Postpartum Eclampsia in Cats
Eclampsia, also known as “milk fever,” is a condition where there is a deficiency of blood calcium (hypocalcemia) in cats. It usually develops in the weeks after giving birth or during lactation. The underactive parathyroid gland, responsible for regulating the parathyroid hormone and the amount of calcium stored in the bones, is the main culprit. When the demand for calcium suddenly increases during lactation, the parathyroid gland is unable to respond quickly enough to meet the queen’s needs. The lack of calcium results in convulsive contractions of the skeletal muscles, limiting movement.
Symptoms and Types
- Poor maternal behavior
- Restlessness, nervousness
- Panting, whining
- Clumsy walking, stiff gait
- Facial itchiness
- Muscle tremors, tetany (entire body goes stiff), convulsions
- Cat lies down with paws rigidly extended (usually seen 8-12 hours after the first onset of symptoms)
- High body temperature, fever over 105 degrees Fahrenheit
- Rapid, heavy breathing
- Dilated pupils which are slow to contract when exposed to light
- Calcium supplementation during pregnancy
- Inappropriate calcium to phosphorous ratio in the diet while pregnant
- Poor nutrition during pregnancy
- First litter
To accurately diagnose postpartum eclampsia, it is important to provide your veterinarian with a thorough history of your cat’s health leading up to the onset of symptoms. Inform your veterinarian about the pregnancy supplement and the diet you have been giving to your cat.
Standard tests including a chemical blood profile, complete blood count, and an electrolyte panel will be conducted. The blood test will verify the total serum calcium, which if less than 7 mg/dL, indicates eclampsia. Low blood sugar and low blood magnesium levels may also be present and can also be supplemented. An electrocardiogram (ECG) showing the heart’s electrical rhythm may also be abnormal.
Postpartum eclampsia is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, but it can be treated effectively if caught early. If your cat has a high fever, your veterinarian will take measures to cool her down, such as a cool water soak and fan, to bring her body temperature to a normal range. Intravenous calcium will be administered until her levels have increased to a safe level and she can maintain calcium levels on her own.
To ensure the health of the kittens, they will be taken away from the mother and hand-fed with a commercial milk for 24 hours or until the queen’s serum calcium stabilizes. If you opt to let the kittens continue nursing, regular monitoring of your cat’s blood calcium levels will be necessary. Depending on her ability to produce sufficient amounts of calcium, she may need to remain on calcium supplements for a while. Your veterinarian will provide guidance on this.
Living and Management
If the kittens continue nursing, your cat will likely need to be given calcium supplements throughout the nursing period until the kittens are weaned. Regular monitoring of her serum calcium levels will be necessary during this time. To prevent eclampsia in future litters, ensure that your cat’s diet contains a 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 calcium to phosphorus ratio before and during pregnancy.
It is important to avoid calcium supplementation during pregnancy unless specifically prescribed by your veterinarian. Additionally, high phytate foods such as soybean meal, barley, rice, wheat bran, and wheat germ should be avoided as they can interfere with calcium absorption in the body.
For more information on postpartum low blood calcium in cats, visit Katten TrimSalon.