Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My beloved 8-year-old cat, Spinx, had closed pyometra in April of of this year. We didn’t know that; we had taken her in for a lump we found near her nipple. The vet said the lump might be breast cancer, but the pyometra was more serious. He said do the surgery for that first and then deal with the lump and that’s what we did. The surgery went well and she came home and within 2 days was back to normal.
A couple of weeks later her breathing changed and she stopped eating drinking and going to the bathroom. When we took her to the vet, he said we had to put her down because she was dying and he said she had cancer all over. Wouldn’t the vet have known that when he did the surgery for the pyometra? I’m heartbroken for the loss of my best friend. Can you give my any information about this?
Siouxsie: We’re terribly sorry for your loss, Claudia, and we’re sorry that your last two weeks with your beloved Spinx were so traumatic. We do have some answers that might set your heart at ease — at least as far as how your vet responded to your cat’s illnesses.
Thomas: First of all, your vet’s priorities were right. Pyometra is a life-threatening medical emergency.
Dahlia: The closed form of pyometra is particularly deadly, because there’s no way for the infectious material to escape from your cat’s uterus. But the fluids keep building up, which can cause the uterus to rupture, spilling all this purulent matter into your cat’s abdomen. Cats that suffer from uterine rupture usually die within 48 hours.
Siouxsie: Another reason why closed pyometra is so dangerous is that an infected cat’s body tries to eliminate the excess fluid and toxins through the kidneys. The kidneys quickly become overwhelmed and the cat goes into uremic poisoning, which can lead to kidney failure.
Thomas: The only effective treatment for pyometra is an emergency spay. Because the spay incision is quite small, and because your vet was so focused on getting the infected uterus out of your cat’s body without rupturing it, we wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t looking for tumors.
Dahlia: Because your cat was so sick, it would have been dangerous for her to be under anesthesia any longer than absolutely necessary. So again, we’re not surprised that your vet didn’t go poking around in your cat’s belly looking for other cancerous growths.
Siouxsie: Now let’s talk a little bit about your cat’s cancer. Mammary cancer is the third most common cancer in female cats. Unfortunately, about 90% of tumors of the mammary glands in cats are cancerous.
Thomas: Mammary cancers are also generally quite aggressive. Tumors spread from the mammary glands to local lymph nodes and then on to the chest, brain, bone, and even spleen.
Dahlia: Treatment for mammary cancer begins with surgery to remove the entire chain of mammary glands on the affected side. The surgery may be followed by chemotherapy if it is indicated.
Siouxsie: If the veterinarian finds that the mammary cancer is already pretty advanced, he or she might do a less radical form of the surgery as a palliative measure, to make the cat as comfortable as possible and prevent tumors from ulcerating through the skin.
Thomas: One of the most common complications of mammary cancer is the spread of the tumor to the chest, which interferes with the cat’s ability to breathe. This is apparently what happened to your sweet Spinx. Because these types of cancers tend to spread to the chest first, it’s possible that there weren’t any tumors in Spinx’s abdomen.
Dahlia: And finally, let’s talk a bit about how to prevent these terrible diseases.
Siouxsie: Early spaying drastically reduces the risk of mammary cancer. Cats spayed before 6 months of age have 91% less risk of developing this disease, and cats spayed before 1 year of age have an 86% risk reduction. Spaying also completely eliminates the risk of pyometra.
Thomas: We’re not saying this to guilt-trip you, Claudia. A lot of people don’t know that spaying has such a dramatic effect on their cat’s long-term health. That’s why we’re mentioning it here.
Dahlia: We hope anyone who wonders why kitties like us (and the people who love us) make such a big deal about the importance of early spaying will take Claudia and Spinx’s story as an object lesson. Although it’s clearly just about a worst-case scenario, would you want to put your cat — and yourself — through even a fraction of this pain if you didn’t have to?
Siouxsie: Finally, although we know that some of you probably have very strong feelings about Claudia’s letter, we’d ask that you not criticize her. We believe she wants to understand what happened so she can prevent this tragic outcome if she adopts another cat in the future. Thank you in advance for your kindness and compassion.