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By: Dr. Laura CarpenterVeterinarian

There are many good reasons to spay a female dog. Spaying is the removal of the reproductive organs in a female (most commonly the ovaries and uterus, also known as ovariohysterectomy). Spaying eliminates heat cycles and prevents litters of unplanned puppies. Spaying can also prevent pyometra, which is an infection of the uterus. Pyometra is a medical emergency that, if left untreated, is usually fatal. Pyometra will affect roughly 1 in 4 non-spayed females before the age of 10 years, but can occur in dogs older than this. Additionally, spaying greatly decreases the risk of mammary (breast) cancer when done promptly.

Signs of pyometra include:

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Shock
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Abdominal distention

There are two main types of pyometra: Open – which is when the cervix is open and allows drainage of pus which can be seen as vaginal discharge and Closed – which is when the cervix is closed and often no discharge can be seen.

Diagnosis is often made through a combination of tests. Blood tests may show inflammation and elevated kidney parameters. X-ray and ultrasound may show an enlarged uterus; one or both of these imaging studies may be needed.

Treatment of a pyometra can be upwards of ten times the cost of a simple spay and most commonly involves an emergency surgery to remove the infected, pus-filled uterus followed by several days in the hospital.

Pyometra becomes more likely in older dogs that have had multiple heat cycles without pregnancy (though there are reports of pyometra in dogs younger than 1 year of age). With each heat cycle the uterine lining becomes thicker. This thickened lining is an ideal medium for bacterial growth. If vaginal bacteria (commonly E. coli) gain access to the uterus, infection can set in. Usually this condition arises within 12 weeks of a heat cycle.

Very rarely, a “spayed” dog can have a condition called “stump pyometra.” This usually occurs secondary to the presence of a small amount of ovarian tissue left behind during the original spay procedure. Under the influence of ovarian hormones, the small amount of uterine tissue that may remain at the base of the uterus can subsequently become infected. These cases are rare and can be quite challenging to diagnose.

There are a select few reasons delaying your pets spay may be advantageous. Please discuss the timing of your dogs spay with your veterinarian.

Prevention is the key with pyometra. Spaying pet dogs at a young age is the best option to eliminate the risk of this common, life threatening disease.

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