Pyometra in Cats: Signs, Causes and Treatments

Pyometra in Cats

Pyometra in Cats: Pyometra is a serious infection of the uterus that can affect unspayed female cats. It occurs when bacteria enters the uterus, usually during heat or estrus. The most common signs of pyometra in cats are increased thirst, lethargy, vomiting, and a swollen abdomen.

Pyometra in Cats

Signs and Symptoms of Pyometra in Cats

1. Swollen Abdomen

One of the most obvious signs of pyometra is a swollen or distended abdomen. This happens because pus accumulates in the uterus, causing it to expand. Your cat’s belly may look bloated or feel hard to the touch.

2. Excessive Thirst

Because pyometra causes infection and suppresses appetite, your cat may drink more water to avoid dehydration. Keep an eye out for your cat frequently visiting the water bowl or meowing for fresh water.

3. Lethargy and Loss of Appetite

Due to the infection, your cat probably won’t feel like herself. Watch for decreased activity or exercise intolerance, sleeping more than usual, and turning up her nose at food she normally enjoys. These symptoms require prompt veterinary care.

4. Pus-like Vaginal Discharge

The thick, yellowish discharge from the vagina is one of the hallmarks of pyometra. The discharge has a foul, pus-like odor and can stain bedding or furniture where your cat has been laying. See your vet right away if you notice this symptom.

5. Fever

An infected uterus causes a fever as the body tries to fight the infection. If your cat’s ears or paws feel hot to the touch, or her gums look very red, check her temperature with a rectal thermometer. Anything over 103 degrees F signals an emergency vet visit is needed.

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Early diagnosis and treatment of pyometra is critical. If you notice any of these signs in your cat, especially a swollen abdomen combined with lethargy or loss of appetite, contact your vet immediately for an exam and to discuss emergency spay options. Your cat’s health and even her life depend on your quick action.

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Causes and Risk Factors for Pyometra

Several factors can increase a cat’s risk of developing pyometra. Unspayed female cats, especially those over 4 years of age, are most prone to this condition. During estrus or “heat,” the uterus thickens in preparation for potential pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, the thickened uterine lining begins to break down. Bacteria that enter the uterus can then infect this tissue, leading to pyometra.

1. Hormonal Changes

Changes in hormone levels during estrus also make the uterus more vulnerable to infection. The increased progesterone causes the cervix to close, trapping bacteria inside. At the same time, elevated estrogen levels promote uterine lining growth, providing more tissue for bacteria to infect.

2. Bacterial Infection

The most common bacteria linked to pyometra is Escherichia coli, which normally inhabits the intestines and vagina. For unknown reasons, these bacteria migrate into the uterus during estrus, multiply rapidly, and create an infection. In rare cases, other bacteria like Staphylococcus may also be involved.

3. Age and Reproductive Status

Intact older female cats, especially those that have had multiple heat cycles without breeding, have the highest risk for pyometra. This is because their uteruses have been exposed to hormonal changes and potential for infection over many years and cycles. Spaying a cat before her first heat cycle nearly eliminates the possibility of developing pyometra.

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Early spaying, limiting the number of heat cycles, and keeping a cat indoors during estrus can help reduce the risk of pyometra. However, once symptoms develop, emergency surgery to remove the infected uterus is typically the only effective treatment. With prompt treatment, most cats recover well and can live normal, long lives despite losing their uterus.

Treatment Options for Pyometra in Cats

1. Surgery (Ovariohysterectomy)

The most common treatment for pyometra is surgery to remove the infected uterus and ovaries, known as an ovariohysterectomy or spay. This is a major surgery, but it is very effective at curing the infection and preventing recurrence. Your vet will hospitalize your cat for a few days to monitor recovery. At-home care like limiting activity, giving pain medication, and keeping the incision clean will be required as your cat heals.

2. Medical Management

If your cat is a poor surgical candidate due to other health issues, medical management may be attempted to treat the infection and avoid surgery. Your vet will prescribe a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics to fight the infection, as well as drugs like prostaglandins to induce uterine contractions and clear out pus. Success rates tend to be lower with medical management alone, but for some cats it can be a viable option, at least temporarily. Close monitoring will be needed to ensure the infection clears. Surgery may still be recommended if medical treatment is not effective.

3. Emergency Treatment

In severe cases of pyometra, emergency surgery or medical treatment may be needed to stabilize your cat. Hospitalization, intravenous fluids, and antibiotics will be started right away. Once your cat’s condition is stabilized, ovariohysterectomy is typically still recommended to provide a permanent cure and prevent recurrence. Without treatment, a ruptured uterus or sepsis can become life-threatening, so if your cat is showing symptoms of a pyometra emergency, seek vet care immediately.

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The treatment path for pyometra will depend on your cat’s overall health, the severity of the infection, and your vet’s recommendation. In most cases, surgery to remove the infected uterus provides the best chance of a full recovery and prevents this condition from coming back. With prompt diagnosis and treatment, the prognosis for pyometra is good, allowing your cat to live a long and healthy life after overcoming this infection.

FAQs

Will my cat recover from pyometra?

With prompt treatment, most cats recover well from pyometra. However, without treatment the infection can become life-threatening. The two standard treatment options, surgery (spaying) or medical management with antibiotics and prostaglandins, aim to eliminate the infection and prevent recurrence.

How much will treatment cost?

The cost will depend on the severity of the infection and treatment option. Spaying, the most effective treatment, typically ranges from $500 to $1000. Medical management usually starts around $200-$500 for initial diagnostics and medication, with follow-up care costing $100-$300. More advanced cases may require hospitalization and fluid therapy, increasing the total cost.

What follow-up care is needed?

Following spaying, your cat will need pain medication, antibiotics, and restricted activity for 10-14 days. With medical management, your vet will recheck your cat frequently while on medication to monitor improvement. Additional medication or spaying may be recommended if there is no improvement or a recurrence of symptoms. Either treatment option requires blood tests for several months to check hormone levels and ensure the infection does not return.

Will pyometra prevent my cat from getting pregnant in the future?

Yes, spaying a cat for pyometra treatment will sterilize her and prevent future heat cycles and pregnancy. Medical management alone does not sterilize the cat or prevent future pyometra infections from occurring during heat cycles. For this reason, spaying is typically recommended even after successful medical treatment of pyometra.

How can pyometra be prevented?

The only way to prevent pyometra is to spay your female cat before her first heat cycle. Spaying at an early age, usually around 4-6 months, eliminates the risk of pyometra by removing the uterus and ovaries which produce hormones that stimulate heat cycles.