What is a caesarean section?
Medically known as a hysterotomy, a caesarean section (usually shortened to c-section) is the surgical removal of full-term unborn kittens from the female cat's uterus. This surgery is usually an emergency due to birthing difficulties.
Brachiocephalic types such as Persians and Exotics have a higher incidence of dystocia (difficult birth) than mesocephalic breeds (cats with medium proportioned heads).
What causes dystocia in cats?
Dystocia may be maternal or fetal and common causes include:
- Uterine prolapse
- Uterine torsion
- Uterine inertia - This may be primary in which contractions fail to establish properly or are weak, secondary (exhaustive) is the result of a long second stage labour resulting in uterine fatigue
- Uterine rupture
- Birth canal too narrow
- Fetal malformation
- Malpresentation (breech for example)
- Oversized fetus. This is often seen in small litters or one or two
- Excessive fetal head size (most often seen in brachycephalic breeds)
- Fetal death
What are the common signs that my cat is having difficulty giving birth?
- 20 minutes of intense labour without birth
- If the mother has been in labour, and possibly delivered one or more kittens, but labour has stopped
- If the mother appears to be in active labour, but no kittens are being delivered
- Gestation lasting longer than 68 days. I would recommend staying in close contact with your veterinarian before your cat is due
- If you see any dark or bright red discharge coming from the vagina
- Fever above 103F
At the veterinarian's office:
Your veterinarian will evaluate the cat and perform a digital vaginal palpitation to determine the size and the shape of the pelvis for abnormalities as well as to check for a kitten in the birth canal. He will obtain a medical history from you including previous pregnancies, dates of mating, when did labour commence In some instances, he may be able to gently remove the kitten. He may also try to administer oxytocin in an attempt to strengthen uterine contractions and attempt a normal vaginal birth. Oxytocin is a hormone which stimulates uterine contractions.
If it is determined the cat needs a c-section, he will perform some tests:
- Complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis to evaluate the overall health of your cat prior to anesthesia.
- X-Rays to look at the number, size and position of the fetuses.
How is a c-section performed on a cat?
Prior to surgery, your veterinarian will discuss the possibility of spaying (desexing) the queen while she us under anesthesia. Some breeders may not want this to happen, however, in some cases, it will be medically necessary to do so. It is important to be informed that a cat who has had a c-section is at greater risk of complications and repeat c-sections in future pregnancies.
Speed is of great importance in caesarean sections to save the lives of the mother and her kittens. Your veterinarian needs to be very careful with the type of anesthetic he gives the pregnant female as this can pass through the placenta and affect the unborn kittens.
- The area is shaved and prepared, an IV catheter will be inserted.
- She will be given a general anesthetic to put her to sleep.
- A midline incision will be made from the umbilicus to the pubis and the carefully exteriorised.
- A single incision is made through the uterine wall and the kittens are removed, the umbilical cord is clamped and then cut. Each kitten will be handed to a waiting nurse or assistant.
- The uterus will either be sutured back together and placed back into the cat's abdomen, or it will be removed along with the fallopian tubes and ovaries if the female is to be spayed.
- The female cat will be stitched up with internal stitches to avoid potentially hurting newborn kittens as they nurse.
What are the risks of a c-section in cats?
All surgery comes with risks and this includes c-sections. Some complications may include:
- Fetal death
- Maternal death
- Excessive bleeding
- Post surgery infection
- Blood clot
Your cat may be sent home with painkillers and antibiotics. Administer all medications as prescribed.
The queen and her kittens should be confined to a small, quiet room while she recuperates. Activity should be restricted at this time to avoid damage to the incision site. Most females with newborn kittens don't move far from their nest unless it is to eat, drink or go to the toilet.
Keep an eye out on the wound for redness, swelling and discharge, all of which could be an infection.
Please make sure your cat doesn't chew at the incision, she may have to wear an Elizabethan collar if this occurs.
If the cat wasn't spayed during the time of her c-section will have a bloody vaginal discharge (known as lochia) for a week after delivery of her kittens, this is perfectly normal. If the discharge becomes excessive or has a foul odour, seek veterinary attention immediately.
Keep a very close eye on the mother and her kittens until she has fully recovered from surgery. Offer her food and water regularly, it is better for her to eat small amounts of food more often during the recovery period.
Look out for any changes in the mother or her kittens such as lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting, ignoring or neglecting her kittens as well as excess vaginal discharge or an infected incision need to be checked out by the veterinarian. It is not uncommon for the cat to not have a bowel movement after delivery of her kittens, if she has not had one within three days of birth, please contact your veterinarian.
If your cat does lose her appetite, try to encourage her to eat with strong smelling foods such as tuna. Warm up food to body temperature to help release the smell. Hand feed her boiled and finely chopped chicken breast.