Why Didn’t I Do it Sooner???

by Karin Christopher, DVM

*** Warning *** Graphic pictures on the bottom of the blog illustrate the information described in this blog

Within the last month I have performed 3 emergency surgeries on 2 dogs and 1 cat that could have been prevented had these pets been spayed.  So often we think that spaying or neutering our pets is about stopping reproductive ability, changing behaviors like roaming or marking, or to avoid heat cycles that can be a mess in the home.  Although these are some of the top reasons to do these elective procedures, especially for shelters and humane societies, we can’t forget that for female patients, spaying can be a medical benefit to eliminate the risk of accumulation of pus in the uterus, also known as pyometra, pyo meaning “pus” and metrum meaning “uterus.”

When a dog or cat is spayed in North America, technically known as an ovariohysterectomy, the uterus, uterine horns, and both ovaries are removed.  An infection in the uterus, which usually occurs in middle-aged to older intact female dogs, can be a life-threatening emergency.  There are two forms of pyometra, closed and open.  A “closed” pyometra is one in which there is no drainage of pus from the uterus through the vulva.  Ultimately, the uterus can rupture.  In an “open” pyometra, a mucoid or pus-like vulvar discharge is noted.  These animals tend to be less sick at first but ultimately, surgery is required in either case.

Signs that a dog or cat may have a pyometra can include one or all of the following:  lethargy or depression, not eating, vomiting, increased drinking and or urination and vaginal discharge may or may not be noted.  Pyometra is typically noted a few weeks after a heat cycle.  If you have an intact female pet that shows any of the above symptoms a few weeks after being in heat, it is very important that you have her evaluated by a veterinarian.

Not all pets that act like they have a pyometra are, in fact, a pyometra.  Mucus in the uterus, pregnancy, tumors in the reproductive tract, or twisting of the uterus can look similar and further testing is usually required.  X-rays of the abdomen, bloodwork and sometimes an ultrasound are done to determine a more definite diagnosis.  This is especially important to do if there is even a consideration the pet may be pregnant.
The only way to avoid pyometra is by spaying.  You can avoid the higher costs of emergency surgery by taking the earlier step of spaying your pet while she, and her uterus, are healthy.  Obviously, breeding dogs are the exception but once retired from breeding, they too should be spayed.

Fortunately the three pets all did very well after surgery although one dog required an overnight stay at an emergency clinic due to the surgery being done later in the day, and, as coincidence would have it, I had just informed the owner of one of the dogs about a low-cost spay option the week before because I was concerned about her risk for this disease.  The owner just left asking, “Why didn’t I do it sooner?”

Healthy normal sized dog uterus at time of surgery

Infected dog uterus at time of surgery

Karin Christopher, DVM