Cat Care

When to Intervene or Call a Vet

Cat Care > Cat Breeding > When to Intervene or Call a Vet

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In the majority of births the queen cat manages perfectly well on her own. If it is evident that all is proceeding smoothly, she should be left in peace but kept under unobtrusive observation, or given gentle reassurance if this seems to be helpful. There are occasions, however, when it may be necessary to give some assistance or to call for expert veterinary help. An owner should intervene in the following circumstances:

  1. The kitten is in one of the two common birth positions and is partly delivered but is stuck and is not being pushed out by subsequent contractions. The person should wash his or her hands thoroughly and then gently grasp the exposed part of the kitten through a layer of clean towel. The body should be pushed back a little (about one centimeter) and then turned slightly. With the next contraction, the kitten should then be pulled gently outwards. Rather than one straight movement, it may help to pull a little to one side and then to the other with each contraction, taking care not to exert undue force.

  2. The kitten is born still enclosed in its fluid-filled amniotic membrane and the cat fails to bite through this and the umbilical cord. The person should wash his or her hands thoroughly before puncturing the membrane with fingers or a sterile pair of scissors, close to the kitten's mouth to enable it to breathe. The membranes should be gently pulled from the body and removed. The umbilical cord should be tied with sterile thread about five centimeters from the kitten's body and then cut on the outer side of the knot. The kitten should then be rubbed dry with a towel, and this should stimulate breathing if this has not happened already. Particular attention should be paid to the area around the nose and mouth in order to remove any membrane or fluid. The kitten may also be swung gently up and down while being safely held enclosed by the hands as this helps to clear the respiratory passages.

  3. A kitten is born apparently lifeless and fails to start breathing. If the licking of the mother cat has failed to stimulate the kitten to breathe there is probably little that can be done. As a last resort, the kitten can be wrapped in a towel and swung gently up and down, while held in the hands, to remove any fluid that might be hindering breathing. The person may then gently blow into the kitten's nostrils in a final attempt to encourage it to breathe. A revived kitten should immediately be returned to its mother.
Emergency veterinary assistance must be obtained if any of the following circumstances arise:
  1. The queen cat has been straining and having powerful contractions for an hour without any sign of a kitten appearing. In this case it is likely that a kitten is lying in an awkward, transverse position and has become stuck in the birth canal or a kitten may be abnormal or deformed or simply too large. Occasionally, two kittens may have started to descend the birth canal together and become stuck. Sometimes a kitten may become stuck because of an undiagnosed problem in the mother cat, usually an abnormality of the pelvis.

  2. Labor has started normally and one or two kittens may already have been born when contractions become weaker and possibly stop altogether before the remainder are delivered. This conditions is known as 'uterine inertia', and an injection to restart contractions may be required or the kittens may need to be delivered by Caesarean section.

  3. A kitten is stuck partly inside and partly outside the mother's body and the owner's attempt to dislodge it has failed.

    In all three circumstances, a likely outcome is that the kittens will need to be delivered by emergency Caesarean section carried out under a general anaesthetic. The veterinary surgeon may suggest that the cat is immediately brought to the premises so that the operation can be carried out under optimum conditions.

  4. There is any suspicion that a placenta has not been expelled. It is far better for this to be diagnosed early and for appropriate action to be taken as there is a considerable risk of a serious infection arising. Treatment may involve giving drugs, including antibiotics, and surgery.
Veterinary advice and attention is advisable if any assistance has been necessary during the birth, particularly if there are any worries about the health of the kittens. Sometimes kittens are born with congenital abnormalities that make it unlikely that they will survive. A kitten that cries a lot and seems unable to suckle may have such a condition, and it is kinder to have it humanely put to sleep.

The mother cat should be observed closely in the period following birth to make sure that she is well. If she seems at all listless, is uninterested in her kittens or in food and is generally off color, then she should be seen by a veterinary surgeon as soon as possible. If there is any sign of a foul-smelling or excessive vaginal discharge either before or after birth then this is indicative of an infection that must be treated immediately. Before birth, a possible cause is a foetus that has died and started to deteriorate within the uterus. Following birth, a likely cause is either a retained dead foetus or a placenta that has not been expelled. These conditions threaten the life of the mother cat and must be treated as a matter of urgency. The cat is likely to need a course of antibiotics and may require surgery. A slight, red-stained discharge from the vagina is quite normal in a queen cat for about two to three weeks after birth, and she will clean this away herself. As long as it does not smell and is not excessive, there is no cause for concern. If, however, at any time during pregnancy or after birth there is actual bleeding, the cat should receive immediate veterinary attention.