So when someone walks into an animal emergency room with a sick and lethargic dog or cat, and the owners’ mention she is not spayed, why do we cringe? Is it because we are super hard-core spay/neuter pronates? Well yes, but not for the reason you are probably thinking. We are more concerned that we have a 4-year-old female that is brewing a horrible and fatal infection in her uterus. It is a called a pyometra, and this is a true emergency!
A pyometra literally means “pus filled uterus”, nasty right? The way animals are built, they are more predisposed to this condition, but it seems most common in dogs. Because animals walk on all fours and cannot properly drain any infection, it just stays in the uterus. That is why humans don’t typically have this issue. Experts still don’t know why some animals suffer from a pyometra, and some go their whole life without. There are some theories that the normal cycle of progesterone leaves the uterine lining susceptible to infection (acvs.org). E.coli seems to be the most common bacteria found in these infections, so ascending infections from the vagina or anus might be the culprit (acvs.org).
Antibiotics due not typically work to fix the problem, and surgery really is the only option. If it goes untreated the animal can become extremely sick, and the uterus make even perforate causing septic peritonitis. If this happens, all the infection contained in the uterus spreads throughout the body, and the prognosis is grim. This illustration shows a normal size canine uterus on the left and a comparison to an infected uterus on the right.
If you do decide not to spay your female, then are some things you should be aware of:
Symptoms include (acvs.org):
- Excessive water intake
- Excessive urination
- Pale gums
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Enlarged abdomen
- Subnormal temperature (Normal is 100–102.5°F)
- Inflamed eyes
- A small percent may only have discharge from the vulva and no other symptoms. Some don’t have any discharge (called a closed pyometra).
If you see any of these symptoms take your pet to a vet immediately! Ignoring theses symptoms can cause kidney damage, sepsis, and death.
If your pet does need surgery, and you catch it early, most patients do very well. They usually need to be hospitalized for at least 24 hours to start treating the infection, pain management, normalize hydration status, and to watch for any further complications. Aftercare is usually the same if you have your pet spayed; avoiding extreme activity for 2 weeks, antibiotics and pain management.
So that is why we REALLY want you to spay your females if you are not a breeder, or after you have retired your female. We don’t want to see your precious little girl suffer a more extreme surgery, than a simple spay.
I chose to write this blog entry after I had recently cared for a patient that passed away from a pyometra. She was only 4 years old, and the owners had no idea this was a side effect from keeping an intact female. This is an all too common scenario, and I thought for Tippy I would try to make the public more aware. Hope this gave some insight and another reason to please spay/neuter your pets.
Here are more websites for the owner and veterinary professional to peruse:
This is a great video, ignore the sales pitch for his book at the end:
Kennedy, Shawn DVM. “Pyometra in Dogs & Cats.” American College of Veterinary
Surgeons. 01 Oct. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <http://www.acvs.org/AnimalOwners/HealthConditions/SmallAnimalTopics/PyometrainDogsCats/>.
Brooks, Wendy C DVM. “Pyometra.” Veterinary Partner. 20 Aug. 2007. Web. 23 Feb.