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MVA Monthly Mouthful

Pyometra & Prostatitis – Why Our Pets Don’t Need to be Parents

By Alyssa Mages, BS, CVT, Education and Development Coordinator

The month of May recalls visions of spring flowers and subsequently those same flowers are given honoring or in memory of our mothers on Mother’s Day. Many of us are also pet parents, and it’s not an uncommon thought, “Do our cats & dogs miss motherhood if they don’t experience it?” Anthropomorphizing is something we all do with our furry family members, but in this instance it can potentially be harmful.

There is a potentially life-threatening condition called pyometra which is defined as a severe uterine infection and can occur in intact female cats or dogs that have not been spayed.  According to the ACVS (American College of Veterinary Surgeons), “While the true disease process has still not been completely understood, it is generally recognized that progesterone and estrogen and their receptors have a role in the development of pyometra; however, the infection is triggered by bacterial involvement.” 

This infection can become advanced very quickly, and the symptoms your pet may exhibit are not necessarily contained within the genital tract. A pet’s entire system can become compromised by the accompanying inflammation, leading to a potentially life-threatening situation. The signs – and please be forewarned, these can be graphic! – most commonly associated with pyometra in cats & dogs are:

  • Drinking & urinating excessively
  • Lethargy and/or depression
  • Lack of appetite progressing to anorexia
  • Gums, conjunctiva, vulva (all mucous membranes) are pale
  • Bloody and/or yellowish vaginal discharge

Other symptoms that occur less often are either GI upset (vomiting/diarrhea), or a swollen abdomen. Some pets may have no symptoms other than purulent (yellow/green) or bloody vaginal discharge, but there are also those pets that will not have this occurrence, but ALL the other symptoms listed above. For that reason, a veterinarian will want to rule pyometra out as a potential diagnosis in ANY intact female dog or cat that is sick.

The good news is that this is a preventable & curable condition! A veterinarian/veterinary surgeon can either perform the ‘spay’ procedure – OVH/OHE (Ovariohysterectomy in medical speak) prior to a cat or dog’s 1st heat cycle to lessen the chances of this occurring. I say lessen, as there is a VERY slight chance that a pet may develop what is called a “Stump Pyo”. This term indicates that some remaining uterine and/or ovarian tissue has remained which in turn enables the circulating hormones to remain present and an infection can occur. Again, this is a RARE occurrence, but one should be aware that it can happen. If you notice any of the above symptoms in your spayed pet, contact your veterinary ER right away.

On the flip side, should your pet be intact and is exhibiting the above symptoms, get them in to be evaluated ASAP to confirm this is in fact pyometra, and the veterinarian/veterinary surgeon will perform a curative OVH. Your pet may also need further supportive care – IV fluids, antibiotics, monitoring – depending upon how sick they were at the time of their evaluation.

Let’s also not forget that the month of June is where we in turn honor & remember our fathers on Father’s Day, and this is also a good time to reconsider letting our pets join those ranks.

As our male pets – either cats or dogs – age, if they remain intact, testosterone continues to circulate in their systems, and the potential for many unwanted conditions and/or behaviors increases. These include but are not limited to:

  • Enlarged prostate gland and/or prostatitis
  • Increased risk for testicular cancer
  • Cryptorchidism (one or two undescended testicles)
  • Testicular hypoplasia/atrophy
  • Orchitis/epididymitis (infection)
  • Severe testicular trauma
  • Testicular torsion
  • Perineal hernia
  • Underlying urinary tract disease (urethral calculi – stones)
  • Perianal adenomas (common tumor that arises from the sebaceous glands surrounding the anus)
  • Roaming/wandering; increased territoriality
  • Inappropriate urination/marking
  • Increased aggression
  • Overpopulation

Should your pet be seen for routine castration, they will typically not exhibit any concerning symptoms other than those that are behavioral. However, those pets with disease processes involving the testicles and/or epididymis may show symptoms that are specifically related each condition. This is an extensive list but is important for us to be aware of for our furry male family members.

  • Cryptorchid pets may have an abdominal masson physical examination, which may cause:
    • Abdominal pain
    • Decreased appetite/anorexia leading to weight loss
    • Nausea and/or GI upset
    • Fur loss
    • Mammary gland enlargement
    • Bone marrow suppression (in rare & extreme cases)
  • Testicular hypoplasia/atrophy is fairly rare unless there is cellular disorder within the testicle, which then may cause:
    • hair loss
    • mammary gland enlargement
    • male dog attraction
  • Infection of the testicle and epididymis(orchitis/epididymitis):
    • testicular pain
    • scrotal swelling
    • depression/lethargy
    • fever (rectal; greater than 103.5 °F)
    • anorexia
  • Testicular trauma:
    • scrotal swelling and discoloration
    • pain
    • hemorrhage
    • systemic signs of shock
  • Tumors of the testicles and epididymis:
    • enlargement of one or both testicles
    • pain
    • hair loss
    • mammary gland enlargement
    • attraction of male dogs
  • Testicular torsion will show clinical signs of:
    • acute pain
    • testicular swelling
    • depression
  • Perianal hernias:
    • swelling adjacent to the rectum
    • constipation
    • straining to defecate and/or urinate
  • Urethral calculi (stones lodged within the urethra; these can also occur within the urinary bladder):
    • straining to urinate
    • difficulty or inability to urinate
    • discolored urine
    • abdominal pain
    • lethargy/depression
    • lack of appetite
  • Prostatic diseases lead to enlargement of the prostate, potentially causing:
    • constipation
    • straining to urinate & defecate
    • abdominal pain
    • discoloration of the urine
  • Perianal adenomas:
    • one or more growths surrounding rectal tissue
    • bloody stool
    • irritation of the rectal area

Should you see any of these symptoms occurring with your pet, please call us or your primary veterinarian as soon as possible so they can be addressed appropriately.

The above topics are not intended to cause alarm, nor are we anti-puppy & kitten; we love animals of all ages. We are also aware that the decision to neuter pets is at best a personal one and at worst controversial. Therefore, it is highly recommended to discuss the pros and cons of doing so with a veterinarian. Do keep in mind that there is limited evidence to determine a universal age at which to neuter/spay, and it is encouraged to be very aware of the potential emergent conditions that can arise should the decision not to spay/neuter has been made.  Should you have any questions and/or concerns regarding the potential parental risks for our pets, please don’t hesitate to contact us – 24/7/365.

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