Providing a home for a furry friend can bring an abundance of love into the lives of owners. Many pet owners want to provide the best care possible for their dog or cat, but in order to do this, a key factor is remaining educated. Many know that spaying and neutering are common procedures for household animals, but what exactly are these procedures and what are their benefits? What are the risks, such as pyometra, of negating this responsibility?
With the surge of difficulties the pandemic has brought to being a pet owner, staying vigilant and prepared for the animals owners love is essential. With adoption rates of all kinds of cats and dogs exploding during the pandemic, first-time Gen Z and millennial pet owners might find the world of pet care complicated. Low-income families, whether they are new or already pet owners, have already faced additional hardships during the pandemic, with exorbitant fees for pet emergencies being an additional possible challenge.
In cities and neighborhoods where unfixed and stray animals are common occurrences, the risks of pyometra and other health concerns for humans and animals alike are increasing. In Houston alone, there are a million stray dogs. Other cities like Detroit and the Bronx neighborhood of NYC are challenged, while the geographic regions of the South and the West of the United States are where more strays end up in shelters. With millions of animals without a home, unfixed, and challenged with health issues, it is a serious concern for the U.S., especially those who choose to own pets.
Yet there are solutions, in preparedness through pet insurance and applications to nonprofits, as well as cases in which emergency assistance is possible. Veterinarian Dr. Lauren P. Davidson provides 360 Magazine with insights on these ideas as more, with a focus on keeping owners informed and your pet healthy and happy.
Can you break down what exactly is a spay or neuter?
Spay is the term used to refer to the common veterinary surgery that removes the uterus (the womb) and ovaries of a female animal. Medically, this surgery is known as an ovariohysterectomy. This surgery makes the animal incapable of having offspring.
Neuter is the term used to refer to the common veterinary surgery that removes both testicles of a male animal. This surgery results in the inability of the male to impregnate a female.
What are the ramifications of not having your animal fixed sooner rather than later?
First and foremost, by having your dog or cat spayed or neutered, you prevent them from having unwanted puppies/kittens. Additionally, in the female, you prevent uterine infections (also called pyometra) from developing as well ovarian cancer. Furthermore, by removing the ovaries, the main source of hormones that influence the development of mammary (or breast) cancer is removed and there is a great reduction in the risk of developing this type of cancer. As female animals get older, the surgery can also become more complicated due to the size of the animal or if they have already had multiple litters of puppies/kittens.
In males, the chance of testicular cancer is completely removed once the testicles are surgically removed and there is a reduction in the development of prostate disease as well. Additionally, neutered male animals typically become less aggressive which results in a lower risk of fighting or aggression toward their owners or other animals.
What are the signs of a female dog having pyometra?
Pyometra, or infection of the uterus, only occurs in female animals. The signs of pyometra in non-spayed female animals can often be non-specific, but early warning signs include the animal feeling unwell, such as vomiting, refusal to eat, lethargy, increased thirst, and frequent urination. She may also appear to be uncomfortable because pyometra is a particularly painful condition for dogs while being somewhat less so for cats. Fever can also be observed. Symptoms of a pyometra usually begin four to eight weeks after the animal is in heat, and include:
- Drinking more than usual.
- Pus leaking from vulva/vagina.
- Bloated abdomen (tummy)
- Panting and weakness.
- Off food.
- Urinating more than usual.
If any of these signs are observed and your animal is not spayed, you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible. If vomiting, fever, or lethargy are noted, the condition is usually more urgent and emergency care (ER) should be sought out if you are unable to immediately visit your regular veterinary clinic. If you have any doubts or are concerned, take your animal to the ER. Since many of the signs of pyometra can also be caused by other medical conditions, it is important to get your pet assessed by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
If left untreated, pyometra can cause your animal can go into shock, kidney failure, or develop severe dehydration. Pyometra is a medical emergency that can be fatal if left untreated.
Are there any resources besides the ASPCA that a pet owner can reach out to online?
There are several resources online, but as with all things, make sure you consult reputable sources such as your veterinary clinic’s website. However, do not try to diagnose your animal by what you read online. You are not a veterinarian and diagnosis and treatment of your animal should be left to a veterinary professional.
Since the pandemic, it has been increasingly difficult to procure an appointment with any veterinarian or pet care facility. In this type of event, what should a pet owner do?
