What is Postpartum Low Blood Calcium?
Eclampsia, which also goes by the name milk fever, refers to a sudden drop in blood calcium levels. This condition can be diagnosed by observing the cat’s symptoms or taking a blood test. If left untreated, eclampsia can be fatal, so it is essential that you seek medical attention right away.
Postpartum low blood calcium, or eclampsia, often occurs in nursing cats when kittens are between the ages of one and five weeks. Cats develop eclampsia when their bodies are not producing enough calcium to make up for the calcium lost through nursing. Although it is most prevalent in nursing cats, pregnant cats can also experience this dangerous health condition.
Symptoms of Postpartum Low Blood Calcium in Cats
Eclampsia is most common after a cat has given birth, but it can begin during the pregnancy as well. If you spot any symptoms of postpartum low blood calcium, you should immediately stop the kittens from nursing and seek medical attention. Symptoms include:
- Stiff limbs
- Inability to stand or walk
- Heavy breathing or panting
Causes of Postpartum Low Blood Calcium in Cats
A cat’s blood calcium level will drop when she is losing more calcium through the milk than her body is able to produce; when the body cannot keep up with the demand for calcium. Many cat owners believe giving a pregnant cat calcium supplements will help reduce the risk of eclampsia, however, that is not always the case. If you over-supplement your cat during pregnancy, you may slow down the production of the parathyroid hormone, which helps regulate the storage and mobility of calcium in the cat’s body. If your cat is pregnant, speak with a veterinarian to develop a balanced diet that won’t put your cat at risk of eclampsia.
Your cat’s low blood calcium risk may also increase if she has a large litter or is overly attentive to her kittens. This is because the more she nurses, the more calcium-rich milk is produced, leaving less calcium behind.
Diagnosis of Postpartum Low Blood Calcium in Cats
Bring your cat to a vet immediately if you notice any of the symptoms of postpartum low blood calcium. Provide the vet with information on your cat’s diet, nursing schedule, and any supplements she may be taking. Let the vet know what symptoms you have witnessed and when they began, even if they are not present at the time.
Although most vets will be able to tell it’s eclampsia based on the symptoms alone, a serum chemical test will also be performed to confirm this diagnosis. This is performed by taking a blood sample and separating it into two layers: the cell layer and the serum layer.
A serum chemistry profile will reveal your cat’s calcium levels, which should be higher than 7 mg/dL. If the blood calcium is below this level, an eclampsia diagnosis is confirmed. This test will help the vet eliminate any other possible causes, including low blood sugar and electrolyte imbalances.
Treatment of Postpartum Low Blood Calcium in Cats
If your cat has been diagnosed with postpartum low blood calcium, a vet will immediately administer an IV containing a calcium supplementation. The calcium will enter your cat’s body slowly over a long period of time to avoid calcium toxicity. During this time, the cat will be hooked up to a monitor so the vet can look for any heart rhythm irregularities that may occur as a side effect of the fluctuation in calcium levels. If no monitors are available in your veterinarian’s office, the doctor will have to listen to the heartbeat with the help of a stethoscope.
If your cat has experienced seizures as a result of postpartum low blood calcium, the vet may administer anti-seizure medication as well to alleviate this symptom. The vet may also need to administer medication or apply cool ice packs to lower the cat’s body temperature if she has a high fever.
Recovery of Postpartum Low Blood Calcium in Cats
Symptoms may begin to immediately disappear once the IV is administered, and a full recovery is usually expected when medical attention is sought promptly.
The vet may recommend that your cat takes oral calcium supplements following the IV treatment. Your kittens may need to be fed with a milk replacement product if your cat has suffered from eclampsia. You should always speak to a vet before allowing the kittens to begin nursing again. If your cat does return to nursing, you will need to bring her in for follow-up visits with the vet to monitor her blood calcium levels and ensure they don’t dip to dangerous levels.
Cats that have had eclampsia once are at a greater risk of developing it again during their next pregnancy. If your cat becomes pregnant again, be sure to frequently check in with your veterinarian. Your vet may be able to recommend preventative steps you can take, such as following a balanced diet, which could reduce your cat’s risk of developing eclampsia again.