Pyometra in Cats — Everything You Should Know

Key Points

  • Pyometra is a purulent uterine infection somewhat common in middle-aged intact female cats.

  • About 2.2 percent of all cats develop this infection by the time they are 13 years of age.

  • Some breeds, like the Maine Coon and Siamese, have a higher chance of getting pyometra.

  • The classic symptoms of this health issue are vomiting and diarrhea, fever, lack of appetite, increased thirst, and vaginal purulent discharge.

  • The most effective treatment for pyometra is spaying your cat.

As a pet owner, you’re doing your best to care for your cat in every single way. If you haven’t spayed your female cat, not only can they become pregnant, but they’re also at a higher risk of developing reproductive issues, including infections of the uterus.

Today’s article looks at everything you should know about pyometra in cats, from its main causes to the symptoms it leads to, how it’s diagnosed and treated, and why cats may lose their life without veterinary treatment.

A purebred Siamese cat with seal point markings and blue eyes

What is Pyometra in Cats?

The word pyometra in itself is associated with “pus” from the Latin “pyo.” It is a uterine infection involving some of the most dangerous bacteria that cats end up having in their bodies. However, the germs themselves are perhaps less dangerous than the fact that the pus remains stuck in the uterine cavity, which leads to toxins building up in the animal’s system and eventually causing death.

Preventing pyometra in cats is done by spaying your pet as early as possible. Your cat doesn’t have to go through a heat cycle or experience one pregnancy to become an adult, and getting them spayed prevents not just pyometra but also mammary tumors and ovarian and uterine cancer.

How Common is Pyometra in Cats?

This type of uterine infection is more common in canines than in felines. Up to 25 percent of all female dogs that haven’t been spayed are at risk of getting it during their lifetime. The risk is lower in cats, with 2.2 percent of intact female cats developing pyometra before the age of 13.

So, while statistically, cats are less exposed to this health risk than their canine counterparts, it’s still something that can’t be ruled out as a possibility other than getting your pet spayed.

Sleeping Bengal Cat

What Causes Pyometra in Cats?

There’s a combination of factors that lead to a cat developing pyometra. This infection tends to affect animals in their reproductive prime, which is more common in middle-aged cats — five to seven years old. After a cat experiences a heat cycle that doesn’t result in pregnancy, the surface of the uterus develops a number of cysts, which secrete fluid to make it easier for the uterine lining to be eliminated. Unfortunately, that excess moisture is also what makes it easier for bacteria to cause an infection.

Cats contract bacteria from any surface — including their litter boxes — but it is more common for them to develop a uterine infection toward the end of their heat cycle, as their cervix is open and microorganisms get into the reproductive system a lot easier.

If you don’t want to get your cat spayed just yet and it’s impossible for you to handle the symptoms associated with the feline heat cycle, you might look for feline birth control or have your vet give your cat injections to prevent pregnancies. Unfortunately, using specific medications — mainly prostaglandins and methylprednisolone acetate — increases the risk of the cat developing pyometra.

California-based Dr. Autumn P. Davidson, DVM, says, “Although injectable estrogens, when administered appropriately, can prevent pregnancy, their use involves great risk of serious adverse effects, including pyometra and potentially fatal bone marrow suppression, and they are not advised. Oral estrogens given during diestrus greatly increase the risk of pyometra, are unreliable in terminating pregnancy, and are also not advised.”

Pyometra seems to affect some breeds more than it does others:

  • Maine Coon

  • Siamese

  • Bengal

  • Sphynx

  • Siberian

  • Ragdoll

Gray Sphynx cat squinting while resting

Symptoms of Pyometra in Cats

As great as they are when it comes to hiding symptoms of illnesses, no cat can continue hiding the clinical signs that pyometra causes for too long. Besides fever and lethargy, most cats experience a gradual decline in their general health status, preferring to sleep for hours on end and not engage in any sort of activity that might inflict abdominal pain.

Typical signs of pyometra in this species are:

  • Low or no appetite

  • Increased thirst and increased urination

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Gradual weight loss

  • Excessive grooming of the nether region

  • Extended abdomen, sensitive to the touch

  • Vaginal purulent discharge

Not all cats experience the same clinical signs, and it’s important to note that the cervix of some is closed, so they might not eliminate any discharge through their vagina whatsoever. However, if you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

How is Feline Pyometra Diagnosed?

Pyometra in cats is either open or closed. The open form involves the cervix being open, so in that situation, pus is coming out of your cat’s vagina. This makes the diagnosis much more straightforward, even if the vet doesn’t know the specific bacterium that has caused the infection and might not know what antibiotic is appropriate to use immediately.

