Pyometra and Stump Pyometra in Ferrets
Pyometra is a life-threatening uterine infection that develops when bacterial invasion of the endometrium (wall of the uterus) leads to an accumulation of pus. Pyometra is seen most commonly in breeding females. However, since most ferrets are spayed at a very young age prior to sale, the overall incidence of pyometra in ferrets is low.
Spayed ferrets, conversely, may suffer from a condition called stump pyometra. This uterine infection occurs when remnants of the uterine or ovarian tissue remain. It typically only affects sexually mature females (greater than 8 to 12 months old).
Symptoms and Types
Usually, a ferret with pyometra will have blood in its urine originating from the uterus. It may come intermittently or follow the animal’s reproductive cycles. Some other symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Abdominal distension
- Increasingly aggressive behavior
- Fluid buildup in the uterus
- Swollen vuvla
- Signs of a pseudo-pregnancy
- Stillborn pregnancies or infertility
- Signs of a systemic illness (e.g., shock or blood infection)
Pyometra is most likely to develop in pseudopregnant or postpartum ferrets. Ferrets with a prolonged estrus are also predisposed to pyometra due to the elevated levels of estrogen which weakens the immune system. This occurs in approximately half of unbred, intact females for the entire breeding season (typically from March to August).
Stump pyometra, meanwhile, may be seen in ferrets with hormonal disorders caused by adrenal disease or from ovarian remnant. That is because the uterine secretions provide excellent media for growth of bacteria, which then ascend from the vagina through the partially open cervix.
Your veterinarian will first conduct a thorough physical exam and perform a variety of blood tests and a urinalysis to rule out other diseases and conditions that may cause similar symptoms. He or she may then recommend taking a sample of vaginal discharge for microscopic examination and/or bacterial culture. If the veterinarian still does not have success identifying the underlying cause, X-rays or and ultrasound may be necessary.
Because pyometra is a life-threatening condition, your ferret will probably require hospitalization, especially if the animal has estrogen-induced reduction in its blood count resulting in anemia and hemorrhaging. Immediate intravenous fluid therapy and antibiotics may be used to stabilize the animal. However, surgery (possibly even a total hysterectomy) is the typical course of treatment. Prior to surgery, your ferret may require a blood transfusion.
Living and Management
With treatment, most ferrets have a good chance at a full recovery. Your veterinarian will recommend regular follow-up examinations to monitor its progress, and will give you instructions as to a proper diet during recovery.
Spaying ferrets is the best way to prevent pyometra.