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A Brush With Death: Sienna's Story

Posted June 18, 2013 in A Vet's Life

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. Find him online at He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.

Sienna was one sick dog. She had been vomiting for a few days, with a decreased appetite, increased thirst and increased urination. When the 8-year old female Springer spaniel presented to the ER, she also had a fever.  She was in shock and severely depressed. Her belly was distended and painful. These signs are pretty classic in the veterinary world...

Radiographs confirmed the ER doctor's suspicion of a pyometra, a life-threatening condition where the uterus fills up with pus. She was treated for shock with IV fluids. Blood work showed a high white blood cell count - a sign of infection. Kidney values were high and the red blood cell count was low (anemia), which are common in pyometra patients.

Emergency surgery was the only treatment that could save Sienna's life, but she was too sick to go under anesthesia.  After stabilization and pain control, we took Sienna to surgery. When we opened her belly, some smelly brown fluid leaked out; this was a sign that the pyometra had ruptured or torn. The uterus was gigantic.  We found the tear and plugged it.  Then we performed pyometra surgery, which is basically a fancy (and expensive) spay. We then rinsed Sienna's belly with large amounts of sterile saline.

We stitched up her belly and recovered her in ICU, where she was closely monitored. After 48 hours of intensive treatments, Sienna finally turned the corner. She had more energy, was able to walk outside to go to the bathroom, and became interested in food. By the third day, Sienna was perkier, and she went home.

It was “touch and go” for a few more days.  She wasn’t all that interested in food, so we suggested all kinds of tricks to encourage eating and drinking. After one week, Sienna was feeling much better.

This may sound like a happy story with a wonderful outcome, but it is important to understand that Sienna almost died. This ordeal could have been completely prevented if she had been spayed as a puppy.

This complicated disease involves bacteria and hormones. Unspayed pets who receive hormones (estrogens, progesterone) have an increased risk of pyometra.

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at

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