A yorkie terrier with a red bow.

There are many reasons why most veterinarians advocate for spaying or neutering pets who are not going to be intentionally bred. While some of these are fairly obvious (accidental little bundles of joy anyone?), others are less widely recognized by those not in the veterinary profession.

One common complication that our staff at Springbrook Animal Care Center see as a result of not spaying female dogs and cats is pyometra. This problem affecting the reproductive tract can be quite serious, and is a good reason to consider spaying your pets sooner rather than later. 

A Uterus Full of Problems

When we spay a dog or cat, we remove the uterus along with the ovaries. In pets who are not spayed, the reproductive tract remains and continues to go through estrus (“heat”) cycles.

With each estrus cycle, hormonal changes occur that cause the uterine lining to thicken, making a perfect place for fertilized eggs to implant. Unlike humans, though, this lining does not shed with each cycle. Over subsequent heat cycles without a pregnancy the lining may become quite thick. 

The thick lining of the uterus is not only the perfect place to nurture new puppies or kittens, but it is an ideal environment for many bacteria to flourish. This means serious infections in the uterus can and do occur. When this happens, it is called a pyometra.

Pyometra is a very serious condition and does not just go away on its own. Without treatment, most affected animals succumb to bacterial blood infection (sepsis) and/or shock. 

Symptoms of pyometra often occur about a month and a half after a heat and can include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy/depression
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Discharge from vulva (if cervix is open)
  • Painful or swollen abdomen

Of course, other things can cause many of these symptoms as well, so it is important to bring your pet to see us if these things are noted. The sooner we diagnose the problem, the sooner we can help.

Diagnosing and Treating Pyometra

Pyometra can affect intact female pets of any age, but at highest risk are middle age to older dogs who have not had a litter. 

If pyometra is suspected, many times we can confirm the diagnosis with diagnostic testing including:

  • Thorough physical examination
  • Blood work
  • Abdominal radiographs 
  • Ultrasound

Most pets with pyometra are sick and require stabilization upon diagnosis. Intravenous fluids, antibiotics, antiemetics (for nausea and vomiting), and body temperature support are often critical to help these patients be well enough to fix the problem.

Once stable, the treatment of choice for pyometra is surgical removal of the uterus, and thus the source of infection. This essentially is the same surgery as a spay, however, it is certainly more difficult and at higher risk of complication due to the compromised state of the body. 

Pyometra is a serious condition and is life-threatening in most instances. This is one of the reasons why our staff advocates for preventatively spaying pets that are not being bred. 

For most of our family pets, spay and neuter is the best choice. Pyometra is just one of the reasons. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have about this recommendation for your pet. We want to help you to enjoy your pet as much and as long as possible.