Desexing your bitch can save her life…

October 8, 2011

Medicine Cases, Surgery

I have had a very hectic two weeks and was also on emergency call last weekend. I had a major sleep in today and finally feel refreshed and ready to face the world again. My hard work has mostly paid off recently and I have been rewarded by so many of my clients with brilliant gifts. I am humbled and feel so thankful that my efforts have been recognised and my patients have pulled through.

It may seem like such a rhetoric for many people to hear veterinarians recommend desexing their pets.

In all honesty, I am surprised that so many people out there still do not desex their bitches even though they do not intend to breed from them. Why do we recommend desexing your bitch? We simply want to ensure your dog does not develop ‘pyometra‘ which is pus in the uterus or bring in unwanted puppies to the world.

Pyometra can present in two ways: open versus closed. In open pyometra, the cervix is still open and there is pus oozing out of your dog’s vulva which she will constantly be licking and that may or may not prompt you to get her checked out by a vet. As for closed pyometra, the cervix is closed and so no drainage is present and the uterus consequently distends with pus and then ruptures. Both open and closed pyometra are life threatening conditions and usually occur soon after your dog has had a season.

We can not tell which dog is going to develop pyometra.

However, a dog that has had several seasons is at higher risk of developing pyometra.

The only signs that owners seem to notice is that their dog is very thirsty (drinking lots) and appears lethargic. Some owners come home to discover their dog is dead.

I am hoping that the case I am going to talk about will really hone in on the importance of desexing your female dogs. It is crucial to note that I also strongly recommend desexing male dogs too but this won’t be the subject of my article today.

We got called at 4.30 p.m. last Friday regarding ‘Gemma’, a 10-year-old Golden Retriever that had suddenly fallen ill. We were half an hour away from closing the clinic but she had to be seen. On examination, ‘Gemma’ looked so depressed and had a very high temperature. She was guarding her abdomen and would not allow us to fully palpate it. We admitted her for full workup and hospitalization.

X-rays of her abdomen showed a suspect pus filled uterus.

The owner informed us that he believes she is desexed and so pyometra is unlikely. We started her on iv fluids and antibiotics.

The next morning, I did not see any improvement and felt like she had deteriorated in spite of the aggressive supportive therapy. ‘Gemma’ had an absolutely horrible smell to her. I noticed she had a swollen vagina and was still very concerned about pyometra.  She did not have a desexing tattoo in her ear which even made me more suspicious. I repeated her blood work and found she had developed an anaemia overnight. I called the owner immediately and strongly recommended an exploratory laparotomy to determine what is going on in her abdomen. The owners gave me the okay to go ahead with afterhours emergency surgery.

I was going into surgery not knowing exactly what to expect. My gut instinct told me she had pyometra (pus in the uterus)  but a ruptured tumour or an abscess of some sort were some of my other considerations.  As soon as I opened her abdomen, I was flooded with heaps of creamy free abdominal fluid (pus).

My heart sank because I instantly knew that her uterus had ruptured.

There was so much pus in her abdomen and that made her prognosis very guarded. She was bound to develop a peritonitis (infection of her abdominal cavity). I tracked her very distended uterus and started doing the tedious job of desexing her. It was quite an intense process because the uterus was so friable and there was so much contamination and I was working in a very un-sterile field.

Gemma’s pus filled uterus (referred to as ‘pyometra’)


Working very hard to remove this friable and distended uterus.

Removing pus filled uterus

Resected uterus with pus oozing out of it.

Pus oozing from uterus

I flushed her abdomen thoroughly but she was still bound to have pockets of pus within her abdominal cavity. She recovered well from her anaesthetic. I monitored her very closely as I was concerned about post operative bleeding and/or infection.

The next day, she seemed much brighter but was still not interested in eating.

I repeated her bloods and they showed a very high white cell count (indicating infection). I increased her antibiotic cover and had her on a triple antibiotic therapy to cover against all types of bugs. She was still very tender in her abdomen. I did not expect her to bounce back at that stage as I had only operated on her the night before.

Her whole family came to visit her that day. According to her owners, she usually inhales her food and so they were shattered to see her rejecting her favourite treats. However, ‘Gemma’ managed to put on a brave face for her family and even mustered enough energy to wag her big beautiful tail for them. They looked into her eyes and could tell she was in a world of pain and simply miserable.

