Sterilisation is not something that dog owner Lloyd Schmidt ever considered for his German Shepherd, Helga. “I was brought up to believe you leave the dog as it is; as nature intended, and that you don’t sterilise,” he says, “especially as the dog never got out and was protected from other dogs.”
Then Helga became ill. Less than two months after coming on heat, the seven-year-old dog started to lose weight and was lethargic. “I could see she was off colour. She didn’t move; she wouldn’t get off her sofa,” says Mr Schmidt.
He took her to a vet who prescribed antibiotics for a fever and pain medication though he was unsure what was wrong with her. Helga improved slightly but within a week had stopped eating again. “She had a dry mouth and she was licking her private parts repeatedly. When she got up I noticed an excretion coming from her vagina and she had a bit of a smell.”
Mr Schmidt brought Helga to Country Animal Clinic in Somerset West. “I immediately suspected a pyometra*,” says veterinarian Dr Ingrid de Wet. Helga underwent a sonar examination, was admitted to the clinic and put on a drip for an emergency sterilisation. The surgery proceeded well. By the next day she was like a new dog. She was eating well and she could go home.
Why is sterilisation important?
“*Pyometra literally means ‘pus in the uterus’,” Dr de Wet explains. “Dogs are designed to have a litter every time they come on heat. When they don’t have a litter, the wall of the uterus thickens. Eventually when they are older this thick uterine layer produces mucous which can become infected.
“Pyometra is a life-threatening condition. Helga was lucky because her cervix was open and the uterus was draining a bit so she wasn’t as sick as she could have been.”
Dr de Wet says if the cervix is closed the owner won’t see any vaginal discharge. In this case the dog normally arrives at the vet when they are already very ill or in septic shock.
“Pyometra is the MAIN reason we recommend sterilisation as a puppy. Not only do you prevent unwanted litters and mammary cancer but you prevent this life-threatening condition. Even if your female dog is 5-6 years old and she has been having heats with no problem, you never know which heat cycle will push her over the edge into a pyometra.
“A sterilisation is much easier, cheaper and lower risk than an emergency operation in a sick, older dog,” Dr de Wet says.
Mr Schmidt is astounded at how well Helga has recovered. “By the second day her ‘colour’ had come back,” he says.
“I was worried that the sterilisation would make her fat and lazy but the benefits have been fantastic, aside from saving her life. She is so full of life now; full of energy and wants to play again.
“I would honestly recommend sterilisation. In fact, I’m taking my Jack Russell in for sterilisation too,” Mr Schmidt says.