Premature Labor in Cats
There are many conditions that can cause a pregnant cat, or queen, to experience premature contractions leading to preterm delivery of kittens. Bacterial infections, viral infections, death of one or more fetuses, ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalances, injury, malnutrition, a change in environment/moving, and basically any kind of stress that can send a cat into mental and physical distress can lead to early labor. In some cases, a cat may be genetically predisposed to preterm labor.
Preterm delivery in cats is defined by a birth that occurs before the ideal 63 days of gestation. Generally, kittens born at 61 days of gestation, or later, have a high chance for survival.
Symptoms and Types
- Delivery before 61 days in cats
- Bloody discharge or tissue
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive vocalizing
- Cat may hide away
- May seek more attention than usual, show more affection than usual
- Bacterial infection
- Lyme disease
- Viral infection
- Hormonal imbalance
- Sudden drop in progesterone suspected
- Low thyroid levels in older females
- Non-infectious uterine or vaginal disease
- Ovarian cysts
- Emotional disturbances in household: fights, screaming
- Moving to new location
- Cold temperatures
- Receiving vaccinations while pregnant (especially those for distemper and hepatitis)
- Cat (breed) shows
- Loud noise
If you find that your cat is experiencing early labor you will want to consult with your veterinarian. You will need to begin by giving your veterinarian a thorough history of your cat's health before and during pregnancy, her onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have brought this condition on. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your cat, while being careful not to bring on any further undue stress. Standard laboratory tests may include a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis to make sure that there are no underlying diseases that are causing the premature labor symptoms. The blood tests will show whether your cat's progesterone levels are abnormally low.
Ultrasound imaging will be performed to diagnose fetal death or abnormal position of fetuses, which may cause a difficult delivery. However, an ultrasound can also give your veterinarian a visual on the fetal heartbeats along with more fetal detail. If the kittens are stillborn, or if they die shortly after birth, they should be necropsied by your veterinarian to determine the cause of death.
If your cat is going into labor early, immediately contact your veterinarian or call the nearest emergency veterinarian for guidance. Your cat will most probably require medical treatment, either for an illness or to remove stillborn fetuses.
Living and Management
If your cat is pregnant you should not expose your cat to other animals in the three weeks before delivery and in the three weeks after giving birth. Even animals that have been living in your own house in close proximity with your cat should be segregated from your cat during this vulnerable time. As much as possible, keep your cat isolated in a warm, quiet room, where she can create a nesting area for herself and her kittens.
Some cats feel the need to hide in a closet or secluded spot, while others have no problems giving birth out in the open. If you can, provide both options to your cat. Do not give your cat any medications during pregnancy without first consulting with your veterinarian. This includes flea medications and vaccinations. If your veterinarian is treating your cat for anything, make sure to tell the doctor that your cat is pregnant. For example, you may allow your veterinarian to deworm your cat while it is pregnant, as long as you inform your veterinarian about the pregnancy.
Do not board your cat or otherwise move it during pregnancy unless you have no other option.
If your cat has bloody vaginal discharge while still preterm, call your veterinarian for advice immediately. You may want to consider taking your cat to the veterinarian for a pregnancy check-up at 30 days of pregnancy to confirm the pregnancy is progressing as it should.
Most of the same precautions regarding medicines and vaccination hold true for the time following birth, while your cat is nursing her kittens. Always consult with your veterinarian before giving your cat anything that might make its way into her bloodstream and milk.