger is that the pus will build up so much that the uterus will burst open. If that happens, the dog has an extremely poor chance of survival.
The only cure is immediate spaying. There is no way to save the dog’s reproductive abilities. She will also need to be stabilized before surgery. She may or may not have an abdominal X-ray, especially if she has non-draining pyometra. However, not all veterinary clinics have X-ray equipment, so the only alternative may be surgery. She will have to be put on antibiotics to kill the bacteria in her system. While she recovers from surgery, she will need to eat a bland or prescription diet.