What is eclampsia?
Eclampsia, also referred to as 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 often occurs when the kittens are one to four weeks of age and the mother is producing the most milk. It can also occur before giving birth.
What causes eclampsia in cats?
The cause of eclampsia is often undetermined 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
• a hormonal problem with the parathyroid gland
Mothers that are especially attentive to their kittens or are nursing a large litter seem to be more likely to develop eclampsia. Fortunately, this condition is uncommon in cats.
What are the clinical signs of eclampsia in cats?
"Eclampsia is a true medical emergency. If you suspect eclampsia is developing, prevent the kittens from suckling and contact your veterinarian immediately."
The signs are initially subtle. The female may be restless or panting, and you may notice that she is moving stiffly, which may progress to inability to walk. This soon progresses to muscle spasms (tetany) affecting the whole body, which can quickly progress to convulsing. Some affected cats may have a fever and may become disoriented, aggressive, and restless, and pace excessively. Eclampsia is a true medical emergency. If you suspect eclampsia is developing, prevent the kittens from suckling and contact your veterinarian immediately.
How is eclampsia treated?
Treatment involves intravenous fluids and injections of calcium and other medications depending on physical examination and laboratory test results. 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?
"All pregnant cats should be fed a high-quality diet that is rich in essential vitamins and minerals and is formulated for pregnant and nursing mothers."
All pregnant cats should be fed a high-quality diet that is rich in essential vitamins and minerals and is formulated for pregnant and nursing mothers. 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 three to four weeks of age.
Calcium supplementation or feeding dairy to pregnant and nursing cats is generally not recommended. Excessive calcium intake during pregnancy or nursing can suppress parathyroid hormone production and increase the risk of developing eclampsia. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your cat needs supplementation.