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Eclampsia in Cats

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Eclampsia is the sudden onset of clinical signs associated with low blood calcium levels (hypocalcemia) that occur in lactating (nursing) queens. It is caused by loss of calcium in the milk and is often combined with poor dietary calcium intake. This condition is different from eclampsia in women, which is related to blood pressure abnormalities prior to birth.

Eclampsia is uncommon in the cat and can have very different clinical signs than in the dog.

Predisposing Factors

  • Poor nutrition during the pregnancy or during the period of lactation
  • Inability of the cat to take in adequate amounts of food and calcium due to other diseases or problems
  • Highest incidence with the first litter
  • Seen most commonly two to three weeks after-birth, although can be seen as late as six weeks after giving birth

    What to Watch For

  • Restlessness, nervousness
  • Panting
  • Stiffness, weakness, inability to rise
  • Muscle tremors or rigidity
  • Convulsions
  • High temperature
  • Rapid respiratory rate

    Diagnosis

    It is important to note that weakness, collapse and high body temperature may be the only signs exhibited by cats with eclampsia and the disease can be easy to miss. The history and clinical signs may create a suspicion of eclampsia. A biochemical profile confirms hypocalcemia. Total serum calcium is usually less than 7 mg/dl. Low blood sugar may also be noted (hypoglycemia). Rapid response to treatment with intravenous calcium helps to confirm the diagnosis.

    Treatment

    Cats with eclampsia usually require immediate emergency care. The definitive treatment involves returning blood calcium levels to normal and decreasing calcium loss from the body, which may include weaning and hand feeding the kittens. Treatment may include:

  • Intravenous calcium (calcium gluconate) given very slowly
  • An oral or dextrose solution to raise the blood sugar
  • Anti-seizure drugs (e.g. Valium®) if seizures are unresponsive to calcium or dextrose
  • Cooling of patients with severely elevated body temperatures
  • Removal and hand raising of all kittens
  • Oral calcium supplementation when the cat is stable
  • Oral vitamin D supplementation to help increase the absorption of calcium in the intestines

    Home Care

  • Administer all treatment and medication as prescribed by your veterinarian.
  • Unless told otherwise, do not allow newborns to nurse after an episode of eclampsia.
  • Follow your veterinarian's recommendations regarding feeding the newborn kittens.
  • Return to your veterinarian to have calcium levels monitored as prescribed.

    Preventative Care

    The best way to prevent eclampsia is to feed the pregnant queen a well-balanced, good quality food during pregnancy and to provide adequate nutrition during the nursing period. Calcium supplementation during the pregnancy should be avoided. Supplementation of the queen with calcium may be helpful once the kittens are delivered and are beginning to nurse. Supplemental feeding of the kittens may also be beneficial, especially for large litters.

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