Pregnancy in Cats
Pregnancy in cats should be determined as early as possible following mating. Early diagnosis helps ensure proper care. Pregnancy diagnosis can be accomplished by the following methods:
- abdominal palpation of the uterus, individual fetuses, and fetal membranes from 20 to 30 days
- x-ray of the abdomen from about 40 days
- ultrasonic Doppler detection of placenta 1 circulation and fetal heartbeat from about the 4th week
- enlargement and pink color of the teats and mammary glands from about day 18
- ultrasound from day 18
The pregnant cat needs a well-balanced diet to promote fetal growth. Overfeeding and excessive weight gain should be avoided. Feeding recommendations of commercial cat food suppliers for pregnant and nursing queens should be followed. Advice and discretion should be followed before supplementation of vitamins, minerals, high proteins, or fats are used. Taurine deficient diets may result in poor fertility, fetal resorption, and small litter size.
Nonstrenuous daily exercise to maintain muscle tone is necessary for easy queening. Obesity and poor muscle tone can result in low conception rates and difficult queening.
Medication, vaccination, and worming should be avoided during pregnancy. A clean, warm, dry, secluded area with a large nesting box should be provided at least 10 days before queening. The enlarged abdomen may cause restricted physical activity near term. A few days prior to queening, the mammary gland enlarges further and milk is present. The excessive hair in longhaired breeds should be removed from around the teats and vulva prior to queening. If the vulvar area becomes soiled, it should be cleansed just prior to queening.
A veterinarian should carefully examine evidence of abnormal vulvar discharge, fetal resorption, abortion, premature kittens, stillborns, mummified fetuses, or weak kittens. Specimens of the vulvar discharge, blood samples, fetal or placental tissue, and dead kittens should be submitted to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory for examination. The queen and remaining kittens should be isolated from other cats in case a contagious agent is involved.
Feline viral rhinotracheitis, panleukopenia, toxoplasmosis, and bacterial agents can cause fetal loss. Feline leukemia virus and feline infectious peritonitis virus have also been associated with this syndrome. Diseases that primarily affect other body systems may secondarily affect the pregnant uterus.
Nesting may be exhibited 12 to 24 hours before queening and rectal temperature falls in the first stage of labor. Normal presentation of the fetuses can be forward or backward as they enter the birth canal. Thirty- to 60-minute intervals are frequently seen between the deliveries of 1 or 2 kittens. During this time, the queen removes the placenta and cord from the kitten and cleans and stimulates the kitten to breath and move. The queen ingests the placentas and cleanses the vulvar area. The kittens may be nursed before delivery of the next. Occasionally, there may be a 12- to 24-hour delay following the delivery of 2 or 3 kittens before the rest are born.
The first litter of a queen with one or two large kittens may be difficult and assistance may be needed. Healthy queens seldom have difficulty with delivery. Queens that are inbred, have nutritional deficiencies, or a disease may have poor uterine contractions (inertia) and require assistance. Trauma or a nutritional deficiency may result in a pelvic deformity causing difficult delivery. Surgical intervention or medication may be needed for difficult births.
The queen usually eats stillborn kittens and placentas. Cannibalism is seen usually in the highly nervous, first-time queens.
Postpartum hemorrhage, retained fetal membranes, dead kittens, and uterine inversion are uncommon. Oxytocin, a uterine contracting agent, may be used to control hemorrhage. Treatment of shock, systemic antibiotics, and abdominal surgery with possible removal of the reproductive tract may be needed following uterine prolapse. Brown vaginal discharge and enlarged segments of the uterine horns indicate a retained fetus or placenta. Medical or surgical removal is needed to correct this condition.
The vulva and surrounding areas should be checked daily for abnormal discharge. Bloody discharge usually occurs for 7 to 10 days post queening. Persistent discharge that is odorous or bloody indicates uterine infection or subinvolution of placental sites. A vaginal smear, culture, and hemogram is required for diagnosis.
Queens with postpartum problems may be listless and unable to nurse or care for their kittens. Immediate diagnosis, treatment, and supplemental care for the kittens are required. The queen and kittens may need antibiotic and supportive therapy. Antibiotic sensitivity tests for organisms cultured from vulvar discharges or mastitic milk are important. Separation of the queen and kittens depends on the severity of the condition, her ability to care for the kittens, and the contagiousness of her infection.
Maternal Care and Lactation
The queen usually remains continuously with her kittens for 24 to 48 hours. The kittens take about 2 mL to 3 mL of milk 3 times an hour. Kittens double their weight and open their eyes in 7 days. They are able to take 5 mL to 7 ml of milk at a feeding during the second week. At this time, the queen leaves the nest for several hours. In her absence, normal kittens sleep quietly. After feeding, the queen washes each kitten and consumes the urine and feces voided in response to grooming. The kittens explore and play at 3 weeks of age and the queen teaches them to urinate and defecate away from the nest. Lactation is supplemented by solid food beginning the 4th week and weaning is completed by the 7th or 8th week.
Queens with strong maternal instincts and good milk supply can foster orphaned kittens or allow kittens from previous litters to nurse. Orphaned kittens can be raised on commercial replacement diets (follow manufacturer's instructions for amount and frequency of feeding). They must be cleaned and stimulated for urine voiding and defecation with warm, wet cotton swabs following each feeding and a warm area must be provided to maintain body temperature. Daily weights should be recorded and a veterinarian should examine kittens that are not gaining daily or are losing weight.