6 Complications to Look Out For After Your Cat Gives Birth

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6 Complications to Look Out For After Your Cat Gives Birth

After giving birth to kittens, have you noticed that your cat seems sick, perhaps isn’t eating, appears too thin, or lacks the energy to take care of her newborns? While most cats give birth to normal, healthy kittens without any complications or assistance, sometimes a queen and her kittens need medical intervention. Continue reading to learn about normal post-birthing signs and which post-birthing complications indicate your cat may need veterinary care.

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Normal Post-Birthing Signs in Cats

Most people don’t see post-birthing vaginal discharge in their cats because they're fastidious about grooming themselves and keeping themselves clean. Normal vaginal discharge is greenish-black to brick red with no significant odor. The discharge becomes more red-brown and decreases in amount over 4-6 weeks and up to 12 weeks after giving birth.

Sometimes people get concerned because they don’t notice the newborn kittens urinating or having stools. Queens (another term for female cats) will clean and stimulate their kittens to urinate and have a bowel movement while licking them, ingesting the urine and stool in the process.

Types of Post-Birthing Complications in Cats

Here you can find a list and brief description of complications that can be seen after a cat has given birth:

1. Retention of Fetal Membranes

​Sometimes a queen won’t pass the final set of fetal membranes/tissue after birthing is completed. When this happens, the membranes will begin to break down and rot in her uterus. The queen often becomes restless and experiences discomfort in her belly area and won’t want to nurse, lay with, or take care of her kittens. She may eat very little or refuse food and water, and a brownish vaginal discharge may be evident. If you notice these signs, your cat requires immediate veterinary care. The vet may recommend diagnostic tests as well as appropriate treatment which may include antibiotics, pain medications, and hospitalization.

2. Metritis or Endometritis

​Metritis and endometritis are types of inflammation of the uterus. It usually happens within 3 days of giving birth in cats. Queens will be much sicker than with retention of fetal membranes. Signs include fever, completely ignoring her kittens, refusing food, and not being active. She may also vomit and drink more water than usual. There will be a foul-smelling, deep red wine or black-colored discharge evident from her vagina. She needs emergency veterinary care which will include a complete exam, diagnostic tests, supportive care including intravenous (IV) fluids, antibiotics, pain management, and more.

3. Mastitis

​Mastitis, meaning inflammation of the mammary glands, can occur during early lactation or nursing. Mastitis typically affects one mammary gland and results in a firm, hot, painful, and enlarged mammary gland. The cause may be simple congestion of the milk ducts, and application of gentle heat and massage will allow milk to come out of the teat orifice or opening. Gently milking the affected gland can quickly relieve the situation. If the mastitis is due to infection, the gland will be painful, swollen with an abnormally colored discharge from the nipple, and the cat will refuse food, be feverish, and inactive.

An abscess can also form, resulting in a purplish area of tissue with thick, foul-smelling discharge. Mastitis due to infection requires immediate veterinary treatment which will include a complete exam, diagnostic tests, supportive care including intravenous (IV) fluids, antibiotics, pain management, and more.

4. Eclampsia (Milk Fever)

​Eclampsia, also called milk fever or lactation tetany, can occur 3-5 weeks after giving birth to kittens. This happens due to a sudden drop in the amount of calcium circulating in the nursing queen’s bloodstream, related to the increased demands of milk production. Often, the cat is nursing a large litter of kittens.

Early signs of milk fever include restlessness, panting, muscle tremors, and incoordination. Without treatment, it can progress to tetanic (rigid, stiff-legged) muscular spasms, followed by convulsions (seizures) or coma. This is a life-threatening condition. If you suspect your cat is developing milk fever, seek veterinary care right away.

Treatment involves IV injections of calcium preparations with rapid reversal of the condition. The queen may need to be hospitalized with monitoring of her calcium levels until she is stable. Be sure to remove the kittens from the queen and support them with bottle feeding or wean them if they’re old enough.

For information on raising or bottle-feeding orphaned kittens, click on the following link:

How to Feed and Care for Newborn Kittens

Affected queens will often have a recurrence of milk fever with subsequent litters. Talk to your vet before deciding to continue breeding an affected queen due to the increased risk of recurrence.

5. Cesarean Section (C-section)

After a C-section surgery, monitor the queen closely for the first 2-3 days. Make sure she’s comfortable, eating, drinking, nursing, and taking care of the kittens as well as urinating and having normal stool. Monitor her incision for pain, heat, swelling, or discharge. Contact your vet if you notice any of these signs. Make sure she receives all medication prescribed by the vet, including antibiotics and pain medications.

6. Cannibalism

​Quietly observe and do not leave first-time mothers or nervous queens alone with their kittens until you’re sure she will not cannibalize or eat them. Use Feliway diffusers or spray to help calm nervous, anxious, or agitated queens.

Read more:

Understanding Cat Pregnancy and Birth

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your cat's pregnancy or another condition?

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Published: 12/24/2020
Last updated: 11/1/2021
Dr. Denise Michanowicz, Veterinarian

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