SHE’LL THANK YOU FOR IT Spaying prevents the uterine infection known as a pyometra and greatly reduces the risk of mammary cancer.
Ask the Vet
Esther Van Luipen
It is Saturday night, 11 o’clock and my phone rings. A client calls me because he is concerned about his dog, a seven-year-old female called Molly. She has not been feeling well for the last three days.
Molly hasn’t eaten much today, but is drinking loads. More than usual actually. The owner has just spotted some discharge coming from under her tail.
An un-neutered female dog will come in heat every six months. When she is in heat the lining of her womb swells up and gets ready for fertilised eggs to nestle in. If she doesn’t mate and no eggs nestle, the lining of the womb goes down again until she goes into heat again.
The lining of the womb is not only great for eggs to nestle in, however; it is also a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. If bacteria settle down they can quickly turn the womb into a big bag of pus. This is called a pyometra. (Pyo means pus and metra means womb in Latin). With every heat, the lining of the womb can get thicker, making it much more common for older female dogs to end up with a pyometra.
Some people are apprehensive about spaying, as they are daunted by the surgery. They decide they’ll ‘mind her’ instead (in other words, make sure that no dog comes near her when she is in heat). However, preventing pregnancies is not the only benefit of spaying – it also prevents the dog from getting a pyometra. In addition, the earlier she gets spayed (it can be done from five to six months of age) the lower her chances of developing mammary cancer later in life.
Molly needed emergency surgery, but was too sick to be operated on right away. Instead, I first needed to stabilise her, bring her temperature down by giving her antibiotics and other drugs and give her an intravenous drip. The next day I was able to operate on her. I had to surgically remove Molly’s ovaries and her womb. This was a risky operation, because her womb could rupture and the pus could run into her body.
Sometimes, when a pyometra has been going on unnoticed for a while, the kidneys may also be affected and there may be lasting kidney damage. In this case the owner had spotted the discharge from under Molly’s tail. Unfortunately, often there is no discharge because the cervix of the womb is closed and no pus runs out, and it is very likely the dog will die. Luckily, Molly made a full recovery and was able to go home three days later.
All this can be prevented by spaying your female dog at a young age. Don’t forget that female dogs don’t get a menopause like women do. They will keep on going into heat their whole lives. So get her done when she’s young, and you can save yourself a lot of hassle – and potentially save your dog from illness and pain.
> Esther van Luipen is a veterinary surgeon in Claremorris Small Animal Practice. She can be contacted at 094 9373955 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.