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Pyometra in dogs: How to prevent this life-threatening condition

Contact your vet ASAP if your dog shows pyometra symptoms.

If it’s been a couple of months since your pup’s most recent heat cycle and they start showing signs of sickness, like a lack of appetite, lethargy or even blood or pus-filled vaginal discharge, they could be experiencing pyometra. 

Pyometra is when a female dog’s uterus becomes inflamed because of a bacterial infection, Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian, says. It’s a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary attention, so it’s important to know what the symptoms of this infection look like. 

What causes pyometra in dogs?

During and after a female dog’s heat cycle, the hormonal effects sometimes stop white blood cells from entering the uterus — plus, they can encourage the cervix to relax and the uterine wall to thicken. All of these things create an environment for bacteria to thrive, Dr. McCullough explains.

Bacteria from a dog’s poop usually get into the vagina and travel to the uterus through the cervix. Because the cervix is more relaxed than usual, bacteria can easily enter the uterus. 

If a pup isn’t spayed, they’re more likely to experience pyometra, Dr. McCullough says. And the infection typically affects females around 7 years old and specific dog breeds, like Bernese Mountain Dogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, collies and golden retrievers. Veterinarians are unsure of why pyometra affects certain dog breeds, Dr. McCullough explains, but it’s likely due to genetics. 

“The risk of pyometra increases with every estrus, which is the heat cycle because the effects of the hormones during this time are cumulative,” she adds.

Symptoms of pyometra in dogs

Some ways for parents to tell if their pup has pyometra is to look out for signs like increased urination and thirst, lack of appetite, lethargy, abnormal vaginal discharge, a swollen abdomen or pain, fever or vomiting, Dr. McCullough shares. 

However, pyometra isn’t contagious between animals, so don’t worry about keeping your pup isolated from other pets. 

Unfortunately, though, pyometra can lead to another condition called sepsis, which is a body’s extreme response to infection. Symptoms of sepsis include weakness, collapse and heart abnormalities.

“Pet parents concerned if their dog has pyometra should seek immediate medical attention from their veterinarian or at a veterinary emergency hospital,” she encourages. 

Once you’re at the vet’s office, they’ll likely diagnose pyometra through a physical exam, blood work, urine testing and imaging, which includes X-rays or abdominal ultrasounds. A test to identify cell types or a bacteria culture may be needed as well, Dr. McCullough says. 

RELATED: Urinary tract infections in dogs: symptoms and treatments

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What’s the recommended pyometra treatment? 

It’s usually recommended that dogs with pyometra are spayed (otherwise known as an ovariohysterectomy), which is where veterinarians remove a dog’s ovaries and uterus. Pyometra cases also sometimes require intensive hospital care, which includes intravenous fluids and antibiotics coupled with other medications to get a dog’s blood work back to normal and fix cardiac abnormalities. 

Depending on the severity of a pup’s pyometra case (especially if they need to stay in the hospital post-surgery), it can take 10 to 14 days for them to feel better. While your pup is recovering, following the veterinarian’s guidance on giving your dog their medications is especially important. 

Carefully monitor your pup for any signs of surgery complications, like changes in their comfort, appetite or energy levels or issues with their incision, like excessive discharge or pain. Contact your veterinarian if your dog shows troubling changes. 

How to prevent pyometra in dogs

The best way to protect your pup from pyometra infections is to spay them, Dr. McCullough says. Talk to your veterinarian about scheduling a spaying procedure if these infections are common in your dog. 

The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.

Photo by Dan Smedley on Unsplash

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