Pet Vet: Spayed cat acts like she's in heat

March 17, 2014


Cameron from Modesto, Calif., has Alice, a 2-year-old cat, sharing her apartment. It seems that Alice has begun a strange behavior recently. She spends a significant amount of time rolling around on the carpet and vocalizing quite loudly.

She will also walk around the apartment with her hind end up in the air, again vocalizing loudly. Cameron admits that at first, the behavior was somewhat funny but it has now become annoying. She believes that cat is behaving as if she is "in heat," but since Alice was spayed when she was 5 months old, she deems that unlikely.

First, let’s define "in heat." This term refers to a time in the reproductive cycle of dogs and cats when the female is ready to be bred. The technical term used for this time is estrus. This is the time that their bodies are ready for pregnancy.

This cycling is controlled by hormone production affecting the ovaries, which produce the eggs that combine with the sperm to make the embryos that develop into puppies or kittens.

The term "spaying" refers to a surgical procedure to remove the ovaries and uterus, preventing the cycling of estrus — and pregnancy as well. We term this procedure ovariohysterectomy.

The behavior that Cameron describes is consistent with the behavior displayed by a female cat in estrus. But how can this be when Alice has already been spayed? One possible explanation is that within Alice’s body there is ovarian tissue that is not in its normal location.

When her ovaries and uterus were removed, this extra ovarian tissue, called ectopic ovarian tissue, was left behind. It could be almost anywhere inside Alice’s abdomen.

This ovarian tissue acts just as the ovaries do in secreting the hormones that bring about the behavior of estrus. She is not able to become pregnant because there is no functional egg production and the uterus is gone, but the behavior remains.

There is another possibility that some of the normal ovarian tissue was left behind from the spay surgery. This is unlikely, but if a tiny amount of ovary was left, it could be responsible for hormone production causing the estrus behavior.

Having proposed these possible causes for Alice’s behavior, how might we figure out what is going on? One method would be exploratory surgery to examine the area from where the ovaries were removed in the spay surgery. If leftover tissue is found, it can be removed, thus solving the problem.

If there is no leftover tissue found, the surgeon can search the abdomen for any ectopic ovarian tissue. This search is often fruitless, somewhat similar to the proverbial needle in the haystack analogy. However, if successful, the tissue can be removed and thus eliminate the behavior.

I think perhaps a better move before going to surgery would be to check Alice’s hormone levels during the time she is exhibiting this behavior. This is a simple test measuring the estrogen in the cat’s blood.

If there is no ovarian tissue within the body, there should be extremely low levels of estrogen in the blood. This test would eliminate the need for Alice to endure further surgery if the level was low.

If, however, the estrogen level was elevated, ovarian activity is confirmed. At that point, surgical intervention is warranted.

Obviously, a trip to see Alice’s veterinarian is in order. Make sure this visit coincides with the occurrence of the strange behavior so the blood testing is relevant.

 

 


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