Cavaliers at higher risk for life-threatening pyometra

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We are always so saddened to hear of cases of pyometra in the Cavalier community. There are many owners that don’t know what it is or realise how serious the condition is. Some have lost their dogs, for others it really has been touch-and-go as to whether their pet would even survive the surgery.

Spayed dogs cannot get pyometra as their uterus has been removed but unspayed females are at real risk.

Why does pyometra occur?

Pyometra (pyo) is a uterine infection where pus fills the uterus, it is an inflammatory bacterial infection and can lead to death if left untreated. Cavaliers are one of the breeds that are at higher risk of developing this life-threatening condition. Pyometra is actually one of the most commonly seen emergencies for vets.

Every time an unspayed dog has her season the lining in her uterus swells as it prepares for puppies. In some dogs the swelling may continue, this is called endometrial cystic hyperplasia, when this happens the uterus is more likely to become infected. Bacteria can go up into the uterus causing it to fill with pus, toxins can then enter into the blood stream which causes systemic poisoning.

Symptoms

Not all dogs show the classic signs of pyometra at the beginning, it can be hard to spot. You need to be aware that if an unspayed dog becomes ill, it could be pyometra.

When a dog is in heat they tend to bleed for a week to 10 days. This can be heavy in some dogs but in some it may be barely anything, some keep themselves extremely clean. You may have read that this condition usually occurs a month or two after they have been in season, we have known dogs to have pyometra straight after a season.

This infection can affect dogs of any age that have had a season, so please do be aware. Mainly pyometra occurs in middle aged and older dogs.

A dog with pyometra may show some of these symptoms:-

Lethargy
Won’t eat
A raised temperature
Diarrhoea
Vomiting
Drinking more
Dehydration
Passing urine more often
Abdominal pain
Swollen abdomen
Swollen Vulva  
Discharge from the vulva, this can be a darker red, brown or even pink (They can also have a closed pyometra where there is no discharge at all)
Dogs can go into shock
Dogs can collapse 

How is pyometra diagnosed and treated?

It is very important to get your dog to the vet right away if you suspect they may have pyometra. A vet may be able to feel an enlarged uterus when he/she examines the dog.

An ultrasound of their abdomen will take place and blood tests will be completed to confirm the diagnosis.

The treatment for pyometra is usually to spay the dog immediately, removing the uterus and ovaries. This surgery is more dangerous at this time as the tissue in the uterus is engorged with blood, but there is no other option.

The dog is also more at risk from the anaesthetic and surgery as the dog could be in shock, not in full health and extremely unwell.

You may have heard some owners say that their dogs were treated with antibiotics for open pyometra. The infection in theory drains away, sadly this is not always the case and the dog can become more ill. The surgery then becomes even more risky and the dog has less chance of getting through the operation.  If a dog goes on to recover following only a course of antibiotics, they have over a 70% chance of developing pyometra again, next time they may not survive.

Before social media was popular, we all had no idea that pyometra occurs so often. We hope with so much extra information online it helps to raise awareness even further.