Labrador health:  Pyometra – how to make sure your dog is safe

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This is an article about a subject that has affected me personally. Two of my own dogs have been struck by pyometra in the last couple of years. So in this article,  I want to draw attention to the risks of this rather common disease. And to talk about what you can do to keep your dog safe from it.

What is pyometra

If you have a male Labrador, and all your friends have male dogs, you can stop reading now. Pyometra is a girl thing. If your female Labrador is spayed,  you also don’t need to worry.

Pyometra is an infection of the uterus or womb, and therefore cannot affect a male dog, or a female dog that has had her uterus removed. But, if you have an unspayed female dog, or if any of your friends have an unspayed female dog, please to make sure you know a little bit about this very common and serious disease.  Especially the symptoms.

What are the risks?

A Swedish study showed that around 24% of all unspayed female dogs will get pyometra.   That’s right, just under a quarter! I am not normally in favour of chopping bits off dogs without good cause, and there are now known disadvantages to neutering dogs. So you do need to take all these factors into consideration.

But a quarter of all unspayed females –  that is a lot of dogs. In addition, pyometra carries a significant risk of death. It is a little like appendicitis in that the uterus becomes inflamed, infected and filled with pus. But the uterus is a much bigger organ than the appendix, and may even swell sufficiently that your dog looks pregnant.

Increasing risk with age

The risk of contracting pyometra increases with each season that the dog has. So although young dogs do occasionally get pyometra, older dogs are much more at risk than younger ones.

Two types of pyometra

There are two types of pyometra

  • Open
  • Closed

The words open and closed refer to the cervix (neck of the womb). A closed pyometra is more dangerous than open, simply because it is harder to detect. With an open pyometra, pus will drain from the vagina and will usually be noticed by the dog’s owner

Detecting pyometra

It is not always easy to tell that your girl has pyometra.  Dogs are tough creatures and quite good at concealing pain or unpleasant symptoms. A slight vaginal discharge may be quickly cleaned up by your female dog and with closed pyometra there will be no discharge. The best way to keep your intact girl safe is to put her on ‘pyo watch’ at the end of each season.

Post season care of the entire female dog

For one to two months after each season look our for: reduced appetite, general malaise and an increased thirst, with or without vaginal discharge. Get your Labrador checked out by your vet if you see any of these signs.

Vaginal discharge in any intact female outside her season is a cause for concern, no matter how well she seems. It warrants a same day appointment with your vet.   Speed is of the utmost importance and is a life saver.

Treatment of pyometra

Pyometra is usually treated with emergency surgery. The area around the swollen, pus-filled uterus is packed to avoid contaminating other organs and the uterus is carefully removed through a large incision in your dog’s belly. This is a much more difficult and hazardous operation than an elective spay,  and when you pay for it, you probably won’t have much change from a thousand pounds.

Avoiding pyometra

Spaying will prevent your dog from getting pyometra, but there is a bit of a backlash against neutering dogs at the moment.  And not without reason. At one time vets recommended that all dogs were spayed as early as possible. But new evidence suggests that there are significant disadvantages to early neutering, for both sexes.

So where does that leave us?  Damned if we do and damned if we don’t? Well not quite.

Middle Aged Spay

One option you might want to consider is spaying your dog in middle age. Obviously you don’t want to put an elderly dog through an operation, but you don’t want to put her through pyometra either. Spaying in middle age helps to avoid some of the disadvantages of an early spay, and will protect the majority of female dogs from pyometra.

It won’t completely avoid this unpleasant condition, as a few dogs will get it at a very young age. But it seems a reasonable compromise. In addition to which, there is now a modern alternative to the traditional spay procedure which is even less traumatic for your dog.   Let’s have a look.

The laprascopic spay

Keyhole surgery has arrived in the dog world, just as it has for us humans. There is now no need to make a huge incision in your dog’s belly to remove her uterus. Vets can now use keyhole surgery to make two tiny incisions. Using a laprascope your vet can simply remove your girl’s ovaries.  And with them the risk of pyometra. This is because the disease is triggered by the hormones her ovaries produce.

Recovery time for this procedure is improved and it is generally a much less traumatic event for the dog.  Check out my more detailed report on the procedure, which was carried out on one of our own dogs earlier this year.