Closed pyometra is a little more challenging to diagnose, but a good veterinarian can spot it. Especially if you openly communicate about your cat’s behavior changes, including any excessive grooming of their nether region. Closed pyometra is a death sentence if the cat doesn’t receive treatment immediately.

The most common way to diagnose a closed pyometra is to perform an ultrasound. The uterus doesn’t have the appearance of an organ with an internal cavity, at least not when it’s healthy. The dimensions of a cat’s uterus filled with pus, however, are impressive, and the amount of fluid in it indicates a purulent infection. Besides imaging techniques like an ultrasound and an X-ray, your vet might also perform a complete blood count and blood biochemistry.

A long haired Siberian cat resting on floor

Treatment of Pyometra in Cats

The best way to treat pyometra in cats is to get the pet spayed as soon as possible. However, there are certain considerations before this happens, mainly because some cats end up at the veterinary clinic when they are so weak that their bodies can’t cope with the trauma of an operation.

If that is the case, the veterinarian initially administers prostaglandins. This hormone type enables the cervix to open so that some or most of the pus is eliminated through the vaginal opening. Supportive IV therapy is also recommended, especially if the pet has no appetite. Antibiotics are also prescribed to kill the bacteria as best as possible.

Your cat is spayed after this initial therapy. The likelihood of your pet experiencing recurring pyometra if you refuse to spay them is very high, so there’s no point in taking the chance, especially with a middle-aged or senior cat. Next time, your pet might not be as lucky, and if you’re not looking for them to have any kittens, find a solution for spaying them.

Recovery Times

The recovery time for pyometra largely depends on every animal. If your cat’s health status wasn’t affected too severely and the operation didn’t drain them of every ounce of energy, their recovery time may be anything between one and two weeks.

During this period, you should prevent your cat from engaging in strenuous physical activity, such as jumping, running around, or rough play. To prevent your cat from taking out their stitches, you may need to invest in an Elizabethan collar or a soft cat cone.

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The surgery itself is quite straightforward and quick. Not all animals react the same way, especially if they’ve been experiencing the infection for weeks without proper treatment. Most vets recommend keeping the cat hospitalized for two days after the operation so that they are kept under close observation and given IV fluids. Injectable antibiotics are used during the first few days following the surgery, but your vet can give you the oral form after you take your pet home so that you continue the treatment. Avoid discontinuing the antibiotic treatment even if your cat feels much better.

Prevention

The only effective way to prevent pyometra in cats is to get your cat spayed as early as possible. Don’t worry — even if your cat is now five years old and they haven’t been fixed yet; all is not lost.

Repeated heat cycles that don’t end in pregnancies exponentially increase the risk of your cat getting pyometra, so spaying them even later in life prevents this potentially life-threatening condition.

If you haven’t spayed your cat and want to ensure they don’t risk dying because of pyometra, watch out for the symptoms mentioned in this article. No matter how insignificant it seems, any sign of any disease is meaningful in this species since they’re excellent at hiding illness symptoms.

Ragdoll cat sitting on sofa

Are There Any Home Remedies for Pyometra?

Some sources on the Internet try to convince you that pyometra is treatable or at least manageable using natural substances such as turmeric and honey. One example is a 2023 article by EarthClinic, according to which you should use a combination of Manuka honey, turmeric, and vitamin C to treat pyometra in dogs.

Any veterinarian you may talk to if your pet has this health problem will advise you against using home remedies for treating such a severe infection.

Whether your cat’s cervix is open or not, the fact is that there is pus inside their body, and if the tissue and discharge are left there while you attempt any number of natural treatments, death is the only thing you can expect for your cat.

What Happens if Pyometra in Cats is Not Treated?

Given that it is a severe bacterial infection, pyometra calls for some form of treatment, whether surgical or not. No matter the reason, if you avoid going to the animal hospital for veterinary assistance, your cat’s prognosis will not be favorable when you eventually seek a vet’s help. The earlier you go, the faster the recovery time and the higher the chance of your cat being treated without any additional complications.

If you’re still having second thoughts, consider that it’s completely unnatural to have pus on the inside of anyone’s body, whether human or animal. Try to put yourself in your cat’s paws to understand why calling the vet right away is the best solution.

Keeping Your Cat Healthy

While pyometra is not a condition that your vet will likely inform you about right after you adopt your cat, it is a potentially life-threatening health complication. Get your cat spayed before they go through the ordeal of being hospitalized, not to mention the operation itself and the symptoms preceding it.

If you have an intact female cat and they start exhibiting symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia, increased thirst, urination, fever, and lethargy, get veterinary assistance as soon as possible. Veterinary treatments for pyometra in cats range from surgery to medications, depending on your pet’s health status.

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