How Spaying Your Pet Could Save Its Life
Sarah Hilario, DVM
Did you know that spaying your female dog or cat does more than just prevent an accidental pregnancy? It also eliminates the risk of a deadly disease, pyometra. This term literally means “a uterus filled with pus.” I once removed a canine uterus that weighed over 5 pounds due to the fluid and infection that accumulated! This condition occurs more frequently in older females who have never had a litter; usually a few months after their heat cycle has ended. They are at an increased risk as they age due to the hormonal effects that can cause the walls of the uterus to become diseased and leak fluid.
Symptoms may be fairly obvious with pus dripping from the vulva or excessive licking of the area. Other times symptoms can be quite vague. Pets may act lethargic, not want to eat as much, drink a lot of water, vomit, or even have a swollen belly. Cats are excellent at hiding illness until it becomes severe, so even minor symptoms should be addressed with your veterinarian.
Without treatment this infection can progress until the uterus eventually ruptures and life-threatening sepsis ensues. Thankfully, if caught early, most dogs and cats will make a full recovery. The diagnosis must be confirmed with bloodwork, x-rays, and sometimes an ultrasound. Once I saw a suspected pyometra that in reality was a surprise pregnancy when x-rays were taken! The cornerstone of treatment is emergency surgery to remove the infected uterus and ovaries. This surgery is similar to a spay except it carries a higher complication rate due to the risk of the uterus tearing or leaking. Antibiotics, as well as pain medications and hospitalization with intravenous fluids are also required. If your family includes a middle aged to older dog or cat, consider having them spayed now before a pyometra has time to develop. Not only is a traditional spay substantially less expensive, but it is also safer for your beloved pet.