February is National Spay and Neuter Month. Many people are still under the impression they should let their dog go through heat once or even have a litter before spaying her. This is incorrect. Spaying a dog before her first litter means she will almost certainly never suffer from mammary gland tumors, breast cancer, and a host of other problems. One of those problems is pyometra.

Pyometra is a feared disease in which the uterus fills with pus and then bursts. The consequences are the same as when humans have an appendix burst – peritonitis and death. Basically, the infection goes throughout the abdomen, then the body, and the dog goes septic and dies of shock.

Pyometra occurs when a dog goes through heat and does not get pregnant. An abnormality in the dog’s hormone balance causes cysts to form on the inside of the uterus. At the same time, the wall of the uterus thickens. The cysts produce large quantities of fluid that builds up in the uterus, causing the dog discomfort. They also enlarge the uterus from two to four ounces up to one to four pounds in a 40 pound dog.

Eventually, the fluid spills out the vaginal opening and the dog licks herself in an effort to stay clean. The bacteria in her saliva travel up the vagina to the uterus and cause an infection. The body closes the cervix (or opening to the uterus) in an attempt to halt the influx of bacteria. Unfortunately, this has the effect of putting a cork in a bottle of champagne and then shaking it vigorously – the uterus ruptures.

That spills all the fluids, infection, and other stuff into the abdominal cavity. The abdominal cavity then becomes infected and the dog dies within about 48 hours. However, if the uterus does not rupture, the body tries to eliminate all this waste and fluid through the kidneys. The kidneys become overloaded and the dog goes into uremic poisoning, a fancy word for kidney failure.

The symptoms of pyometra are very similar to a number of diseases. If your dog drinks a lot more water than usual and has to go out a lot more than usual, has a low grade fever, swollen stomach, discharge from the vagina, and doesn’t eat much, you need to rush her to the vet. This is a true emergency and if it happens on the weekend, go to the emergency vet.

The vet will put your dog on intravenous fluids and antibiotics for several days. Then, when the dog is strong enough, the vet will spay her and remove the problem causing organs. Sometimes the spay has to be done immediately to save the dog’s life. This surgery is hard on the very ill dog, but is an easier surgery when the dog is healthy.

Spaying your dog now will absolutely prevent pyometra. While all surgery has risks, spaying is generally one of the safest surgeries done on a dog. Do you love your dog enough to have it done?