What is Early Contractions and Labor?
While a kitten born on or after the 61st day of gestation has good survival odds, contractions and labor before then can endanger both the kitten and its mother.
Pregnancy in cats usually goes smoothly, but premature contractions and labor do happen from time to time. In an ideal situation, a cat would give birth after 63 days of pregnancy. However, factors ranging from stress to bacterial infections can cause a pregnant cat to go into labor too early.
Symptoms of Early Contractions and Labor in Cats
Before a cat fully goes into labor, there are a few tell-tale signs. If a cat is showing these signs before the 61st day of pregnancy, it is likely that the cat is going into premature labor:
- Bloody vaginal discharge
- Lack of appetite
- Loud and frequent vocalizing
- Unexplained affection
Causes of Early Contractions and Labor in Cats
The causes of early labor in cats are particularly varied, but can be put into two different categories: stress-related and medical.
- Bacterial or viral infections
- Genetic disorders
- Ovarian cysts
- Death of a fetus
- Hormonal imbalances, specifically a sudden drop in progesterone
- Lyme disease
- Loud noises
- Emotional disturbances like screaming or fighting owners
- Excessively cold temperatures
- A recent move
- Receiving vaccinations while pregnant
Diagnosis of Early Contractions and Labor in Cats
If a cat starts displaying symptoms of early contractions, it is vital that it is brought to a veterinarian as soon as possible. The veterinarian will require a complete medical history of the cat, as well as some information regarding the pregnancy. This includes things like the cat's general health before and during the pregnancy, information about the symptoms being displayed and any stressful incidents that could have contributed to premature labor.
Once the veterinarian has this information, they will begin a physical examination of the cat, while being careful not to cause further stress. Depending upon the results of the physical examination, the veterinarian may need to run any of the following tests: a blood chemical profile, an electrolyte panel or urinalysis.
The blood profile will reveal any issues with progesterone levels, while the urinalysis will show any disorders or diseases that may be causing the early labor. After these tests have been performed, the veterinarian will perform an ultrasound to see if fetal death or abnormal positioning of the fetus could be causing the early labor.
If the kittens are stillborn or die shortly after birth, they may need to be necropsied by the veterinarian to identify the cause of death. This will help determine if the issue could affect the cat later in life as well as ensure the viability of any future pregnancies.
Treatment of Early Contractions and Labor in Cats
At this stage, the cat will most likely require medical treatment either for the underlying disease causing the problem or the stillborn kittens.
Stillborn Kittens: Stillborn kittens will typically need to be surgically removed. The procedure is quite low-risk for the cat, but if other undamaged fetuses are still in the womb, it may prove dangerous for them.
Other Treatments: Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to stop early labor once it has started. The veterinarian will likely give the cat and any surviving kittens medical attention for any complications, but may not be able to halt the process of the early labor.
Recovery of Early Contractions and Labor in Cats
After the delivery, it is important to keep the cat isolated from other animals for a period of three weeks, with exceptions being made for any surviving kittens, of course. Even animals that live in the home and that the cat knows should be kept at a distance, as the cat will need time to recover from going through labor. As much as possible, the cat should be kept in a warm and quiet room by itself.
After a cat has gone through early labor, it is important to bring it in for a checkup after the three week period. At this point, the cat should be returning to normal, and it can be a sign of other diseases if the cat is still weak or sick after the first three weeks.
While a cat is nursing its kittens, it is important not to give it any medication without approval from a veterinarian. Many medications can affect the cat's milk and be harmful to kittens.
Early Contractions and Labor Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
What to look for if early labour my cat got out 4 1/2 weeks ago and she did not want anyone to touch her but this morning she is wanting to be with me so what is going on her belly is getting bigger and she has had morning sickness and the last 3 weeks she is eating a lot more. I don't know what to do
Gestation period in cats is around 64 to 67 days (varies depending on the literature); typical signs of labor are nesting, milk production, behaviour changes etc… One concern may be the start of pyometra which may occur after two to eight weeks post heat; if you have concerns, visit your Veterinarian to check her over to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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