Health Topics

Pyometra: A good reason to spay your cat!

(This article was originally published in the July / August 2012 Issue of Pets Magazine and is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.)

By: Kristina Cooper, RVT

What is pyometra?

Pyometra is a condition seen in unspayed female animals where the uterus fills with infection (pus) and it can become a life-threatening situation. Pyometra develops when, over time, cysts form on the lining of the uterus due to hormonal influences. These cysts are prime sites for infection to take hold. Bacteria found in the lower reproductive system (like the cervix or vagina), as well as the lower urinary tract, make their way up into the uterus when the cervix is open during a heat cycle, causing infection.

What cat can get pyometra?

Any unspayed cat may develop pyometra. It is most commonly seen in older females who may or may not have had a previous litter. It most often occurs within a month or two after a heat cycle.

What are the signs of pyometra

Pyometra can be considered "open", meaning the cervix is open, or "closed", meaning the cervix is closed. During standing heat, when an animal is able to be bred and conceive, the cervix is open to allow passage of sperm to allow impregnation. Before standing heat and when standing heat is complete, the cervix usually remains closed.

Signs of pyometra can include fever, increased urination, vomiting, distended abdomen, foul smelling discharge from the vulva, lethargy and disinterest in food. It is important to note that in cases of closed pyometra you may not see any discharge, as the cervix remains closed keeping everything within the uterus. In some cases, animals show very few signs of pyometra until the situation is very serious.

How is pyometra treated?

To resolve pyometra, an emergency spay surgery is performed to remove both the uterus and ovaries. Due to the animal's compromised state, surgery can be difficult as the animal may be weak and already have other organ dysfunction occuring, making going under anaesthesia more of a risk. It is also possible that the infected fragile uterus could rupture while being removed, which could lead to sepsis (bacterial blood infection tha can overwhelm the body).

Supportive care, including hospitalization, intravenous fluids and antibiotics, will also be required to treat pyometra. Blood screening will aslo be performed ahead of surgery to get a snapshot of what is occuring internally as well. Blood screening can show dehydration and other organ dysfunction, as well as infection being present.

Will my cat survive pyometra?

In many cases, pets will successfully survive pyometra when treated, but when left untreated it most certainly can cause death.

How can pyometra be prevented?

Pyometra can be prevented by having your female pets spayed, ideally around six months of age. This is one of the major reasons to have your female pets altered before they go through a heat cycle. If you suspect your pet may have pyometra, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.