When Twinkle Toes’ owner brought her to see us the day before Thanksgiving, she never imagined that her 7 month old cat would need emergency surgery. She had been lethargic for a day or two, had vomited and didn’t want to eat her food. Her owner thought that she probably had a virus or another minor illness but her fever of 104.3 worried us right away. Anyone who has worked in the veterinary profession knows that acute illness in an intact female dog or cat is always worrisome for pyometra, which requires immediate life-saving surgery in most cases.

Although a majority of pets are now spayed in America, veterinarians still see animals suffering from this condition on a regular basis. Twinkle Toes’ case was unusual because she was so young but pyometra can occur in unspayed female s of any age. It is most commonly seen in older pets but only a few days after I saw Twinkle Toes, a friend called me regarding a young adult Schnauzer whose pyometra diagnosis required surgery at the emergency clinic in the middle of the night.

Because of differences in physiology, this condition does not commonly affect humans and pet owners therefore don’t realize that there is a significant risk. Pyometra most often occurs in the weeks following a heat cycle, as hormonal changes create the opportunity for infection. Pets typically become ill very suddenly and although their clinical signs can be severe, owners don’t know what is wrong. Pets are almost always listless and not eating but there are no specific indicators that the problem is in the reproductive tract.

The other trouble with pyometra is that it becomes life threatening so quickly. Similar to appendicitis in people, the biggest risk is that of organ rupture and secondary infection of the abdomen. In rare cases when the condition is recognized early and open drainage is possible, the infection may be resolved with medical therapy alone . However, most pets are very ill at the time of diagnosis and the most common treatment is removal of the infected uterus (ovariohysterectomy). The surgery is much more difficult and dangerous than a routine spay and the risks of anesthesia are also greater in sick animals. Therefore, unless you plan to breed your pets, it is best to completely eliminate the risk and schedule spays while they are young and healthy! – Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Chosa