Many veterinary clinics hold a certain number of appointments for emergency or urgent care cases. Call your veterinarian and inform them of what the problem is and they should be able to provide guidance. Alternatively, you can take your pet to your nearest emergency veterinary clinic (ER). Keep in mind that many clinics, regular and ER veterinary clinics alike, are not allowing owners to come inside due to the COVID pandemic. Please follow the guidance of the clinic and cooperate with these modified practices to keep everyone safe.
Why is pyometra surgery so expensive?
Pricing of all surgeries includes the procedure itself, anesthesia, required medications for pain, and other medications and materials that are necessary to support your animal through a successful surgery. Post-operative care and the time and expertise of the veterinarians and veterinary technicians are all considerations in pricing as well.
How long is the recovery time?
Typically, sutures or surgical staples may be removed by the veterinary clinic in about two weeks. During this time, it is very important to keep your animal as calm as possible and limit activity to reduce the risk of disturbing the incision site. Your pet may also have to wear a cone to prevent them from licking the incision site which would delay healing.
Is pyometra surgery easily performed? Are there any known complications? If so, why? What factors can be attributed to surgery complications? Age, overall health, or pre-existing conditions?
No, this surgery is not easily performed. Oftentimes, animals that have pyometra have complicating factors, such as fever, dehydration, and metabolic changes that require fluid support and medication. As with all other surgeries, pre-existing conditions must be identified to ensure the animal can be given anesthesia safely, and even still there is always a mild risk of complication.
In this surgical procedure, the veterinarian is removing the uterus which can be filled with a large amount of pus. Therefore, if not done carefully, a general infection can occur. Animals, especially dogs that have had several litters of puppies or those that have been allowed to have several heat cycles, can have very thickened uterine walls which tend to bleed more and make the surgery more complicated. Likewise, animals, where the infection has lasted for days on end, can have a very fragile uterus which makes it even more challenging for the veterinarian to perform the surgery. Due to the serious nature of this condition, we strongly recommend avoiding this scenario completely by spaying your animal.
Is there any way we can or should better educate pet owners about pyometra?
Generally, the ramifications of not spaying your pet, pyometra being one of them, are reviewed by your veterinarian when you first adopt them. Online information sources are also helpful in educating yourself on this condition and others related to not spaying your pet. Don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarians questions!
Once a female cat or dog has successful surgery, can pyometra reoccur?
This is a great question. In uncomplicated, successful surgeries, pyometra should not occur after spaying. However, there is a small percentage of animals that may develop what’s called a “stump pyometra”. This usually occurs secondary to the presence of a small amount of ovarian tissue left behind during the original spay procedure. Under the influence of ovarian hormones, the small amount of uterine tissue that may remain at the base of the uterus can subsequently become infected. These cases are rare and can be quite challenging to diagnose.
How important is pet insurance? Are there any programs for low-income pet owners to assist with covering such a surgery?
Pet insurance is a great way to put your mind at ease when emergencies arise. There are many plans available which cover major emergencies, routine visits, and vaccinations as well. Check with your home or auto insurance company first to see what plans are available for pet insurance. Alternatively, there are pet-specific insurance companies and credit-based plans that clinics often have available if you do not already have an established plan.
There are several low-cost veterinary clinics and not-for-profit organizations across the country that assist with veterinary care costs. An online search of national humane organizations and even breed-specific organizations can lead you to multiple resources. Keep in mind, however, that before applying for aid, you should read the organization’s eligibility guidelines, which are usually available on their website. Also, carefully read the application and provide any necessary documentation that would show you meet the eligibility requirements for assistance. The best-case scenario is to explore these options before an emergency occurs.
Is there anything you wish to add that we haven’t already gone over?
Owning a pet can bring a wealth of joy and happiness to your life! It is a long-term commitment and one that can be quite expensive over time. Pyometra is one medical condition that can be prevented by spaying your pet early on. Take the time to learn as much as you can about pet ownership before you decide to make that commitment and be sure to consult with your local veterinarian to provide the best care for your pet.
About Dr. Lauren Davidson
Dr. Lauren Davidson is a practicing veterinarian and public health professional in the Washington, D.C. area. She has a passion for educating the public on animal care and how it impacts human well-being. A graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Davidson works in biomedical animal health compliance and has worked with underserved communities across the country to provide veterinary care and education. She enjoys spending time with her two rescues, her dog Betty and cat, Louie.