It really saddened me to see the anguish her family felt at seeing her. One of them cried so much because he could not believe how she was not bouncing all over the place. I knew she was a very much-loved dog and they would have desexed her as a young dog had they known they could have avoided this situation. They did not intentionally mean to neglect her.

They returned home with a heavy heart because they knew that ‘Gemma’ was not out of the woods yet.

On Monday, she seemed brighter but was still not interested in eating. The rest of her vitals were good. Blood tests were still indicating a very high infection. We repeated her full bloods to ensure that the rest of her organs were still viable and thankfully her results were absolutely normal. I started to warn the owners that I may need to go back in for repeat surgery to flush her abdomen again and address the underlying peritonitis.

On Tuesday, ‘Gemma’ finally started showing a slight interest in eating. She even started hopping on her favourite cushion that her family had brought in.


Her blood results showed that her white cell count was getting lower indicating response to treatment. We were ecstatic to see those results and decided to send her home on very close monitoring. We held off on surgery because we believed that the antibiotics are finally doing their work. We sent her home with a huge pile of medications. I have kept in touch with her mom and she informs me ‘Gemma’ is showing small improvements each day. She is due for a revisit next week. I am crossing my fingers for my beautiful ‘Gemma’. She has fought very hard to conquer this battle and I sincerely believe she will triumphantly survive.

For all those pet owners that have bitches that are not desexed and are not being bred,  I say: ‘Why are you risking your dog’s life?

Your dog will not always be as lucky as ‘Gemma’?

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About Rayya

Hi I am Dr. Rayya. I created this site to take you on a journey of my life as a vet! I hope to inspire you, teach you, learn from you. Most importantly help pet owners and animals around the world by sharing pictures, videos and posts from my everyday experiences.

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47 Comments on “Desexing your bitch can save her life…”

  1. becomingcliche Says:

    Thank you for yet another great post! I have an intact bitch. As I co-own her, I have to keep her that way until she finishes her championship. The day we get her championship certificate, I’m making the appointment to get her taken care of. I spend weeks of my life every year watching for signs of pyometra. Not worth it!


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      I totally understand the predicament you are in…hopefully she will earn her championship soon and you can celebrate….It is great that you are watching for pyometra signs as many don’t even know it exists…


  2. rumpydog Says:

    Here in the US many people do not have their dogs spayed/neutered (what we call de-sexing) because people associate the sexuality of the dog with their own sexuality. It’s an especially big problem with men who have male dogs. Posts like this help to convince people that this isn’t about you- it’s about your dog’s good health!


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      We often get owners that also relate to desexing as if we are operating in them…animals are much more stoic than us and bounce back from desexing surgery quite quickly… I have often witnessed male owners crossing their legs when I am discussing castrating their dogs, it makes me really laugh. I usually break the ice by saying: ‘mate I aint castrating you, it is your dog that I am talking about!’


  3. Janice Jensen-HK Animal Speak Says:

    I encourage anyone who has a dog to spey or neuter. Rayya has shared a story that vets and vet nurses see all too often. Whether it’s a pyometra or testicular cancer it can be avoided by a simple de-sexing. Thank you for sharing Rayya and warm wishes to Gemma for a full recovery.


  4. "Lyle" Says:

    This is such a universal, ongoing battle for Veterinarians everywhere. My dad has this same issue at his clinic: people who don’t wish to spay their pets for some asinine reason. The number of times we’ve had to go into emergency surgery to remove a uterus is far too many to easily count.

    At the clinic I’ve worked at recently in my new town, we even had a feline pyo. It shocked the heck out of us, since we hardly ever see one, but the kitty came out of it just fine in the end. People don’t realize what can happen if they just ‘let it be’ until suddenly they have a huge vet bill to face because they didn’t take the easy step early on in their pet’s life.

    I’m glad to hear that Gemma is doing better. Let us know how she is when she comes back for her recheck appointment.


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      Hey Lyle… Pet owners really don’t realize how easily they can avoid a very massive vet bill and avoid losing their much loved pet…I can understand the hesitation of having your pet anaesthetized for desexing. There is a risk with every anaesthetic but it is much lower in a healthy young pet as opposed to a debilitated and geriatric patient like ‘Gemma…I will definitely keep you posted on Gemma’s progress 🙂


  5. animalartist Says:

    Dr. Rayya, your title could have a completely different interpretation in the United States! However, it comes directly to the point, while we’ve managed to “cleanse” our language to the point where people can avoid the true meaning of this very important subject.

