What are Vaginal Abnormalities?
In cats, both atresia (the narrowing or absence of a passage in the body) and aplasia ( the failure of tissue to develop normally) can lead to fluid getting trapped in the vaginal cavity. Once fluid is trapped it becomes a perfect location for bacterial growth. This can lead to infection, which can progress to life-threatening degrees, potentially spreading to the uterus. Generally, only unspayed cats are affected by vaginal abnormalities. These abnormalities can also hinder coitus in females used for breeding.
Any variation from the standard vaginal anatomy in a cat would be considered an abnormality. Often, the condition is passed on genetically or it develops from birth. At times scar tissue or disease can cause vaginal abnormalities. Vaginal polyps may develop especially in older cats. It is also important to note that any type of vaginal discharge would be considered abnormal, as cats do not naturally produce it.
Symptoms of Vaginal Abnormalities in Cats
Other than obvious, visually observable vaginal defects, most abnormalities will go undetected unless bacterial infection has developed. Symptoms include:
- External genital disfigurement
- Excessive genital licking
- Vaginal discharge
- Polydipsia (excessive thirst)
- No appetite
- Enlarged abdomen
- Vaginal discharge
- Vomiting or diarrhea
If your cat is exhibiting these symptoms, immediate veterinary care is required.
Causes of Vaginal Abnormalities in Cats
Most vaginal abnormalities are caused by genetic predisposition or improper development from birth. If multiple occurrences of vaginal disfigurement are present in a litter, neither the mother nor the kittens should be used for breeding purposes. All possible causes are as follows:
- Genetic predisposition
- Birth defects
- Scar tissue (often from a fight with another animal)
- Uterine or ovarian cancer
Diagnosis of Vaginal Abnormalities in Cats
Your vet will want a full medical history on your cat, and will perform a complete physical examination. If the vaginal abnormalities are easily seen or felt by the vet and complications have not developed, diagnosis can be made relatively quickly.
If an infection is present, many more tests will need to be completed. An X-ray or ultrasound may be needed if the abdomen is enlarged or if uterine infection is suspected. A complete blood count, a vaginal cytology (swab), or a biopsy would be required in cases where cancer is suspected. In the event of bacterial infection, a cytologic examination of the vaginal discharge would be necessary to identify bacteria for appropriate treatment.
Treatment of Vaginal Abnormalities in Cats
Treatments differ depending on the underlying cause of the vaginal abnormalities. Surgery is often the next required step. All treatments are listed below.
In cases which the cause of abnormalities are genetic and no infections are present, vaginoplasty (surgery or reconstruction of the vagina) can restore or create a proper vaginal opening. General anesthesia is used to render the cat unconscious for the surgery.The recovery time for this surgery is relatively short. Once fully healed, the cat may be used for breeding purposes.
When a bacterial infection is present due to vaginal abnormalities, the corresponding antibiotics will be prescribed to fight the infection. The average duration needed for antibiotics to be effective is two weeks.
In situations where an infection has progressed too far, or where cancer is present, a full spay (ovariohysterectomy) will be required. General anesthesia will be administered to the cat. While this is a standard surgery, when infection is present complications can arise and more risks exist. The healing time is 7-10 days in cases free of complications post-surgery. Often antibiotics will be prescribed for two weeks following the spay.
If the cause of your cat’s vaginal abnormalities is found to be cancer, chemotherapy may be needed to fight the cancer cells. This treatment may be needed for extended periods of time, and is generally very costly. There are many severe side effects associated with chemotherapy including suppression of bone marrow, hair loss, and gastrointestinal irritation.
Recovery of Vaginal Abnormalities in Cats
After any surgery, a follow-up appointment will be needed to assess the cat’s overall recovery. In instances where bacterial infection was present, the cat will be checked to ensure all infection is gone. If cancer is being treated, ongoing tests and appointments will be needed even after the cat is in remission.
Cats who have had their vagina restored to a natural anatomy may be used to breed, but care should be exercised in determining if breeding would be potentially genetically problematic. In cats who have been treated for vaginal infections but have not been spayed, fertility may drop significantly. In cats who have been spayed, often no issues will follow.