What is Retained Placenta?
A retained placenta is a very serious and life-threatening condition for a cat as a retained and unremoved placenta will begin to decompose within the cat’s uterus, causing a dangerous bacterial infection that will likely spread to the cat’s bloodstream and throughout the body. A cat that has been unable to pass a placenta must be treated by a veterinarian immediately.
As the fetuses develop within the uterus of the mother cat, often called a queen, each fetus is surrounded by an individual membranous sack that also contains the placenta. During a normal birthing process, the kittens usually emerge from the birth canal while still attached to the placenta, which the queen will remove and often eat instinctively. On occasion, however, kittens will be born without the placenta, which will pass through the birth canal after the kitten is born. If the kitten is not born with its placenta and the placenta does not follow soon after a kitten born without it, the placenta has been retained within the uterus.
Symptoms of Retained Placenta in Cats
There are many symptoms that can alert a pet owner to a retained placenta. The first, yet least reliable, clue is that the number of kittens that have been born and the number of placentas that have been passed do not match. This can be unreliable because it is not uncommon for a mother cat to eat one or more of the placentas. It is believed that cats do this instinctively to prevent smells that would attract predators. It is difficult to be certain regarding the number of placentas that have passed. Symptoms that should alert a pet owner to the possibility that a placenta may have been retained are as follows:
- Fast heart rate
- Appetite loss
- Swollen abdomen
- Odorous Lochia, a discharge from the vulva which is usually reddish brown in the first days after giving birth but may transition to green if an infection has set into the uterus.
- Dark red gums
- Kitten neglect
- Reduced milk production
- Bloody discharge for more than a week
- Bacterial infection of the uterus, usually caused by E. Coli
- Septic metritis, inflammation of the wall of the uterus
- Septic shock
Causes of Retained Placenta in Cats
Retained placentas are quite rare in cats. When retained placentas do occur in a cat, they often follow an abnormally difficult labor, referred to as dystocia. Dystocia can result if the queen was not healthy when she went into labor, if one or more kittens are in positions that make them difficult to birth, if one or more kittens are abnormally large, if one or more kittens are stillborn and difficult to birth, and if the number of kittens in the litter is unusually large. Any of these factors can result in one or more placentas being retained inside the uterus.
Diagnosis of Retained Placenta in Cats
If your cat has recently given birth and has begun to exhibit some or many of the symptoms listed above, it is imperative that you call your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency hospital immediately as your cat may be in grave danger. The following will likely occur when your cat is seen by the veterinarian.
- Your vet will conduct a thorough physical examination including listening to the heartbeat and taking your cat’s body temperature.
- The vet will likely begin by examining the vulva, observing and smelling the discharge.
- A urinalysis will be done to check for signs of infection.
- Blood tests will be done to determine if your cat has an infection that has spread to the bloodstream.
- An ultrasound may be administered in an attempt to locate a possible retained placenta.
- X-rays may be ordered in addition to or instead of an ultrasound to locate the retained placenta.
Treatment of Retained Placenta in Cats
Upon diagnosing your cat with a retained placenta, your veterinarian may first choose to administer an injection of oxytocin to stimulate contractions of the uterus in order to facilitate the passing of the retained placenta. Your cat will also likely receive intravenous fluids to combat dehydration, which is a risk after any birth but especially after a difficult birth. If the oxytocin does not cause your cat to pass the retained placenta, it may be necessary for the vet to perform a surgical procedure called a celiotomy, which is an incision in the abdomen through which the retained placenta can be removed from the uterus. Dependent upon how strong and widespread the infection is, it may be necessary for the vet to spay your cat, or remove the ovaries and uterus, to prevent further infection. Even if the reproductive organs do not need to be removed for emergency medical reasons your vet may encourage you to have your cat spayed during this procedure to prevent her from having to endure the possibility of another difficult and dangerous labor in the future.
Recovery of Retained Placenta in Cats
Your cat’s prognosis is largely dependent upon how quickly your cat received veterinary treatment after retaining a placenta and which treatment, whether medical or surgical, your cat required. If you and your veterinarian discovered the retained placenta before it began to decompose and the placenta then passed after a dose of oxytocin, your cat will likely not have any additional recovery than that which is natural after giving birth. If your cat developed an infection before oxytocin was effective, your cat may be on antibiotics for several days and will likely be lethargic as she rests. A queen that has had a celiotomy will need several days to more than a week to heal from the surgery and may require antibiotics and pain medication. Your veterinarian will advise you as to whether it is safe for the mother to nurse the kittens while she is on medication or if you will need to feed the kittens with a milk replacement that can often be purchased through your vet’s office or at a pet store. The queen and her kittens will likely need to be re-examined by the veterinarian in the days or weeks following to ensure that your cat has healed and that the infection has subsided.
Retained Placenta Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat Luna just gave birth a week ago and lost all of the kittens. About 2 days ago she started acting weird, meloncholy,lithargic,she's randomly more affectionate,and other times she just hides. She hasn't been eating or drinking much, but she has large amounts of drool. There is also red irratation around her nipple and on the opening red that looks like blood. She keeps licking her vaginal area and it looks like there is discharge. Luna's heart rate is more rapid then normal and I'm not sure what to do or if I should seek medical attention. Thank you!
Add a comment to Luna's experience
Was this experience helpful?
My cat had kittens almost 48 hours ago she delivered from 4am to 6am and she expelled a placenta about 3 hours ago should I be worried or take her in to a hospital. She seems fine, she's feeding her kittens and cleaning them but she was panting a little
Generally the placenta follows with or shortly after each kitten. If there has been some discharge or membranes expelled two days after queening there may be a risk of infection from the retained placenta. Symptoms to look out for are fever, fetid discharge, swollen abdomen, loss of appetite, increased heart rate etc… If you have any concerns visit your Veterinarian for an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
My cat had th same thing last kitten 3 hours ago it was hanging out by its core for almost an hour she bit it off anyways bc she kept trying to move and the kitten was stuck to her.. I’m worried the placenta is in there still she had a little bit of bloody discharge and is kind of showing signs of pushing I’m going to keep watching her and look out for these symptoms ..how long should I wait though in this kind of circumstance to expect her to expel the placenta? She’s an experienced mother I’ve seen her chew the cord before with kitten attached never thought much of it usually she goes off and hides to have kittens and I only get a sneak peak so maybe I am worrying too much? Just wait and see? She’s nursing doesn’t seem too distressed and is eating and drinking but it’s just like I can tell she needs to get it out idk 😢
My cat gave birth a week ago. She has lost most of her hair and she walks with her back arched and her legs far apart. Any clue of what is wrong with her?
My cat stopped contractions at least 10 hours ago but the last kitten is still attached via the cord to the placenta which is still inside her. Should I cut the cord and wait if still no expulsion then call the vet?
Add a comment to Trixie's experience
Was this experience helpful?