    In addition to pyometra is mammary cancer, and especially in cats you can reduce their chances of developing mammary cancer later in life to about 2% if you spay–or desex–prior to their first heat cycle, where if you wait until they’ve reached sexual maturity it makes no difference at all. Many of us in cat rescue have taken in the mama cat who’s been allowed to reproduce, then in feline middle age she’s developed mammary cancer. It’s not as common in cats as dogs, but rarely survivable. I keep an eye on Mimi all the time after her six litters, and every October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she has a message for everyone who thinks cats “should be able to have a litter”.

    This is an article to share with those who don’t believe it’s necessary!


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      Dear Bernadette… I must admit the first time I heard my lecturer refer to a female dog as a bitch, I was shocked. What made it so shocking was that I was the only student that seemed to be flustered. I am now used to using this term as it is common practice down under…I hope I didn’t shock too many americans with my title :-)… You mentioned a very important piece of information. Desexing your female dog and cat before their first season is essential to prevent mammary cancer! For those that missed the boat, it is important to know that desexing your dog after 6 months is still beneficial in preventing pyometra…bottom line is if you aren’t a licenced breeder than you should own desexed pets!


  6. poemsandponderings Says:

    Please keep your readers informed as to Gemma’s recovery, a very touching and informative post Doc, thanks


  7. nicole Says:

    rayya, you are an angel! an intellectual angel, at that. i was never aware of the additional benefits of “desexxing” other than, of course, avoiding pregnancy and the red drips onto the white carpeting during “seasons.” gwendolyn was desexxed at six months, so luckily, we never experienced reproductive issues. i will forward this post to several of my friends who have optioned to forego the desexxing. a couple of questions . . .
    1.) is the desexxing tattoo something that is required in australia? i don’t believe that gwendolyn has any such tattoo in her ear.
    2.) have you had any experience with pug eyes? gwendolyn’s eye herniated from the socket two years ago, and she went through A LOT. the on-call ophthalmologist re-inserted the eye, after putting her under anesthesia, and it stayed. she gained 80 percent of her original sight capacity despite the doctor’s original prognosis that her chances of seeing again were at one percent. (i attribute her recovery to the raw food diet). and then she had a canthoplasty to tighten up the muscles. my dog’s had more plastic surgery than me. 🙂 if you have any pug stories, then please share! 🙂 xx


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      Hey Nicole…I am absolutely thrilled to be able to spread the gospel of desexing your pets. It’s great to know Gwendolyn is desexed. In Australia, we regularly put a desexing tattoo when a desexing surgery is performed. As for pug eyes, they have very superficial orbits and so pugs are prone to pop their eyes out of any trauma occurs around the face…they also can suffer from entropian (rolled in eyelids). Currently I have not bumped into any pug patients…I posted a cute pug’s pic on my facebook page a couple of weeks back. You should check it out. Gwendolyn is lucky to have you as her mom 😉


  8. Bassas Blog Says:

    An amazing story with a very happy ending. You are amazing and your blog is amazing! It is a fantastic insight into the world of a vet.


  9. Rosie Scribblah Says:

    There really is no excuse for not neutering pet dogs and cats. It’s irresponsible and as you have shown, can lead to awful health problems which no doubt cost far more to put right than neutering would have cost.


  10. Annabelle Essert (@RainbowCatsx8) Says:

    We are adding your fascinating blog to our list of places to visit and recommend. There is one thing especially that’s so frustrating for those of us in rescue organizations. That is the people who say they want their children to “experience the miracle of life” by allowing a pet to give birth. This is their excuse for not spaying their female companion animals in particular.

    Our response to those people is this: They need to take their children to the Animal Shelter and have a staff member or volunteer explain about the euthanasia room. That is at the other end of so many animals’ lives, even kittens and puppies, when irresponsible people don’t spay/neuter. Every year, thousands of animals are killed because there are not enough good forever homes. And the solution is so easy to do. Low-cost clinics are everywhere.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and expertise with the world.


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      Annabelle… I am so glad you brought up this huge point. Why bring more animals to the world if we don’t have enough homes for them? There is also nothing worse than desexing a pregnant patient. We usually refuse to do so but every now and then we are indirectly involved in sacrificing so many innocent puppy or kitten lives. We need to educate children about responsible pet ownership and that should focus on getting them involved in rehoming pets from shelters…


  11. 2browndawgs Says:

    Thank goodness Gemma is OK. Very good article. We have an intact bitch and she will probably be bred, but when she is done, she will be spayed. It is not worth the risk of Pyometra, (or reproductive cancers), especially as she ages.

