Whether it is your first litter or your four-hundredth litter, there is always a possibility that a queen will need a caesarian section in order to deliver her kittens successfully. Knowing and recognizing the warning signs that your cat may need a c-section can make the difference between her life or death, and the life or death of her kittens. On the other hand, no breeder wants to become “c-section happy”, meaning they rush off for a c-section at the first sign that a queen may not delivery quickly and easily.
No breeder wants their cat to HAVE a c-section if it is unnecessary.
No breeder wants their cat NOT to have a c-section if it IS necessary.
The challenge is KNOW when a c-section is or isn’t necessary…
Risks of Performing a C-Section
If a queen needs a c-section to save her life or that of her kittens, then the benefit clearly outweighs the risks. We must still keep in mind that a c-section is a major abdominal surgery.
Risks of a c-section include:
- The trauma of surgery plus eliminating the normal birthing process may cause the queen to fail to mother her kittens
- The queen may not produce milk properly afterwards
- Both the queen and kittens are exposed to disease in the veterinary clinic.
- Scarring of the uterus may bode ill for future litters
The Need for a C-Section
There are several reasons why a queen may need an emergency c-section:
- The queen is well past her due date and still shows no sign of going into labor.
- The problem may be a kitten who is too big to pass through the birth canal.
- The queen’s pelvis may be too small for even a normal-sized kitten to pass through it.
- The kitten may be “stuck” in the wrong position and cannot pass.
- Two kittens may have entered the birth canal at the same time, one from each horn of the uterus. They can become interlocked so that neither can progress further. In effect, it is a traffic grid-lock.
- The mother may have uterine inertia — failure to have contractions strong enough to deliver the babies. Read the article titled Uterine Inertia for more details on this condition.
- The queen may have had a long and difficult delivery and simply become exhausted — but still have kittens to be birthed.
- The queen’s uterus may have ruptured.
- The queen may have a history of c-sections.
Whatever the reason, a c-section is sometimes necessary to save the queen’s life or to save her kittens. Read the article Birthing Problems In Cats for an extensive list of things that can go wrong during delivery.
But at what point do we say, the risks of this surgery in a particular labor are going to be outweighed by the benefits. Consider these questions:
- How many performed c-sections are unnecessary?
- How do we know when to intervene and at what risk?
- How many hours of contractions should we give a first kitten or any kitten to deliver?
- Is it wise to jump to surgery rather than take other risks during “abnormal” labors???
How do you know when to have a c-section for your cat?
Signs a C-section May Be Needed
You know all the reasons that a queen may need a c-section — but what do you look for that indicates something has gone wrong medically and you need to consider surgery? There is not a set rule as to when to make the decision to call the vet. It all depends on:
- The Queen’s Current Labor and Behavior
- The Queen’s Past Birthing History
- The Breeder’s Experience and Gut Instinct: that certain gut feeling that labor is not proceeding well. But there comes a point when you can see labor is going nowhere and it’s time to call the vet.
There are however certain scenarios that should raise a red flag in the breeder’s mind and suggest that a c-section should be considered:
- The litter is well overdue and you are sure of your breeding and due dates.
- The queen has been in hard labor but produced no kittens.
- A kitten appears and hard contractions fail to deliver.
- If the contractions are weak and not progressing after a period of more than 8 hours
- An experienced queen is behaving in a manner foreign for her
- The queen looks distressed
- The queen appears lethargic or glassy-eyed
- The queen’s gums are pale. Suspect uterine rupture
- Oxytocin has failed to produce a kitten. Read the article Oxytocin for the proper use of this medication during delivery.
- The queen has had good labor contractions, perhaps delivered a kitten or two, then labor has slowed or stopped. You give Oxytocin but it produces only weak or no contractions. Suspect Uterine Inertia. Note: Queens can deliver kittens days apart – but slow or stopped labors can mean that the queen is not going to start again – and in that situation, placentas can detach and a kitten can die.
It is better to have a c-section in time rather than a disastrous delivery that may end up in a c-section with dead kittens anyway.
Time of Day
Even the time of day may have an impact upon making the decision to have a c-section. If the queen has pushed for two or three hours without producing a kitten, it may be time to think about the possibility of a c-section.
- If it is three o’clock in the morning and it is not a clear emergency, it probably won’t hurt to wait until your vet opens in the morning.
- On the other hand, if it is three o’clock in the afternoon, and your vet closes in 2 hours, or its Saturday and your vet is closed Sunday, it is better to call now rather than wait until after your vet is closed and you have to go to an emergency clinic and a veterinarian with whom you are unfamiliar.
- Be sure to speak to your veterinarian to determine his views and procedures for a c-section. Read the article titled C-sections & Your Veterinarian.
The Breeder’s Personality
Another non-medical component in the decision to perform a c-section is the experience and personality of the owner. The more experienced and calmer the breeder can be, the more informed decision they can make. The inexperienced or panicky owner may be quicker to schedule a c-section, even unnecessarily.
C-Sections Of Convenience
There are breeders who schedule c-sections of convenience to make it easier to fit into their own time schedules. They don’t want to stay up all night or they have a show or a vacation planned on the due date and won’t be home to act as mid-wife.
The Unnecessary C-Section
Hindsight is 20/20. Many times we don’t really know if a c-section that has been done was actually necessary or not. No one has a crystal ball. You can only do your best at making an informed decision.
Knowledge Is Power
The more you know about the individual female and her specific pregnancy, the easier it is to make an informed decision about performing a c-section:
- Mate the female for no more than a maximum of three consecutive days so you have a narrow range for your delivery due date. And be sure to write it down!
- Keep detailed records of each queen’s labor. You can use the record to check back on what is usual for a particular queen’s labor, and also to look at what has happened previously in all your cats’ pregnancies and the results.
- X-ray Your Pregnant Cat To Count The Kittens within a week of her delivery date to determine the number of kittens, uniformity of kitten size, positioning, and whether kittens have “dropped”.
- Another option is to perform an ultrasound near the due date to determine if all kittens have beating hearts.
With experience, the cat breeder will develop a sixth sense about when a queen is in trouble. Listen to the little voice in your head warning you something is going seriously wrong.