2014 | Queening | Dr.Andrea Münnich

Disturbed delivery and physiological issues can happen when your queen is giving birth.

How do you recognise the signs of a disturbed delivery or physiological issues during birth? What are the risks and the diagnosis that can be made?

In this article, Dr.Andrea Münnich gives you a comprehensive overview of parturition and tips to prevent possible dystocia.

Physiological and disturbed delivery

The average length of pregnancy in cats is 65 days, and can vary between 61 and 72 days.  Unlike in dogs, it is actually quite difficult to detect imminent birth by watching for milk in the mammary glands and for a drop in temperature. In general terms, a queen may drop one degree in body temperature 12-24 hours prior to birth. However, despite twice daily temperature measurements, this is often an unreliable indicator and may cause stress on the queen.

There are three main stages of labour. In most cases, the first stage often goes unnoticed although you may notice some behavioural changes. This first stage may last as long as 24 hours. But, it isn’t until stages two and three that contractions really begin and kittens will be delivered. The three stages of labour are summarised below:

First-Stage Labour

  • Clinically unspectacular
  • Dilatation of the cervix
  • Uterus starts to contract (although these are not generally visible)
  • Clear mucous discharge from the vulva.

Second-Stage Labour (Expulsion Stage)

  • Abdominal and uterine contractions
  • Delivery of kittens  and placentas occur in variable order and over variable lengths of time
  • There may be several hours between kittens.

Third-Stage Labour

  • Expulsion of last foetal membranes.

There are some exceptions. It is possible for parturition to last up to three days with healthy kittens being delivered. The average length of parturition lasts 16.1 (+/- 14.3) hours (the range is 4-42 hours; Root et al. 1995).

Signs of Dystocia (Problems During the Parturition)

A dystocia will be suspected in cases of:
  • A strong and persistent labour for more than 40 minutes without expulsion of a foetus
  • Weak and infrequent contractions with unproductive labour lasting for 2-3 hours
  • More than four hours after the expulsion of a kitten, during stage two labour (exceptions - empty, or large interval)
  • Visible abnormal position or posture of the foetuses (X-ray, ultrasound)
  • Obvious signs of illness/disease in the queen.
There are a number of different causes that may result in a dystocia. Certainly, any factor affecting the queen can contribute to dystocia including:   
  1. Foetal causes
    • Foetus size is disproportionate to maternal pelvic canal size  ( e.g. Siamese twins, hydrocephalus)
    • Foetal malposition (e.g.  breech position with neck or legs folded backwards )
    • Foetal death.
  2. Maternal causes
    • Narrow birth canal (e.g. old pelvic fracture, obesity)
    • Uterine inertia.
  3. Combination of both foetal and maternal conditions leading to dystocia
Identifying a dystocia can be challenging but attempts should be made to identify the cause.  Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination but X-rays, ultrasound and even Doppler readings may be required to assess the extent of the dystocia and the health of the foetuses.

With the identification of the cause of the dystocia, correction may be possible using manual traction/manipulation, medication intervention and surgical intervention (e.g. caesarian). 

Medical treatment with oxytocin can lead to prepartal separation of the placenta and as a result, oxytocin needs to be used carefully following clinical examination by a veterinarian.

A caesarian will be performed in specific conditions (if conservative methods were not successful or not indicated) including:
  • Foetal oversize
  • Narrow pelvis
  • Monsters
  • Malposition
  • Uterine inertia (unresponsive to drugs)
  • Uterine torsion.

Neonates – What is Normal?

What to do after a caesarian, a difficult birth and/or dystocia:
  1. Clean the nostrils with a bulb syringe.
  2. Empty the stomach: Pressure from the stomach against diaphragm disturbs onset of normal breathing. A gastric tube to empty the stomach can be used..
  3. Chest compression: Myocardial hypoxemia is the most common cause for bradycardia or asystole. The first step is direct transthoracic pressure...
  4. Thin needles into the nose and tip of the tail.
  5. Oxygen insufflation: Oxygen supply with positive pressure.
  6. Medications.

The resuscitation should be stopped if:
  • No response after 15 minutes (agonal respiration)
  • Congenital defects are observed (e.g. cleft palate).

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