Wendy the Saint BernardWendy, the six-year-old Saint Bernard presented to the Narre Warren team recently for a history of inappetence for several days.  Though usually a very fussy girl when it comes to food, it was not like her to refuse food outright, especially her favourites.  She was also incredibly lethargic, drinking lots of water and had begun to vomit.  Wendy was known for being a bit of a hunter, and her owners couldn’t rule out her having eaten something silly like a bird.

During her initial examination with Dr. Dawn, it was noted that she was incredibly tense in her abdomen, had sticky discharge from her vulva and and also diarrhoea on a rectal swab.  As Wendy was not desexed, the possibility of her suffering from pyometra was high on the list of possibilities, along with a foreign body.  Pyometra is a serious bacterial infection of the uterus that can affect female dogs, especially those who are not speyed.

As Wendy was also incredibly dehydrated and clinically unstable, it was important to first stabilise her with fluids and certain medications before consider attempting her exploratory laparotomy.  After a night in emergency where she was closely watched and rehydrated, she returned for her surgery the next day with Dr. Isabelle.  Once inside her abdomen, it was clear that Wendy was suffering from not only a “closed” pyometra, but also a very nasty bout of peritonitis.  This is a serious condition characterized by inflammation of the peritoneum (the membrane lining the abdominal cavity), often caused by bacterial infection or other underlying factors.  Dr. Isabelle’s work was certainly cut out for her, making an already tricky surgery, that much harder.

Here’s an explanation of pyometra:

  • Normal Uterine Function: In an intact female dog, the uterus undergoes changes during the reproductive cycle. After each heat cycle (estrus), whether the dog becomes pregnant or not, the uterine lining thickens in preparation for pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, the lining is shed, similar to menstruation in humans. However, unlike humans, dogs reabsorb the uterine lining rather than shedding it externally.
  • Pyometra Formation: In some cases, the uterus may become susceptible to bacterial infection during this phase, usually due to hormonal changes or alterations in the uterine environment. Bacteria, often E. coli or other normal inhabitants of the reproductive tract, can ascend into the uterus, leading to infection. This infection causes inflammation and accumulation of pus within the uterus.
  • Closed Pyometra: In a closed pyometra, the cervix (the opening of the uterus into the vagina) remains closed. This means that the pus produced in the infected uterus cannot drain out of the body. As a result, the uterus becomes distended with pus, causing swelling and potentially leading to life-threatening complications such as rupture of the uterus or systemic infection (sepsis).

Dogs with a closed pyometra may exhibit various symptoms, including lethargy, loss of appetite, increased drinking and urination, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal distention, and sometimes a pus-like vaginal discharge. However, some dogs may show minimal or no symptoms until the condition becomes severe.

This is a cautionary tale for the vital importance of neutering wherever possible for the ongoing health of our pets.  Prevention through early desexing is the best way to avoid the risks and complications associated with pyometra, along with many other disease processes, especially ones affecting female dogs.

Luckily for Wendy, the quick thinking of her family and the incredible skill of the multiple team members who cared for her, meant that she is now back at home recovering and very grateful to be feeling better!  She can now rest easy knowing that this particular issue will never arise again!  Well done lovely Wendy!

If you suspect that your dog may have a pyometra, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately. Treatment typically involves emergency stabilization, which may include IV fluids, antibiotics, and other supportive measures. Surgery to remove the infected uterus is usually critical to fully treat the condition and eliminate recurrence.