Cesarean Sections in Cats - Post-Operative Instructions

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

A cesarean section or C-section is a major surgery to remove kittens from the uterus. This is most commonly performed as an emergency procedure when there is difficulty with natural birth. Most cats recover quickly from this procedure; however, if your cat was in labor for several hours before surgery, her recovery will be slower, and she will need extra attention and help with her kittens.

What should I do for the mother after she gives birth?

The mother has been given an anesthetic that will be eliminated from her body quickly. Most cats have fully recovered from anesthesia by the time they are discharged to go home. Complete recovery from anesthetic may take two to six hours, depending on the anesthetic used, the mother's physical condition and age at the time of surgery, and how long she was in labor before the surgery.

During the immediate recovery period, she must be closely monitored so that she does not fall and hurt herself or roll over and crush the newborn kittens. The kittens should not be left alone with her until she is completely awake, able to stand on her own, and is interested in caring for her kittens.

"The kittens should not be left alone with her until she is completely awake, able to stand on her own, and is interested in caring for her kittens."

The mother should begin eating within a few hours. You should offer her small amounts of food and water frequently (every 15 to 30 minutes) for the first 24 hours after surgery. She may vomit if she eats or drinks too much or too quickly. Her food intake at this time should be about 1.5 times her food intake before she became pregnant. By the third or fourth week of nursing, her food intake may be 2-2.5 times her average. She should be fed a premium brand of high-quality kitten food during the nursing period to provide the appropriate nutrition for her and her litter.

The mother's temperature may rise 1-2°F (0.5 - 1°C) above normal for the first one to three days; then, it should return to the normal range. The normal range is 100.5°F -102.5°F (38.1°C-39.2°C). A CAT SHOULD NEVER BE GIVEN ACETAMINOPHEN (TYLENOL®) OR ACETYLSALICYLIC ACID or ASA (ASPIRIN®). If the mother's temperature goes above 104°F (40°C), she and her litter should be examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Is it normal for the mother to have a vaginal discharge?

A bloody vaginal discharge is normal for up to a week following the birth of the kittens. It may be pretty heavy for the first one to three days and then should begin to diminish over the next few days. If the bloody discharge continues for longer than one week, if it changes color or develops an odor, the mother should be checked for the presence of infection or other complications. If she had an ovariohysterectomy (spayed) at the time of the surgery, there should be no vaginal discharge.

When should her stitches be removed?

Depending on the type of suture material used, the stitches may or may not need to be removed. Many veterinarians will use internal, absorbable sutures that will not be visible and do not require removal. As a general rule, if the stitches are visible, they will have to be removed, usually 10 to 14 days after surgery. If skin staples were used, they would also require removal in 10 to 14 days.

How should I care for the kittens?

The kittens should be ready to nurse as soon as you arrive home. The mother may not be awake or alert enough to handle nursing alone; therefore, you may have to help the mother by making her lie still so the kittens can nurse. Gently put the kittens beside the mother's teats. If a kitten seems reluctant to nurse, you can massage the nipple to express some milk, which may induce the kitten to begin nursing.

What does it mean if the kittens are crying a lot?

Kittens should sleep or nurse 90% of the time. If they are crying or whimpering, something is usually wrong. Uterine infections, inadequate milk production, and poor-quality or infected milk are the most common causes of restless or unhealthy kittens. The litter can die within 24 hours if one of these complications develops. If you have any concerns about their health, you should immediately have your veterinarian examine the kittens and their mother.

If the mother does not have enough milk at first, you may supplement the kittens for the first day or two. Your veterinarian should be able to supply you with a commercial kitten milk replacer, as well as nursing bottles that are the appropriate size for the kittens' tiny mouths. In an emergency, the following formula may be used until you can purchase a specific product that is designed for kittens:

"If the mother does not have enough milk at first, you may supplement the kittens for the first day or two."

One cup milk + one tablespoon corn oil + one pinch of salt + three egg yolks (no whites). Blend until uniform. It should be fed at 1 oz (30 cc or 30 ml) per 1/4 lb (1/8 kg) of kitten weight PER 24 HOURS. That amount should be divided into three to five feedings. The average newborn kitten weighs 1/4 lb (1/8 kg) at birth.

Although kittens should begin nursing immediately, a healthy newborn can survive without complication for up to twelve hours without nursing. However, if the newborn is weak, dehydrated, or cold, nourishment must be given as soon as possible.

How warm should the room the kittens are kept in be?

A newborn kitten is not able to regulate its body temperature very well. The room temperature is not too critical if the kittens stay near their mother. However, if they are not with their mother, the room temperature should be 85º-90ºF (29.5º-32ºC). To avoid any chance of hypo or hyperthermia (chilling or overheating), the newborns should be kept inside the house if possible.

For further information about the care of the kittens, see our handouts "Feeding Orphaned Kittens", "Feeding Growing Kittens", "Raising Kittens”, and “Recommendations for New Kitten Owners”. Additional handouts contain information about intestinal parasites, infectious diseases, and vaccinations. Your veterinarian can provide you with this information and give you specific advice about your circumstances.

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