What are the symptoms of pyometra in cats

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Cat held by nurse in blue scrubs with a stethoscope.
Cat Held By Nurse In Blue Scrubs With A Stethoscope.

Pyometra is a serious type of infection that can affect any animal with a uterus including cats. If left untreated, pyometra can be fatal. Because of this, it is extremely important for cat owners to know how to prevent and treat this infection before it causes problems for their pets.

What Is Pyometra in Cats?

Pyometra is a bacterial infection of the uterus so it only affects cats that have not been spayed. Cats that have been spayed have had their uterus and/or ovaries removed so it is not possible for a cat to have a pyometra unless the surgical procedure was incomplete. This uncommon type of pyometra that may occur on a spayed cat with some remaining ovarian tissue is referred to as a stump pyometra. In addition to this less commonly seen stump pyometra, there are two types of a pyometra infection commonly seen in cats: open and closed.

Signs of Pyometra in Cats

  • Bloody or purulent vaginal discharge
  • Urinating outside of the litterbox
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Blood in urine
  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Excessive licking at the vaginal opening

Depending on whether your cat has an open or closed pyometra, 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.

brown and white cat on white textile
brown and white cat on white textile

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.

Causes of Pyometra in Cats

When a cat is in estrus, more commonly referred to as being in heat, the opening to the uterus opens to allow sperm to enter during mating. But sometimes bacteria that are in the vaginal tract of a cat enter the uterus during a heat cycle. The bacteria can cause an infection and pus develops. Not every cat with a uterus will get a pyometra infection but older cats with thickened uterine linings due to going through several heat cycles and cats with abnormal uterine lining such as cysts are at risk. This is because of the body's inability to get rid of the infection like a normal, healthy uterus would do.

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, 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.

brown tabby kitten
brown tabby kitten
gray tabby cat
gray tabby cat

Treatment of Pyometra in Cats

If a pyometra is diagnosed in your cat, 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.

How to Prevent Pyometra in Cats

The best and only way to prevent a pyometra from occurring in your cat is to have it 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.