Summary

Pyometra is a horrible, painful, often silent and sometimes deadly disease that can kill.   Talk to your vet about the best course of action to protect your female dog. Do consider a middle age spay, which avoids some of the risks of early neutering.  And do consider a laprascopic spay. If your vet doesn’t have the equipment to do it, he should be able to recommend one who does. It is a slightly more expensive option, but I felt it was well worth while.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

keep your dog safe from pyometraIf you decide on a wait and see policy,  make sure you put your girl on ‘Pyo Watch’  at the end of each season. Remind any one involved in her care, and anyone you leave her with, of the symptoms. Don’t hesitate if she displays any of the symptoms listed above, or even if she seems off colour, get her down to the vet for a same day check up.

How about your dog?

Has your own dog been affected by pyometra?  I hope not, but if she has, it may help others if you share your experience in the comments box below

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References and Resources

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website

45 COMMENTS

  1. I have a lab/rotti she is 7 1/2 yrs old i was walking her one day and notice a large amount of discharge coming out but coming out of heat I thought it was just the finishing of her period. I didn’t notice the drippings on the floor cause she would lick it up. After about a week I started noticing more and more discharge go up to the vets and asked them if it was possible that a dog could get yeast infections. They got me on the same day checked her out and then they said she has pyometra. Didn’t know what that was until they explained it I almost died right there on the office. I started reading up on this and found out more about it. The surgery where we are is anywhere from $2100/3000 again I cried, I looked on Pinterest and saw some home remedies I bought some tumeric and Manuka honey cause she wasn’t eating and I wasn’t ready to lose her not yet anyways. Started giving her the two and it slowed it down and she is eating again and wants to go for walks I know it’s not going to get rid of it but I’m hoping it will buy me time to save the money. I never knew this I always got my dogs spayed or nuetered she’s the first one I didn’t get spayed now I’m regretting that I didn’t. Now I tell people to get them especially females spayed this is nasty for both the dog and owner I feel so guilty she is going through this cause of me but im hoping she can have the surgery soon and become herself again

  2. My Toy Poodle, “Peanut”, was given to me by a woman whom could no longer care for her and I assumed she was spayed considering she had a large scar on her abdomen. Yes I know poor judgement but I was in college and had never had my own dog to care for. I got her in 2008 when she was 5yo. and in 2015 I woke up to her barely being able to walk and her stomach was massive and rock hard! Now I will say that I never saw any signs of her being in season over the years, but she was only 9lbs. and never acted any different. I of course called my emergency vet and she urged me to bring her in at once. After a quick blood work up she was positive for Plyometra and knocking on deaths door! They said the only chance she had was emergency surgery and I of course said yes. I knew the odds were against Peanut, but I also knew the kind of dog she was, always playing and running and NEVER seemed her real age! Miraculously she made a full recovery even after having over a pound of infection removed from her tiny body! She lived another amazing 2.5yrs running and playing with her pit bull brother and human brother and sister before calmly passing at the ripe age of 15! If you take anything from my story, please take the fact that every dog is different, and even when the odds seem stacked against them, they can and in many cases, WILL fight and survive to love you! I love and miss her more than anything and even my kids still cry for her sometimes, so I am so happy with the decision I made that day! It educated me so much and gave us so many more beautiful memories with our beloved Peanut!

  3. Our american lab just turned 18 months and finished her second season a few weeks ago. My partner had read this blog and the comments a while ago and mentioned it was something we need to look out for. Two days ago we noticed a small bit of discharge and that she had been drinking more than usual. Thanks to this blog we knew to take her to the vet urgently where they confirmed she had Pyo. They told us we had spotted it very soon, where most owners don’t. It meant she had the best chance possible and she’s now recovering from her emergency spay surgery, still with us and getting healthy. Thank you so much for your advice, you have literally just saved her life!

  4. I’ve only had my new beautiful female dog for 2 weeks and she had a season almost straight away. I was told that she’s 2yrs. She was on and off food, drank lots of water, but last night she was sick and had runny poo’s, not herself. Phoned vet this morning and took her down, she’s been diagnosed with Piometra and put on anti-biotics and fluids with a view to having an op in a couple of days. She lost a lot of weight, looks so bony. I can only hope she gets through all of this and survives. Bless her.