    However, I do think de-sexing at too young an age also presents health risks. What are your thoughts on that?


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      You are absolutely correct…you must never desex a dog or cat before they are 6 months of age! We do recommend desexing females before their first season as it has been proven to prevent mammary and ovarian cancer… I also recommend you breed from your bitch if she is less than 4-5 years, no point doing so if she’s older!


  12. Misty Shores Chesapeakes Says:

    I’m so glad you were able to help Gemma. Wonderful post.


  13. elizadolly Says:

    I have to admit, this was one of the first things I saw this morning and I was a little overwhelmed. Ruptured dog uterus and breakfast don’t really mix well for me hehe.

    I’m so glad I waited until I was more awake and came back and read this properly! I will be recommending to everyone I know to get their puppy desexed. I got my little boy from the RSPCA so I’m sure he is desexed. Phew!
    Thank-you for this great post!


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      Hello Eliza… I don’t think my article is a good read when you are eating. I am relieved that you managed to get back to it and finish reading it… RSPCA pets are always desexed :-), makes them perfect pets to adopt…


  14. Claret Says:

    I’d be very interested to read your opinion about desexing male dogs- would it reduce some health risks? Is it as necessary as desexing bitches?
    I’m asking as my vet recommends to desex my dog (male, 6 years, no present health problems) and I’m still not sure about that. I guess it’s the operation itself I’m afraid of. However, I wouldn’t have second doubts if I knew it’s going to save him later.


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      Hey Claret… We usually recommend desexing male dogs at 6 months of age to prevent prostatic and testicular cancer… However, it is still beneficial to castrate your dog now as it will prevent prostatitis (inflammed prostate) and perineal hernias. The risk of anaesthetic increases with the dog’s age so the sooner you desex your pooch, the better! You could get your vet to put your dog on preanaesthetic iv fluids to rduce his anaesthetic risk and speed up his recovery. Best of luck…:-)


  15. Alana Says:

    Good article rayya- desexing both female and male dogs reduce the risk of cancers and other disease. Mammary (breast) cancer, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer in females, in males it is testicular cancer and prostate disease. It also helps with some behavioural issues such as wondering, and other undesirable traits (humping).


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      Thanks Dr. Alana for shedding the light on the benefits of desexing both male and female dogs. Less testosterone definitely reduces the urge for roaming, humping and even aggression in male dogs…


  16. Cowboy Says:

    Hey Doc –

    An excellent post ! Not only is it a great reminder but I very much enjoyed the actual photos of the surgery. So many people let something that simple destroy their bitch and possibly end their life. I have seen bitch’s that have died from this – not a nice thing to see..
    As usual – great information !


  17. Jodi Stone Says:

    I had never heard of Pyometra Dr. Rayya. When we got Delilah they told us she had been fixed but she hadn’t. As soon as she finished her season she was spayed.

    Do I understand correctly that you tatoo an ear after de-sexing? I don’t believe we do that here.


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      Hey Jodi…In Australia, we routinely put a tattoo in the ear during the desexing…it really helps us identify if pets are already desexed epecially if they are strays or being rehomed…


  18. Find an Outlet Says:

    I live on the border in Arizona, US, where ignorance, obstinance, and abuse of animals is rampant. The pounds and shelters are full, pregnant dogs are everywhere. The culture here hardly cares if their dog/s get sick. Vets are expensive but I have tried to talk to people in my neighborhood about spay/neuter and better care and I give them phone numbers for financial assistance. They simply do not care. I recently stole two dogs from a neighbor who was starving them to death. When we took them to the vet, they found one of them was carrying 5 dead deformed pups from malnutrition. She would have delivered them and died from infection within a few days. She was 20 pounds underweight.

    I don’t understand why they don’t teach respect for animals in schools, especially here in this wretched culture.

    I am ABSOLUTELY AGAINST breeding dogs and cats for shows, pedigrees, etc. Breeders, please stop. Every dog you breed means one less stray that may have possibly found a home. Many pounds here only keep the dogs for a few days before they euthanize them. Breeding dogs IMO is immoral.


