Why Preventive Care is Important for Your Pet’s Well-Being
Spaying and neutering are an important part of preventative medical care in dogs and cats for many reasons. One disease that affects intact female dogs and cats is pyometra, which can be life-threatening if not treated in a timely manner.
Pyometra occurs when the uterine lining is excessively engorged, which can create an environment for bacteria to proliferate. This setting can cause a serious infection in the uterus that then begins to fill with pus. The older the animal, the more heat cycles they’ve experienced, which causes uterine tissue to increase and provide an ideal environment for bacterial growth and the higher the risk for severe infection.
A veterinarian may suspect pyometra in an older patient who has recently finished a heat cycle, does not want to eat much, seems depressed or lethargic, is drinking a lot of water, and possibly vomiting as well. There are two types of pyometra: open or closed. With an open pyometra, the cervix is open and there is purulent, foul-smelling vaginal discharge. In a closed pyometra, the cervix does not allow for vaginal drainage and the pus remains trapped in the uterus. Patients with closed pyometra often appear sicker than those with open pyometra, because the large amount of retained infected material can have toxic effects in the body.
Your veterinarian will run blood work to confirm the presence of infection and assess the overall health of the patient. In the case of a closed pyometra, they may opt to perform radiographs as well. These will confirm the presence of a pus-filled uterus.
The usual treatment for pyometra is surgery, removing both the uterus and ovaries. This can be a simple procedure for a young, healthy pet. Unfortunately, in an animal with pyometra, the risk increases greatly. The surgeon must be careful that none of the infectious material from within the uterus is allowed to leak into the abdominal cavity. The uterus is larger with thicker tissues and increased vascularity requiring more time and effort from the surgeon. These animals are often systemically ill with strained immune and other body system functions. Their condition makes them high-risk candidates for anesthesia and surgery, and can complicate and slow recovery. Thankfully, surgery is a very effective treatment.
Another lesser-used treatment is hormonal prostaglandin injections for patients with an open pyometra. This can cause the uterus to contract and expel the pus. Unfortunately, there are still risks with this treatment, no guarantee that the animal can still get pregnant, and a high incidence of recurrence.
Fortunately, there is a way to successfully prevent pyometra. Spaying dogs and cats early, before they experience too many heat cycles, can completely eliminate the risk for disease. While a pet’s individual needs may vary, most veterinarians recommend spaying at around 6 months of age, before their first heat cycle. There is also no such thing as spaying an animal too late, and the chance of developing pyometra can be eliminated at any age.
At Spicewood Springs Animal Hospital, we are passionate about preventative medicine, so spaying and neutering while young is something we recommend for all our patients. We encourage you to ask our staff about spaying, neutering, and other preventative services at your next appointment!