dystocia | preventing dystocia | pseudopregnancy | abortion | queening | pre-queening supplies
Introduction:The following information will help owners of female cats give proper aid to mother and kittens during delivery. This discussion also includes information on maintaining the proper health and nutrition of the mother and kittens before, during, and after birth.
Breeding a Cat:
Cats are "long day" breeders. This means that they usually cycle between February and September when the days are longer. Cats usually cycle every 2-3 weeks during this time if they are not bred. It is recommended prior to breeding, that the queen be scheduled for routine examinations by a veterinarian. Continued examinations are recommended once during each trimester, post-queening, and 2-4 weeks into lactation. Important topics such as body condition score, nutrition, pregnancy detection, fetal health assessment and count, dystocia risk assessment, kitten health and well-being, lactation, and recovery can all be addressed during these visits. Many problems and disappointments can be avoided by using the services of a trained professional during the pregnancy, queening, and lactation period. See preventing dystocia below for additional suggestions.
Gestation: The average gestation time for cats is 56 to 67 days. The due date should be calculated to be between 63 days from the first breeding and 65 days after the last breeding.
Pregnancy is divided into trimesters. The majority of maternal weight gain during pregnancy occurs during the second and third trimesters. Nutritional needs increase during the third trimester and continue throughout lactation.
Detection of Pregnancy: This can be accomplished through a variety of procedures. The most simple method of pregnancy detection is through abdominal palpation by a trained professional. The optimal time for pregnancy detection by palpation is approximately 19 to 28 days after breeding. Palpation cannot accurately assess fetal health or number, and its success is dependent on the size and temperament of the female. Abdominal ultrasound is the most accurate method of pregnancy detection before the third trimester. Ultrasound can detect the first evidence of pregnancy as early as 20-25 days after breeding and can be used as an assessment of fetal health or stress. Accurate fetal counts are difficult in the larger litters, however. Abdominal radiographs taken well into the third trimester are the most accurate method of estimating litter size, and can detect some problems such as fetal death or oversized kittens.
Nutrition: Nutritional requirements of the female increase during gestation and lactation, especially during the third trimester of pregnancy and the first 4 weeks of lactation. Nutritional requirements are greater for females with larger litters. Environmental temperature, activity of the queen, and other factors which affect metabolism also determine the nutritional requirements during pregnancy and lactation. Feeding a high-quality diet during this critical time is probably the most important decision about nutrition the owner can make.
It has been recommended that the diet for females in the last 4 weeks of gestation and first 4 weeks of lactation should contain at least 35% protein and 17% fat on a dry-matter basis (see table on page A575).
Supplementation with a quality multiple vitamin-mineral product during pregnancy and lactation, given according to label instructions, is generally considered safe. Supplementation is not as critical as providing a high quality diet which meets the above criteria.
This high quality diet should be introduced gradually during midpregnancy and continued through the end of lactation. With the help of a veterinarian, daily intake should be initially calculated based on weight, then adjusted based on individual variation and caloric needs. The daily intake is generally divided into two daily feedings. After queening (giving birth), the food intake should be accelerated by increasing meal size and frequency. Water may be added and food may be warmed to enhance taste. A quality multiple vitamin-mineral supplement may be given during this period. It is highly recommended that the owner consult with a veterinarian regarding the nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating cats. See page A575 for additional information on nutrition.
Parturition (delivery) - stages of labor:
Problems associated with pregnancy and queening:
- Observation of active, visible straining for 2 hours without producing a kitten.
- Presence of fetal membranes in the birth canal for longer than 45 minutes without delivery.
- Observation of a female in second-stage labor for more than 4 hours, experiencing weakness, poor contractions, and failure to deliver kittens.
- Failure to deliver all kittens within 36 hours of starting second-stage labor.
- Observation of depression and lethargy in the mother.
- Observation of the female biting at her vulva and/or hind end with possible attempts to urinate frequently.
- Observation of a foul smelling, green/white discharge from the vulva, without the production of kittens.
- Failure of labor to begin after 68 days of gestation.
- Passage of more than 3 hours between kittens without signs of labor.
Note: If disturbed, some cats will prolong the time between kittens from 6-12 hours. Taking up to 36 hours to deliver all the kittens can be a normal occurrence.
Treatment: Once it has been determined that a female is experiencing dystocia, the following may be used by a veterinarian to correct the problem:
- Manual attempts to remove the fetus(es) - This can often be accomplished if a kitten has entered the birth canal and no obstructions exist that will prevent the kitten from exiting. Lubrication of the birth canal and traction on the kitten, while putting pressure on the abdomen, may be sufficient to correct the problem.
- Episiotomy - Occasionally, the vulvar opening will be too small to allow the passage of kittens. In these cases, an incision known as an episiotomy may be performed to widen the opening and allow the delivery of kittens.
- Drug and hormonal assistance - Some causes of dystocia include low blood calcium or sugar levels, and fatigue of the muscles of the uterus. Administration of calcium, dextrose (sugar), or oxytocin (a natural hormone which stimulates contractions of the uterus) may be used to treat these situations.
- Cesarean section - If all else fails, or if it is determined that waiting for more conservative therapy to work may endanger the life of the mother and/or her unborn kittens, a cesarean section is performed as a treatment for dystocia. A cesarean section is the surgical removal of all kittens from the uterus while the mother is under general anesthesia. Ovariohysterectomy (spaying) may be performed at the same time if necessary or desired.
Preventing Dystocia: The following are a few suggestions that may help prevent or predict potential dystocia:
- Pre-breeding examination: It is recommended that any potential breeding female be taken to a veterinarian for an extended evaluation. During this examination the veterinarian may be able to detect any abnormalities in the outer birth canal or other problems with the overall health of the mother. Diagnostic work such as a CBC, blood chemistry profile, and radiographs may be performed.
- Proper nutrition: Good nutrition before breeding to ensure that the female is physically prepared to support the growth of a litter is important in helping to avoid problems. Undernourishment can contribute to infertility or can produce kittens with low birthweights. Obesity of the mother causes an increased risk for dystocia.
- Routine pregnancy examinations: At least one checkup per trimester is recommended. This entails a visit to the veterinarian every 3 weeks during pregnancy. For some patients, a brief examination, weight check, and discussion of nutrition may be all that is necessary for the first two visits. Other patients who may be experiencing difficulty or are determined to be more at risk may require other procedures to be performed, such as bloodwork and/or ultrasound. For the last visit, an abdominal ultrasound or radiograph is recommended to observe the fetal development and, if possible, count the number of kittens present. Knowing beforehand the number of kittens to be born can aid in detection of dystocia.
Queening Ė Care for the mother and newborn kittens:
Queening Box Equipment:
Kitten Box for after Kittens are Born: