Because I wrote a bestseller about pet loss, people often email me with stories about how their dogs died. Recently someone asked me to write about pyometra in dogs because they recently lost their 11 year old bitch to it. So, in honor of this cute canine, I’ve collected all the important questions and answers about canine pyometra, a potentially life-threatening infection of the uterus. Might be useful to you now or in the future. Maybe some stats, symptoms and risks you didn’t know about. Plus a real life story of a dog who survived pyometra in our family.
What does pyometra mean?
The word pyometra means “pus-filled uterus”. Ewwww!
What is pyometra?
Pyometra is a potentially life-threatening infection of the uterus with a risk of sepsis.
What is an open pyometra?
Open pyometra means that the cervix remains open and there is often bloody discharge from the dog’s vagina.
What is closed pyometra?
Closed pyometra means the cervix remains closed, trapping the infection in the uterus. Systemic diseases and risks are often more serious when the cervix is closed.
What is emphysematous pyometra?
This is when the bacteria outgas into the uterus, further swelling the uterine tissues and increasing the risk of uterine rupture.
This can also happen with urinary tract infections. So if you ever hear farting noises coming out of any holes it shouldn’t or your dog is peeing, let your vet know right away.
What is the prognosis for dogs with pyometra?
Considering how serious pyometra is, veterinarians save most pyometra patients. The mortality rate is between 3% and 20%, depending on the study cited.
However, about 20% of cases develop complications that increase the risk of serious systemic diseases and death. Common complications are:
- uterine rupture
- Inflammation of the membrane lining the abdominal cavity and covering the abdominal organs (peritonitis)
- Sepsis/septic shock (basically the body’s response to a widespread infection)
What are the first signs of pyometra in dogs?
More than 50% of bitches with pyometra develop these common symptoms:
- Vaginal discharge
- Fever (normal dog temperature about 101-102.5)
- Lethargy and depression, meaning they look exhausted and don’t feel well
- Inappetence/anorexia, meaning they don’t want/can’t eat
- Increased thirst (polydipsia)
- Frequent urination (polyuria)
What Other Symptoms Can Dogs With Pyometra Develop?
- Abnormal mucous membranes (dry/sticky gums, pale gums, bright red gums)
- Bloated stomach
- Very low body temperature (hypothermia)
- High heart rate
- Rapid breathing/panting
- Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome
IMPORTANT!!! Because the risk of uterine rupture is so high, DO NOT poke (at all or too hard) your bitch’s abdominal area if you think she may have pyometra.
How is pyometra diagnosed?
Classic cases of canine pyometra make it easy for veterinarians to diagnose based almost entirely on symptoms, including vaginal discharge and others. Previous diagnoses often come from:
- history of symptoms
- Physical and gynecological examination
- Blood tests, including haematological and blood chemistry analyses
- X-ray or ultrasound
Cases of closed pyometra can be more difficult to identify. Your vet can explain more to you.
How is pyometra treated?
How long will my dog live with pyometra?
Depends on. This is an emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention. Pyometra in dogs can cause rapid deterioration, and early veterinary intervention is likely to increase your dog’s chances of survival.
The mortality rate of dogs with pyometra ranges from 3% to 20%.
However, the mortality rate is much higher in dogs that develop more systemic diseases and complications.
Can a dog recover from pyometra?
Yes. With prompt treatment, which is typically emergency neuter surgery, most dogs survive and recover. Uncomplicated cases often spend at least a day or two recovering after surgery at the veterinary clinic, with most signs of the disease returning to normal in about two weeks. More severe cases may require a longer hospital stay and longer recovery time.
There are non-surgical treatment options for those hoping to later breed a dog with pyometra. However, it is risky and cases must be carefully selected as it can take up to 48 hours for medical (non-surgical) treatment to take effect.
How common is pyometra in dogs?
About 20% of all unchanged bitches develop pyometra before the age of 10 years. The risk increases to over 50% certain high-risk breeds:
Breeds at higher risk of pyometra
- Rough Collies
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- Golden retriever
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- English Cocker Spaniels
How do female dogs get pyometra?
Progesterone plays an important role in establishing pyometra infection in dogs. This typically happens during the luteal phase (after ovulation) when progesterone is higher. Basically, the same things that make the body fit for pregnancy also make bacteria more likely to grow.
The most common bacterial pathogen found in bitches with pyometra is an opportunistic one Escherichia coli (E. coli), which enters from the outside and advances into the uterus, where it replicates.
Bitches with cystic endometrial hyperplasia (CEH) may be at increased risk of developing pyometra infection in the uterus.
When are bitches most likely to get pyometra?
While canine pyometra can occur in intact females of any age from 4 months of age, it typically occurs in middle-aged and older dogs, often up to 2-4 months after their last estrus cycle.
How to prevent pyometra in dogs?
Surgical ovariohysterectomy (OHE), often referred to as castration surgery, before a bitch goes through too many heat cycles, is the most common way to prevent pyometra.
While it is more common in middle-aged and older female dogs, pyometra can develop in female dogs as young as 4 months old.
Experiences with pyometra in dogs
I only know one bitch who developed pyometra. It was FAR back when I volunteered locally at our local animal shelter. I often walked a little sheltie who refused to do pottery in her kennel so we had to walk her often. We became friends, so to speak, and I convinced my mother-in-law to adopt her. She called her Daisy.
This was before the shelter employed vets to spay/neuter all animals prior to adoption, so we took them to our DVM back then.
When they went to the surgery, Daisy’s uterus exploded from being so full of infections. We are very lucky that she survived. They had to flush out their abdominal cavity and give antibiotics intravenously. It was pretty scary.
Personal note: This week (in 2022) happens to be the 10th anniversary of our losing my MIL. Feels like both yesterday and a lifetime ago. So everyone salutes Daisy and my MIL who are gone from our lives but not from our hearts.