  5. my black lab Ginger has this problem which we realized tooooo late. she is 8 yrs old. the pus discharge is very very bad. just called our vet and he said operation is a big NO NO, as she wont be able to handle it. she definitely is in pain. my heart is breaking.

  6. Please any help my 2yr old bitch bella was in heat in June n I’ve noticed her lickin her vulva more than usual, n I’ve seen a whitish clearish discharge on her vulva,n I’m terifed she’s poorly , my vets won’t see her until I pay but I don’t get paid untill next Saturday, please can people advise me of any organization that could help me get her seen ,PDSA or RSPCA ? I’m desperate? I’ve contacted dogs trust but no joy ,I’d be grateful of any advice , my name is Rebecca jones.

  7. I have a little dog who has just had emergency surgery for this horrable decease. She is almost 17 so obviously we tried to avoid sugery. She has been on antibiotics on and off since last september but it never seemed to completley clear up. But i am happy to report that 5 days after her opp she is doing realy well. If i had known about this horrible condition i would have had her spayed at a young age.

  8. My dog had surgery for pyometra on Friday she’s doing well I just looked under her abdomen and it seems it slightly open but healthy she back tomorrow for check up will she be ok

  9. Thank You Pippa if it hadn’t been for your website I would not have known – This morning noticed slight discharge, with my 10 month Choc lab (finished her first season a month ago) Went to the vets and yes it is Pyametra.
    Just got a phone call from the vets & picking her up later, they said because we caught it early everything went well.
    Thank you so much.

  10. Our 12 yr old has just been diagnosed with it and is being operated on at the moment. Wish i had done my research earlier and had known about this terrible deadly killer. I would have had her spayed much sooner.

  11. We bred our golden retriever bitch at 5 (second breeding). A few weeks later she became very ill. We took her to our vet on Thursday and it went undiagnosed. On Sunday we were at the emergency vet…didn’t know what was wrong but wanted to save the puppies. Turns out there never were any puppies…she had emergency surgery for pyometria. Never even heard of it! She pulled thru and we are most grateful. Very scary!

  12. Lost my beautiful black bitch four weeks ago. Took her to the vets but he failed to detect it early enough, hence when another vet decided to operate, more than 24 hours later, peritonitis had set in and it was too late. I Feel had it been detected at first, she would still be here. I have a six year old bitch who I am now seriously considering getting spayed, and feel the need to change vets, as I feel my girl was robbed of another couple of years.

  13. My 9 year old labrador has just had to have pyometra surgery. We thought we were going to lose her she was so ill. She has recovered remarkably quickly and after just a week is thriving. We were badly advised by a previous vet when she was a puppy and, because of mild heart problems, we decided against spaying. Retrospectively, I would and should have had her spayed! Thankfully my beautiful girl’s surgery had a good outcome but I just wish I’d researched spaying options when she was a puppy….

  14. I would urge anyone who is not planning on breeding or have ceased breeding to have their girl spayed. Our old girl who was a labrador cross had a closed pyametra at 12 years old. Her belly swelled but she was always a little plump it was when she went off her food and became lethargic we took her straight to the vets but by then it was to late. We decided on euthanasia which was heartbreaking as she was such a loved member of our family. Up until that day I had never heard of this horrible condition and the fact of losing our dog this way makes me wonder if anyone else is out there unaware of this hidden killer. We now have a full pedigree labrador bitch who as just come into her first season but she will be spayed at the first opportunity so there will be no chance of it happening again.

  15. Hello my choclate lab bitch is four years old & had one litter of 8 pups at two years old . She has been in season for the last two weeks & we have noticed a strong smell of fish from her private parts ? Should we be worried can you help please .

    • Hi Julie, If you are concerned then you need to take your dog to the vet. They are the best person to give you advice on medical matters. Best wishes, Lucy.

  16. Hello. My golden retriever is going threw the surgery tomorrow. I am so scared. I wish I new about this before. She is five, hope things work out. Really enjoyed reading this article. It was very helpful …

  17. My black lab is a chow chow mix. My dog is 10 years old; I didn’t get her spade being at time I was too little to do so myself. Now that she’s 10, I’m scared to get her spade after hearing all risks of older dogs getting spade. As of now thank God she’s never had a problem and is very healthy and I take very good care of her, she’s never been pregnant. I will be talking to vet to see what she tells me though.

