Pyometra (infected womb) in dogs
- A pyometra (or “pyo”) is a womb infection — a very serious condition, common in unneutered female dogs.
- Treatment for a pyometra includes emergency surgery to remove the womb, a fluid drip and medication.
- The sooner a dog with a pyometra is treated, the better their chance of survival and recovery. Pyometra can cause death.
- The most common time for a pyometra to develop is four to eight weeks after a heat/season.
- Neutering your dog will prevent pyometra.
- Pyometra is an emergency — contact your vet immediately for an emergency appointment if your dog is showing symptoms.
A pyometra, sometimes called a “pyo”, is an infection inside the uterus (womb). Any unneutered (entire) female dog is at risk of developing a pyometra, especially if they are over six years old.
During a heat/season, hormones are released which cause changes to the womb. These changes increase the risk of bacteria, which causes an infection in the womb once the season/heat is over. As the infection develops, the womb fills with pus. A pyometra can lead to sepsis, kidney failure, peritonitis (infection of the inner lining of the tummy) and even death.
Pyometra can be either ‘open’ or ‘closed’:
- An open pyometra is when the cervix (womb entrance) is open, meaning you are likely to see blood and pus coming from your dog’s vulva.
- A closed pyometra is when the womb entrance is shut, meaning you are unlikely to see any discharge. A closed pyometra is particularly dangerous because it puts the womb at risk of bursting.
It’s very rare, but occasionally a neutered dog will develop a specific type of pyometra called a stump pyometra — read more below.
Most dogs will need emergency surgery to remove the pyometra. This surgery removes the womb and ovaries.
Your dog is likely to need a fluid drip to rehydrate them and keep them hydrated, especially if they have been vomiting or are otherwise unwell.
Alongside surgery, your dog will need pain relief and antibiotics.
Medical treatment can sometimes be possible, in specific circumstances. Your vet will discuss this with you if it is an option for your individual dog. Even if medical treatment is successful, pyometra often returns again after the next heat/season, so surgery to remove the womb and ovaries at some point may still be needed.
Pyometra recovery at home
After surgery, your dog may need to stay at the vets for a few days to receive more treatment. Once they are able to come home you will need to help care for them.
- Cone collar — Your vet is likely to suggest an Elizabethan (cone) collar or an alternative like a recovery suit to stop your dog from licking their wound. Make sure they keep it on until your vet says otherwise.
- Rest — You will need to keep your dog calm to make sure they don’t damage their stitches.
- Medicines — Give your dog all their prescribed medicines and let your vet know if you are struggling. There may be alternatives. You might find our medication timetable helpful.
- Pain — You will need to monitor your dog’s pain levels and speak to your vet if you are concerned. Signs of pain include crying, rapid breathing, growling, protecting the area, and wide pupils.
After neutering, a small womb stump remains inside your dog. It’s rare but possible for an infection to develop inside that stump — this is called a ‘stump pyometra’. The symptoms and diagnosis of a stump pyometra are the same as for a normal pyometra.
Hormones from the ovaries need to be present for a stump pyometra to develop, which means that any dog with the condition also has a small piece of ovary tissue inside them. It’s likely that this small piece of ovary was not obvious at neutering and, as part of your dog’s treatment, they will need surgery to remove the ovary as well as any infected womb. Your dog will also require antibiotics.
When to contact your vet
Contact your vet for an urgent appointment if you notice your dog showing any symptoms of a pyometra. A pyometra is an emergency and your dog has the best chance of survival if they receive prompt treatment. You know your dog best, if you are concerned it’s always best to contact your vet.
Treatment for a pyometra is expensive. Consider insuring your dog as soon as you get them, before any signs of illness start. This will ensure you have all the support you need to care for them.
It’s also very important to speak openly to your vet about your finances, the cost of treatment, as well as what you think is right for your dog.
- How long can my dog live with a pyometra?
- What can I expect after pyometra surgery?
- Can a pyometra be treated with antibiotics?
How long can my dog live with a pyometra?
If your dog has a pyometra, they need immediate treatment. Leaving a pyometra without treatment is likely to cause severe illness, suffering and death.
What can I expect after pyometra surgery?
Removing an infected womb is major surgery so your dog will need careful monitoring and lots of support. Once your dog is ready to go home, your vet will advise you on how to look after them. You will need to make sure they get plenty of rest, stay calm (no jumping/running/playing), eat, drink, and receive any prescribed medicines. It’s likely that your dog will need to wear a cone collar or protective suit to stop them licking at their wound.
Can a pyometra be treated with antibiotics?
Treating a pyometra with medicines alone (antibiotics, hormones and anti-inflammatories) can be possible for certain dogs in specific circumstances. Your vet will discuss this with you if it could be an option for your dog. Removing the infected womb is the most effective treatment.
Published: June 2022
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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only. Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst.