A cat stares at the camera.

One of the biggest health risks associated with having a dog or cat who has not been spayed is the development of a pyometra. Infection of the uterus itself, pyometra is one of the most common reproductive problems we diagnose in pets at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital. Besides being common, it is also potentially fatal. Pyometra is nothing for pet owners to ignore!

Pyometra and Why it Happens

Pyometra is an infection that happens within the uterus secondary to hormonal changes in the body. 

In dogs and cats, the hormone progesterone causes the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for a pregnancy after a heat. When multiple cycles occur without a pregnancy, the uterine lining continues to thicken. This makes an excellent environment for bacteria to grow. 

Pyometra can happen in intact females at any age, but is more common in middle-aged to older animals, and especially those who have never had a litter. Dogs are more commonly affected, although cats can also have a pyometra.

Pyometras may be open, in which the cervix is open and infection may drain outward, or closed in which infection is trapped within the uterus. These infections can lead to a multitude of serious symptoms, and, if untreated, sepsis. 

Pets with a pyometra may show signs of:

  • A distended abdomen
  • A painful belly
  • Depression
  • Discharge from the vulva (often pus-like or bloody)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Increased thirst due to changes in kidney function

Pyometra often occurs 1-2 months after an estrus cycle. If there is any suspicion that your dog or cat may be suffering from pyometra, it is important for you to call us right away. This is an emergency in pets, as resulting sepsis or uterine rupture can be fatal. 

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

If our vets suspect that your pet may have a pyometra, diagnostic testing such as radiographs, ultrasound, and blood work will help to confirm the diagnosis. 

Pets with pyometra must be medically stabilized. They are often dehydrated, need antibiotics for sepsis, and may need additional support. The treatment for this condition is surgical removal of the uterus. This is essentially the same as spaying your pet, however in the face of a pyometra this can be more complicated, especially if the patient is compromised.

There is a medical treatment of pyometra utilizing hormones, however it is not always successful and carries substantial risk. It is not typically recommended except in very valuable breeding animals.

Without surgery or medical treatment, animals with a pyometra will either succumb to sepsis as the bacteria from the uterus moves into the bloodstream or shock due to a rupture of the uterus. 

There is really only one way to prevent pyometra- spay your pet early in life, or as soon as you are finished with breeding. This is far safer for your pet, and definitely makes a smaller dent in your bank account than an emergency surgery!

More isn’t always better, and this certainly holds true for pus. Because pyometra is such a common and serious diagnosis, our team hopes that you will spay your pet when recommended. None of us like for our four-legged friends to be sick.