Pyometra – Understanding the Danger and the Frequency

Last month we published an article To Spay or Neuter? Health Questions and New Procedures. In response to this article two readers offered comments regarding the danger of the development of pyometra in an intact bitch. So, to start I want to thank both, Mary A. McLoughlin DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVS and Dr. Susan Adams-Conley, DVM, President Bellingham Animal Hospital, P.C. for sharing their concerns. Their comments prompted me to do a bit more searching so I could share more information with you about pyometra, a fatal infection that every owner of an intact female should be very aware of and most importantly know how to respond if suspected.

To understand the frequency at which pyometra occurs I found a source of statistical material pulled from a Swedish pet insurance data base. I found this material especially telling as the majority of the dogs in Sweden are intact which meant there was a very large population of bitches included in the data. “Patty Olson, DVM, Ph.D.  “In Sweden, 93 percent of dogs are intact,” she says. “They don’t neuter.”

The data indicated that breed and age are a factor in the occurrence of pyometra with some breeds being more prone to the infection while others were less so. On the plus side for Gordon Setters owners, we were not among the top ten breeds most prone to pyometra, however our breed is still at risk like all other breeds, so don’t let that lull you into complacency. Using an overall crude average a bitch under 10 years old has approximately a 2% chance of developing the infection in any 12 month period of her life and the data further shows that by the age of ten somewhere between  23% – 24% of surviving bitches will have developed pyometra. Simple math – your intact bitch has about a 1 in 4 chance of developing pyometra by age 10.

For those of us who show and breed our Gordon Setters, this means that each and every year of their life we face a 2% chance of our bitch developing pyometra, or we could choose to spay her ending that risk along with her breeding potential and show career. There are no easy choices here for breeders or dog show enthusiasts. One thing is for certain though, if we own intact bitches we owe it to them to know the signs and symptoms of the infection and we need to be prepared to handle it as an emergency.

What is Pyometra?

  • Pyometra is an infection in the uterus.
  • .The cervix, gateway to the uterus, remains tightly closed except during estrus when it relaxes to allow sperm to enter the uterus which also means that bacteria that are normally found in the vagina may also enter the uterus.
  • Pyometra may occur in any intact young to middle-aged bitch but is most common in older females.
  • Pyometra usually occurs two to eight weeks after the last estrus.
  • Open pyometra means that the cervix remained open. Symptoms may include pus draining from the uterus out through the vagina. You may find pus or an abnormal discharge on the skin or hair under the tail, or possibly on bedding and furniture Fever, lethargy, anorexia, and depression may be present.
  • Closed pyometra means just that, the cervix is closed and so the pus that forms in the uterus cannot drain. It collects in the uterus ultimately causing the abdomen to distend. The bacteria release toxins that are absorbed into the bloodstream. Bitches with closed pyometra become severely ill very rapidly. They may refuse food, may be very listless and depressed and might also suffer from vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Toxins may affect the kidney’s ability to retain fluid causing increased urine production as well as increased water consumption in both open and closed-cervix pyometra.
  • The preferred treatment is to surgically remove the infected uterus and ovaries – spay.
  • A medical treatment for pyometra may be an option in some cases. Do be aware that the success rate is variable, carries considerable risk, and potential complications. Prostaglandins may be used to lower the blood level of progesterone, relax and open the cervix, and cause the uterus to contract and expel the bacteria and pus. This treatment is not always successful and as mentioned carries other risks so weigh this option very carefully with your veterinarian.
  • If the bitch with pyometra does not obtain immediate medical treatment the toxic effects of bacteria can be fatal. In a closed pyometra the uterus could rupture, spilling the infection into the abdominal cavity which may also be fatal.
Photo by Susan Roy Nelson
Photo by Susan Roy Nelson

And, after all this has been said I am still thinking that the spay procedure that saves the ovaries and removes the uterus sounds like a very promising option? Unfortunately, it appears that only three clinics in the U.S. perform this type of spay. Most importantly, talk to your veterinarians people, then make informed decisions for the Gordon Setter girls in your life.

Reference Links – click to read the full article.

Breed risk of pyometra in insured dogs in Sweden. – PubMed – NCBI.

Breed variations in the occurrence of pyometra and mammary tumours in Swedish dogs

Photos by Susan Roy Nelson
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

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5 thoughts on “Pyometra – Understanding the Danger and the Frequency”

  1. I’m sure in the past that the 3 young bitches who got pyo, was caused by wearing those panties when in heat…… my girls never wear them now!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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