What is pyometra in dogs?

Pyometra is a serious womb (or uterus) infection in dogs. The condition can be life-threatening and requires urgent veterinary treatment. The infection can cause your dog to be unusually tired, unwilling to eat, have an unquenchable thirst and have vaginal discharge. In the latter stages, your dog may be reluctant to move. If left untreated these signs will worsen to the point of dehydration, collapse and death from septic shock.

The signs usually develop around four to six weeks after she has finished bleeding from her last season. In some cases, the bitch may appear to be having a prolonged season.

Why do dogs get pyometra?

It is common in female dogs who haven’t been spayed. Pyos are only seen in females dogs as males don’t have a uterus. A very common organism called E. coli, found in your dog’s faeces, usually causes the condition. There are hormonal changes which take place in your dog’s uterus during each season and these make the infection more likely as dogs get older. Fortunately, you can prevent it by getting your dog spayed.

Injections with some hormones, either to prevent seasons or for treatment of other conditions, can also increase the risk of it developing.

Symptoms of pyometra

Early signs can include:

  • unusual tiredness
  • lack of appetite
  • unquenchable thirst.
  • vaginal discharge
  • reluctant to move (in latter stages)

Without treatment, these will lead to dehydration, collapse and death from septic shock.

If you see any of these signs in a female dog who hasn’t been neutered, you should contact your vet straight away or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or 24/7 hospital.

How is pyometra diagnosed in dogs?

Your vet will typically suspect your dog has a pyo based on your description of the signs and from their examination of your pet.

They may suggest procedures such as ultrasound and blood tests to confirm the diagnosis, rule out other possible causes, and to check your pet is well enough to undergo treatment.

If left untreated, or if your dog has had the condition for a while before arriving at the vets, they may be septic (bacteria has gone into the bloodstream) and a longer period in hospital may be required. In this situation, the prognosis is usually worse.

Image of a dog for Vets Now article on pyometra in dogs
Most dogs will make a full recovery after treatment if the condition is caught early

How to prevent pyometra in dogs?

You can completely prevent the risk of your dog suffering from the infection by — getting them spayed.

Can a spayed dog get a pyo?

Dogs who have been spayed may still be at risk if the operation to remove the ovaries and the uterus hasn’t been carried out correctly, a portion of the ovarian tissue is still present, or they have been administered progestational hormones.

Can dogs survive pyometra?

Pyometra is extremely serious and can be life-threatening if left untreated. The sooner your dog receives treatment the better their chance of survival. The good news is many dogs will make a full recovery after treatment if the condition is caught early, so don’t delay in taking them to the vet if you are concerned.

How do you treat a pyo?

Treatment for pyo typically involves emergency surgery to remove the infected womb. The operation is essentially the same as a routine spay. However, there is more risk involved and a higher chance of complications when the operation is being carried out on a sick pet. Your dog will also be given intravenous fluids (a drip), antibiotics and pain relief.

Alternative treatment for pyo in dogs

Medical treatment using prostaglandins — hormones — along with antibiotics, is theoretically possible but rarely chosen. Risks and limitations of treatment with prostaglandins are:

  • it’s only possible with an “open pyometra”, where pus is draining from the vulva — in a “closed pyometra” case where the cervix is closed treatment carries a risk of rupture and peritonitis (infection in the entire abdomen)
  • it often results in signs of distress including restlessness, panting, vomiting, defecation, salivation, and abdominal pain
  • it usually takes at least 48 hours for any noticeable improvements
  • if your dog is severely ill at the time of diagnosis, she may die from blood poisoning before the prostaglandins have a chance to work
  • the recurrence rate is high — around 60%
  • your dog’s fertility will be affected — successful breeding only occurs in a small number of dogs following treatment