  18. We have a beautiful girl Chocolate Labrador, she was 5 in June 2016. I have noticed discharge on 2 or 3 occasions, she was spayed at 6 months so this can’t be Pyometra? – it seems to have cleared up now, do you know what it could have been?

  19. Our beautiful girl appears to be a medical marvel at the moment. She’s only a year old and had pyometra after just one season. Thanks to your website I was able to recognise it, despite the vets saying it was unlikely at such a young age. Thankfully they scanned her and operated immediately. A month later and she’s still recovering and on her fourth lot of antibiotics as she’s now suffering badly with mastitis. Apparently this is also unheard of in a bitch who’s never had puppies and isn’t in season?!?! What IS going on? Hormones have A LOT to answer for!

    • Our black lab had this when she was a pup, after one season we took her in to be spayed and they found it- we count our selves lucky as we wouldn’t have known. The vet at the time said he’s never seen it in such a young dog before ?

  20. Great information. Might be worth noting that a spayed bitch where there is any residual uterine tissue can still get stump pyometra. Same disease but less serious. Often not diagnosed first time in spayed bitches because of the assumption they are no longer at risk.

  21. Hello, we have an 8 year old retriever who is not spayed. I am thinking about having her done (due to the pyo risk) but she gets very nervous in the vets and I am worried the whole experience would be too much for her to cope with; she is usually such a passive dog – any ideas?

  22. My dog got this at 18 months , the vet told us if we had left it untreated for just one more day it would of been fatal . I had noticed that had not been as giddy as usual and just put it down to her growing out of the puppy stage . It was only when she moved off the leather settee that I noticed the slimy discharge pumping out of her . We rushed her off to the vets and they rushed her in for emergency treatment . Thankfully pippa is now 8 and healthy .

  23. My retriever got this at 10…instinct told me she wasn’t herself..quick visit to the vets followed by the day after and she was operated on.shes still here and she’s 14 and a half..trust your instincts..we all know our dogs..thankfully we have great vets in our town

  24. We nearly lost our girl at two years old. Very scary and almost went too long undetected. After a tough surgery she was well again.

  25. My bitch died on 1/27/16 of pyometra at the age of 8.7 years. I rushed her to the vet and they waited over 24 hours to do the surgery due to administrative convenience and the fact that the ER vet did not want to call a surgeon on the weekend. She had an e-coli infection that was resistant to every antibiotic but amikacin. She lasted about 30 hours post-op. It was tragic.

  26. My Labrador girl is 8 yr old and was rushed in to surgery yesterday with pyometra it come on her quick within a couple of hours she was crying and breathing heavy then i noticed a discharge took her to the vet and was rushed in to surgery i have never heard of pyometra and never got her desexed as i didnt want her to go though pain now she is going though worst pain i was so wrong my girl is on the mend now vet said she was very lucky to be alive

  27. One of my fur babes got pyrometra when she was 8yrs old (now 10) she had the open one, and was very poorly. After the op she had to go back under because she had a bleed! Pleased to say she recovered very well, we then decided to get her mum sprayed just incase she got it!

  28. Our dog was very ill with pyametra. Our vet was excellent snd saved her life. She went on to enjoy a further 10 years before she finally passed away as a very old lady.

  29. I urge everyone to spay there dogs if possible I’ve just got back from holiday and my dog who’s nearly 8 was I’ll I took her to the vets and she had open pyametra she was booked in for surgery the next day by the morning she was critical and dying luckily the vet got her through the op but the next three days were critical and she had a fifty fifty chance
    Were on day 5 now and she’s holding her own up to a seventy percent chance now so fingers crossed
    I never knew about this awful disease and what it can do I was in the process of getting her spayed but had to wait due to her not long having a season
    I hope by anyone reading this helps them make the decision to get there dog spayed

  30. My dog is 7 years old and is two weeks into season and I had noticed a lump on her rib cage underneath. I took her to the vet and she didn’t seem to worried about that lump but found a small lump on a back teet with a bloody discharge.my vet recommended I wait 8 weeks and then get the dog spayed?

    • You need to ask your vet to confirm whether or not the lump is suspicious. Presumably he does not think so, or he would be prioritising removal of the lump. The reason he does not want to spay her now, is that it is better for your dog to be spayed mid-way between her seasons.

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