pyometra in cats is a dangerous type of infection. If left untreated, pyometra can be fatal. For this reason, it is extremely important for cat owners to know how to prevent and treat this infection before they cause problems to their pets.
What is pyometra with cats??
Pyometra in cats is a secondary infection that occurs because of hormonal changes in the female’s reproductive tract. Following oestrus or ‘heat’, progesterone levels remain elevated for several weeks, stimulating the uterine lining to thicken in preparation for pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur for several oestrus cycles, the lining continues to increase in thickness until cysts form in the uterus. This condition is called cystic endometrial hyperplasia. The thickened, cystic lining secretes fluids that create an ideal environment in which bacteria can grow. Additionally, high progesterone levels inhibit the ability of the muscles in the wall of the uterus to contract and expel accumulated fluids or bacteria.
Another contributing factor is the fact that during oestrus, white blood cells, which normally protect against infection, are inhibited from entering the uterus. This normal occurrence allows sperm to safely enter the female’s reproductive tract without being damaged or destroyed by these white blood cells. The combination of these factors often leads to infection.
How do bacteria get into the uterus?
The cervix is the gateway to the uterus. It remains tightly closed except during oestrus, when it relaxes to allow sperm to enter the uterus.
If the cervix is open or relaxed, bacteria that are normally found in the vagina can enter the uterus easily. If the uterus is normal, the uterine environment is adverse to bacterial survival; however, when the uterine wall is thickened or cystic, perfect conditions exist for bacterial growth. In addition, when these abnormal conditions exist, the muscles of the uterus cannot contract properly either due to thickening of the uterine wall or the hormone progesterone. This means that bacteria that enter the uterus cannot be expelled.
Signs of Pyometra ?
Bloody or purulent vaginal discharge
- Urinating outside of the litterbox
- Bloated abdomen
- Decreased appetite
- Blood in urine
- Increased urination
- Increased thirst
- Excessive licking at the vaginal opening
Depending on whether pyometra in cats was open or closed, signs of this infection can vary. Open pyometras occur when the cervix is open so the infection can drain out. It most commonly results in vaginal discharge and excessive licking of the vaginal opening. Blood in the urine and urinating outside the litter box may occur along with an increase in urination and thirst due to the toxins in the uterus affecting the kidneys.
Closed pyometras do not have an open, draining cervix so the infection and pus grows in the uterus causing a bloated abdomen and a very ill feeling cat. Lethargy, a decrease in appetite, and even vomiting may occur in a cat with a pyometra.
When does pyometra in cats occur?
Pyometra in cats may occur in any sexually intact young to middle-aged cat; however, it is most common in older cats. Typically, the cat has been in heat within the previous 4 weeks.
After many years of estrus cycles without pregnancy, the uterine wall undergoes the changes that promote this disease. Pyometra in cats usually occurs two to eight weeks after the last estrus or the heat cycle.
Diagnosing Pyometra in Cats
A veterinarian will perform a full physical examination along with obtaining a medical history on your cat. If there is no evidence that your cat has been spayed and it is showing signs of pyometra in cats, tests will be recommended to be run. Blood tests, a vaginal cytology, and X-rays or an ultrasound may be performed to look for signs of an infection and an abnormal uterus. If the white blood cell count and certain proteins in the blood are elevated in the blood tests, bacteria and white blood cells are seen on the vaginal cytology, or the X-rays or ultrasound show an enlarged uterus, a diagnosis of a pyometra will be made. These tests can typically all be performed in a short period of time in the animal hospital.
Treatment of Pyometra in Cats
If pyometra in cats is confirmed, surgery will be necessary to remove the infected uterus. Antibiotics and pain medications will be prescribed as well to help your cat recover from the infection. If the pyometra is left untreated, the infection can be fatal in a cat.
Cats diagnosed in the early stage of the disease are very good surgical candidates. The pyometra surgery is somewhat more complicated than a routine spay at this stage. However, most cats are diagnosed when they are quite ill, resulting in a more complicated surgical procedure and a longer period of hospitalization. Intravenous fluids are required to stabilize the cat before and after surgery.
I want to breed my cat in the future. Is there an alternative to surgery?
For most cats, surgery is strongly recommended to treat pyometra in cats. There is a medical approach to treating pyometra, although the success rate is highly variable and not without considerable risk and potential long-term complications. Prostaglandins are a group of hormones that lower the blood level of progesterone, relax and open the cervix, and cause the uterus to contract, therefore expelling the bacteria and pus. They can be used to treat this disease, but they are not always successful and have some important limitations.
- 1. They cause side effects including restlessness, panting, vomiting, defecation, salivation, and abdominal pain. The side effects occur within about fifteen minutes after administration and often last for a few hours. They become progressively milder with each successive treatment. The pain may be lessened by exercising the cat or otherwise distracting them for about 30 minutes following an injection.
- There is no clinical improvement for about forty-eight hours, so cats that are severely ill and need immediate life-saving treatment are poor candidates.
- 3. Because prostaglandins cause the uterus to contract, it is possible for the uterus to rupture and spill infection into the abdominal cavity resulting in the severely life-threatening condition known as peritonitis. This is most likely to happen when the cervix is closed.
The use of prostaglandins to treat pyometra has variable rates of success, recurrence of the disease, and successful breading in the future. Your veterinarian will help you decide the best course of treatment depending on the specific situation for your dog.
How to Prevent Pyometra in Cats??
The best and only way to prevent pyometra in cats are to have them spayed. This surgery will remove either both the uterus and the ovaries or just the ovaries so that a cat cannot go through a heat cycle. Without the hormones that are released from the ovaries during a heat cycle or a uterus to get infected, a cat cannot develop a pyometra. Spaying a cat is a commonly recommended procedure for this and other health reasons.