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      I can totally connect with all your frustrations. I originally come from Lebanon and it is even harder to demand animal rights there because we don’t even have human rights. I am very passionate about animals and value their lives as equal to ours. With experience, I have come to realise that education is the most powerful tool. Telling people they are cruel or ignorant or so forth simply won’t make a difference. You must really come from a place that is positive and wanting to inspire change. Many pet owners really genuinely love their pets and they don’t know any better and we just need to help them become responsible and more educated owners. As for those that are cruel human beings, we must find means to prevent them from owning pets. There needs to be a licence for people to own or breed dogs. I totally agree, too many strays are being put down because of overpopulation and lack of availability of new homes. We can not completely stop breeding as pets don’t live long enough and so we must keep the populations going. However, only good registered breeders who absolutely love their pets and ensure they find them great homes and educate their new owners should be allowed to be breed.
      Keep up the great work in educating all those people around you. I really admire you for saving those dogs from your neighbors. We should never just sit and watch while an animal suffers in silence.


  19. Find an Outlet Says:

    Rayya, you have my utmost respect as a doctor and compassionate person. But I believe with every shred of my being that we do not need to breed more dogs. I have seven rescue dogs and couldn’t tell you what they are, and don’t care. Dog breeds were designed by humans for specific purposes which are no longer needed except for bloodhounds, cadaver dogs, drug and explosive-sniffing dogs, cancer detectors, etc.

    Until every dog and cat languishing in shelters, being poisoned or abused, or on death row finds a loving home, and spay/neuter becomes accepted practice (or law), no more companion animals need be bred. Many people purchase or adopt a cute puppy and dump it six months later when they can’t handle it, have to move, get a divorce, have a baby, or just decide they don’t want it anymore. I see it every single day of my life.

    There is no way to prevent ignorance, cruelty, or negative cultural beliefs about animals. The world population just hit 7 billion—there’s no way we’re ever going to reach the hearts or minds of millions of humans who think animals are throw-away trash.

    I mean no disrespect. But every time I see a sign posted “Pure bred whatevers for sale, $400” I, along with many animal rescue volunteers down here, seethe with frustration.


    • Rayya The Vet Says:

      I thank you for sharing your thoughts with me and the world. Change is driven via dialogue and open communication and raising awareness. We can only keep spreading the word and hopefully one day all pets will find deserving and loving homes. I admire and share your passion for this huge cause; I say NO to animal abuse/neglect/euthanasia.


  20. toppetsadvice Says:

    Very informative article, thanks for your sharing


  21. For the Love of My Dogs Says:

    Thank you for sharing this! We wish more people would choose to spay/neuter and this is a perfect example of why it should be done to maintain the dog’s health.

    Both our adult rescue dogs are fixed and our rescue pup is actually getting spayed tomorrow 🙂
    In addition to health reasons, we believe in spay/neuter to reduce pet overpopulation and be responsible pet owners. Personally I do not believe it’s responsible to have an “unfixed” dog because it almost always results in more puppies. I wish more people who choose to breed dogs would spend one day in an animal shelter to see what happens. As a volunteer at a high-kill shelter, I am sickened when people bring in their pet’s puppies/kittens or breeders bring in their unsold pups just to be euthanized. I wish there were laws in place to avoid this and require people who do that to spay/neuter.

    Thank you for helping raise awareness with this post. We really love your blog!


    • Rayya Says:

      Dear Melanie. Thank you so much for shedding more light on the importance of desexing pets from a shelter point of view. I respect all the amazing and dedicated staff & volunteers at pet shelters. I applaud you for being able to cope with those cruel irresponsible pet owners that abandon their pets or breeders that surrender their unsold puppies or kittens! I struggle with these type of people at work.


  22. heyitsjethere Says:

    Hey Dr. Rayya, Jet here.

    We were not part of the blogging community when you posted this Dr. Rayya. We wish we were though… Fabulous Flo shared this particular post with us today. Here’s what happened to JJ…

    Thank you again for all you do to educate us. xoxoxo Jetty


    • Rayya Says:

      Hey Jetty. I’m so your mom got onto JJ as soon as her fellow blogger alerted her. I bet JJ feels so much better now. I probably should keep re-advertising some of my old blogs as some are very relevant & important to know about. Hugs to you & JJ



  1. Is your male cat struggling to pee? | Dr Rayya's Online Veterinary Journal - October 17, 2011

    […] Desexing your bitch can save her life… ( […]

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