Pregnant or not pregnant, that is the question

By DR. FRED SELF / Veterinarian

For many years now, there has been a push to have all pets spayed or neutered. Although a lot of people have taken up the banner, many pets are still intact. Keeping your pet intact is not, in fact, poor pet ownership. Spaying or neutering should not be taken lightly.

Having an ovariohysterectomy or an orchiectomy is major abdominal surgery. However, if you are going to maintain an intact pet you should be educated in how to care for them. That means knowing how to keep them from creating puppies or kittens. It also means knowing how to identify a pyometra.

At regular intervals, every intact female pet goes through a heat cycle. During this heat cycle, her body undergoes changes that prepare her for becoming pregnant. These changes include thickening of the walls of the uterus and increased blood supply to the uterus. For babies to survive they have to attach to the wall of the uterus. A thickened wall makes attachment easier. Babies also rely on nutrition from the mom carried in her blood. Increased blood supply to the uterus allows more nutrition for the babies.

A pyometra is an infection that occurs inside the uterus. Bacteria find a way into the uterus and multiply. As the bacteria multiply, the uterus expands. Because the mom’s uterus is already prepared for babies, the infection is allowed to grow. A thickened uterine wall allows expansion without rupture.

The increased blood supply provides better nutrition for the bacteria. Another problem is that as the infection grows and the uterus expands the mom’s body thinks she is pregnant and continues to maintain a uterus with a thickened wall and increased blood supply. It is a vicious circle. The bigger the infection, the more her body thinks it is pregnant so the more her body prepares for babies which allows the infection to grow. There is no good way to prevent a pyometra in an intact female. Pyometras can form in females that are bred and females that are not bred. Medical therapy for pyometra is poorly effective.

If medical therapy is unsuccessful the result can be death. Surgery is the best treatment for pyometra. The surgical procedure used is a spay. By removing the uterus, you remove the infection. Pyometras are often seen two to three weeks after a heat cycle.

If your intact female goes through a heat and then begins to act sick keep the possibility of a pyometra in mind.

Dr. Fred Self is a veterinarian at Shelbiana Animal Clinic in Columbiana, along with Dr. Charles Thornburg. You can reach them at 669-7717.