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Dystocia in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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The act of delivering kittens, or queening, is usually a natural process for cats, but there are occasions when normal birth is difficult or even impossible. Dystocia, or difficult or abnormal birth, is a common problem in veterinary medicine. If your cat is about to make you the proud owner of a litter of kittens, you should acquaint yourself with the normal birth process. Otherwise, it will be difficult to determine when and if there is a problem.

Feline labor occurs in two stages. Stage I lasts 6 to 12 hours; your cat will exhibit nesting behavior and her temperature will drop. She will be having contractions, although you won't be able to see them. What you may see is that she is restless and may be panting. During Stage II, the fetuses will begin to move through the birth canal. Your cat will experience obvious straining and involuntary contraction of the abdominal muscles.

If you suspect that the mother-to-be is not progressing through labor as expected, it is important that you call your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency facility.

When To Call Your Veterinarian

You should call your veterinarian for assistance in the following instances:

  • Your cat has been pregnant for over 70 days.
  • Stage I labor has gone on for 24 hours without producing a kitten.
  • Steady strong contractions have continued for over 1 hour without producing a kitten.
  • Prolonged resting phase continues over 4 hours when there are more kittens to be delivered.
  • There is a foul smelling vaginal discharge.
  • Mother-to-be has excessive vomiting or is extremely lethargic.

    Causes of Dystocia

    Causes of delivery problems are divided into those problems associated with the mother and those that are associated with the babies.

    Maternal Causes

  • Sometimes difficult birth is the result of problems with the shape and size of the pelvic canal. If the pelvis is narrow, either because the mother was born that way or because of a previous fractured pelvis, delivering babies may be difficult.

  • Uterine inertia can also cause dystocia. The uterus is no longer able to contract and push the babies through the vaginal canal. It can occur at any stage of labor and may be associated with uterine exhaustion.

    Kitten Causes

  • Size of the kittens. The size of the kittens can cause dystocia. If the kitten is too large, it will not fit in the birth canal.

  • Position. Kittens are normally born either head first or rear legs first. Kittens may be in a position that won't allow easy passage.

  • Birth defects. Defects that result in enlargement of certain body parts can make birth difficult. Death of the babies can result in abnormal positioning and can affect uterine contractions.

    Diagnosing Dystocia

    Determining when to intervene in a pregnancy is based on your description of how labor has been progressing. But your veterinarian will also want to examine your cat to determine the cause of the dystocia and the appropriate treatment.

    First your veterinarian will do a physical examination, including a vaginal exam, to determine whether the kittens can move through the birth canal. An x-ray to determine the size, shape and number of kittens may also be necessary. This x-ray is not harmful to the mother or babies.

    Treatment

    If your veterinarian feels the kittens can move through the birth canal, there are a variety of medications available to assist labor.

  • If the mother-to-be is nervous, your veterinarian can administer sedatives such as acepromazine.

  • If uterine inertia is suspected, oxytocin is commonly given to stimulate contractions of the uterus.

  • After prolonged labor, the mother may have low blood sugar or low blood calcium. In this case, your veterinarian will give calcium and dextrose injections can help strengthen uterine contractions.

    If easy passage is not possible, or if medical treatment is not effective, your veterinarian will deliver the kittens by cesarean section. After surgical delivery, the mother can still nurse and care for her newborns.

    Home Care

    If your cat is experiencing dystocia, there is little you can do to help. Keep the mother-to-be in a quiet area with no distractions and call your veterinarian. Monitor labor carefully to detect any abnormalities. If you should find a baby stuck in the canal, apply steady gentle traction to pull the baby out. If there is any question about the progression of labor, contact your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency facility.

    Preventative Care

    There is little that can be done to prevent dystocia. Detecting problems early and getting prompt veterinary assistance will give you and the mother the best chance of delivering live healthy babies.

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