Preserving a Bloodline: Smart Steps to Address Canine Pyometra

Litter of dogs

Breeders have long grappled with when to breed a bitch having a successful show or sporting campaign. These accomplished females may be the linchpin of a legacy bloodline via their ability to produce the next generation of champions. Yet 20 percent of intact bitches1 are at risk of developing the potentially fatal disease pyometra by 10 years of age — a disease that may end their chance of whelping puppies should it occur early in life.

“It is heartbreaking when breeders whose prized bitches just finished their careers tell how they assumed their only option to treat pyometra was spay surgery,” says Karen Von Dollen, DVM, MS, DACT, who completed a theriogenology residency at North Carolina State University in 2019 and is board-certified in veterinary reproduction. “Although not every bitch is a candidate for medical treatment, a breeder’s goals for his or her kennel should be considered.”

An infection of the uterus, pyometra is Latin for “pus uterus.” Triggered most commonly by Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, pyometra becomes dangerous when sepsis, endotoxemia or uterine rupture occur. Some bitches show no signs of pyometra until the illness is advanced and require emergency treatment to prevent overwhelming infection and death. Because pyometra is one of the most common reproductive emergencies, it is considered in any intact bitch that is sick.

Early detection of pyometra, more easily recognized in open cervix pyometra due to a vaginal discharge draining from the cervix, has a greater chance of success with medical management. However, up to 86 percent of bitches2 medically treated for this reproductive disease will have a recurring episode.

If medical therapy is desired for bitches needed to help preserve a breeding program, diligent monitoring for possible harmful side effects from prostaglandin and antibiotic treatment is needed. Owners and veterinarians should work closely together to ensure a healthy recovery, while also being on guard for subsequent pyometra. Spay surgery is recommended after the bitch has produced puppies.    

“Because of the significant risk that pyometra will return, I advise breeders to make every effort to breed a bitch on her next heat cycle following successful medical treatment of the disease. An idle uterus is the ideal setting for pyometra,” Dr. Von Dollen says.

Taking steps to optimize the potential for successful breeding after medical management is helpful. “This involves using precise ovulation timing, selecting a proven stud dog that has sired a litter within the previous six months, breeding twice during the fertile window, and using intrauterine insemination,” says Dr. Von Dollen.

On the other hand, “if you are not planning to breed a bitch, spay is the recommended treatment for pyometra,” she says. An ovariohysterectomy in which the ovaries and uterus are removed effectively eliminates the pus-filled uterus and prevents a recurrence of the disease.

Dr. Von Dollen cautions, “Owners of intact breeding bitches should not delay in breeding their animals. As soon as you have decided to breed your bitch and her show or performance career allows, you should breed her to produce the desired litters needed to safeguard her genetics before she ages into a risky category for pyometra.”

1Jitpean S, Ström-Holst B, Emanuelson U, et al. Outcome of Pyometra in Female Dogs and Predictors of Peritonitis and Prolonged Postoperative Hospitalization in Surgically Treated Cases. BMC Veterinary Research. 2014;10:6.

2Jena B, Rao S, Reddy KCS, et al. Physiological and Haematological Parameters of Bitches Affected with Pyometra. Veterinary World. 2013;6(7):409-412.