What is eclampsia?
Eclampsia (hypocalcemia or puerperal tetany) is an emergency medical condition associated with a life-threatening drop in blood calcium levels that occurs in nursing mothers. Eclampsia most commonly occurs when the kittens are one to four weeks of age and the mother is producing the most milk.
The cause of eclampsia is often not discovered, but may be due to
- excessive loss of calcium from the mother to the developing fetal skeletons,
- calcium supplementation during pregnancy,
- producing milk after birth,
- not receiving a balanced premium growth and development diet while pregnant and nursing, or
- a hormonal problem with the parathyroid gland.
Females that are particularly good mothers, especially attentive to their kittens, seem to be more likely to develop eclampsia. Fortunately, this condition is uncommon in cats.
I understand that eclampsia is a very serious condition. How can I tell if it is starting?
Eclampsia is a true medical emergency and you must contact your veterinarian immediately if you think the mother is in trouble. The signs are initially subtle. The female may be restless or panting a lot, and you may notice that she is moving stiffly (also called tetany) which may progress to her being unable to walk. This soon progresses to muscle spasms affecting the whole body, which can quickly progress to convulsing. Some affected nursing cats may become disoriented, aggressive, have a high fever, and become restless and pace excessively.
"Eclampsia is considered an immediate emergency and medical attention should be sought."
If you suspect eclampsia is developing, prevent the kittens from suckling and contact your veterinarian immediately.
How is eclampsia treated?
Treatment involves immediate intravenous injections of calcium and other drugs. Intravenous calcium must be administered very carefully and slowly, otherwise it can cause severe lowering of the heart rate and arrhythmias. Some cats will require anti-seizure drugs such as diazepam (Valium®) to control seizures and tetany. Oral calcium supplements (something as simple as Tums® may be recommended) and weaning the kittens as quickly as possible are typically required for follow-up care. If diagnosed and treated promptly, recovery from eclampsia is usually rapid and complete.
Can eclampsia be prevented?
Calcium supplementation or feeding cottage cheese in pregnant and nursing cats is not generally recommended. Excessive calcium intake during pregnancy or nursing can suppress parathyroid hormone production and increases the risk of developing low blood calcium levels or eclampsia. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your cat needs supplementation.
"Supplementing with calcium during pregnancy or nursing is not generally recommended."
All pregnant cats should be fed a high-quality diet formulated for pregnant and nursing mothers that is rich in essential vitamins and minerals. If the mother is at risk, the kittens may need to be separated from her a few times per day allowing her to eat. The kittens can be supplemented with a milk replacer and transitioned to kitten food at 3 to 4 weeks of age.