As uncommon as you might think that they are in this species, miscarriages can still happen in cats. They have a number of different causes, and they tend to affect unhealthy or very young animals more than they do their healthy and adult counterparts.
In today’s article, we’re looking at everything you should know about miscarriages in cats – from the reasons they occur to their symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and also how you can know when the right time to bring your pet to the vet is.
What is a Miscarriage?
A miscarriage can simply be defined by a process where the mother cat loses the pregnancy. Whether it happens because the kittens have deceased inside of her or because of mechanical reasons, such as the cat being involved in an accident and giving ‘birth’ before the right time, the litter is always incapable of living in the case of a miscarriage.
The gestation period for this species typically lasts for up to 67 days. However, some cats might experience shorter pregnancies, which leads to them giving birth at around day 58 or 60.
As is the case with other types of animals, very young cats that have never gone through a pregnancy can experience a variety of complications.
They are also traditionally more likely to have a smaller litter, being able to give birth to one or two kittens. Their experienced counterparts, on the other hand, will not have trouble giving birth to three to five kittens and more.
A cat that miscarries close to the term will still exhibit the normal behaviors of an expecting mother. Therefore, she will experience lactation or will look for her kittens throughout your home, even though they are nowhere to be found.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Miscarriages in Cats?
The reasons cats can suffer miscarriages are quite varied, and they range from infections (whether viral, bacterial, or protozoal) to injuries, nutritional deficiencies, or inbreeding.
Nutritional deficiencies are another possible reason for a miscarriage, and they are more common in stray cats or those that are kept in shelters. Most cats that are brought to shelters are spayed even if they are in their gestation period – so as to try and keep the cat population under control.
Inbreeding often results in a number of genetic issues which can be passed on to the future cat mother, making her experience complications that can lead to a miscarriage.
While inbreeding has become less common in the past several years as breeders have become more aware of the risks associated with it, there are still certain genes that are passed from one generation to the other due to previous incorrect breeding.
In terms of the infections that can cause a miscarriage, viral and bacterial diseases are at the top of the list. Unfortunately, in cats, some vaccines might not be as effective against infectious pathogens as they are in dogs, for example. Pregnant cats should be kept indoors only so as to limit their contact with other animals, from which they could catch microorganisms that can put their litter’s life and theirs in danger.
Several examples of infections that can lead to miscarriages in cats are the following:
- Feline herpesvirus
- Feline leukemia virus
- Feline immunodeficiency virus
- Feline infectious peritonitis
- Feline enteric coronavirus
- A Chlamydia infection
- Fungal infections
Another possible cause of miscarriages is significant hormonal imbalances. When a cat is pregnant, her level of progesterone should be somewhat high and stable so as to maintain the pregnancy. If the progesterone level drops, it can lead to the cat losing her litter. This can be the result of changes in the cat’s body itself, but it can also be the consequence of the cat being administered medication that influences her hormone levels.
How Can I Know If My Cat Is Having a Miscarriage?
The answer to this question is that it actually depends on the exact time the miscarriage takes place. If the cat is young and inexperienced and she becomes pregnant around the age of 6 months, and for one reason or the other, her body is incapable of sustaining the pregnancy, you might not notice any symptom at all.
The reason for this is that a miscarriage can only be considered the phenomenon that happens once the fetuses have had a chance to form. Therefore, if your pet ‘miscarriages’ one week or two following the copulation that you think has resulted in a pregnancy, she might show no signs at all.
Fortunately, the fertilized ovules will resorb into the mucous membrane of the uterus, which means that your cat might only (if that happens at all) experience a very mild discharge.
However, if the miscarriage happens in the second half of the pregnancy, you can expect different symptoms, such as the following:
- Continuous vaginal bleeding
- Strangely colored discharge (yellow, green, or brown)
- A pungent smell to the discharge
- Excessive grooming in that area
- A complete lack of appetite for either food or water
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
- Difficult breathing
- The cat might try and look for calm and cold places in an attempt to cool down the local temperature in her abdomen
The most challenging aspect of miscarriages is that the cervix doesn’t open naturally unless there’s something causing it to open.
Normally, when a cat delivers at the right time, her hormonal concentration will become perfect and will make the cervix open so as to release the litter, their covers, the placenta, and all the fluids and tissues that might exist in the uterus. This will happen naturally when the right time comes along.
However, if the cat suffers a miscarriage and there’s no hormonal change whatsoever, everything in the uterus will remain in the uterus.
As you can imagine, this can be a very bad outcome. The fetuses are no longer living, so the blood flow to and from them doesn’t function normally. The placenta, along with the rest of the uterus contents, is now at a high risk of degrading to the point of putrefaction. Your cat can lose her life if she doesn’t receive treatment at this point.
How Can I Tell If There Is a Deceased Kitten Inside My Cat’s Body?
Your cat should have some sort of discharge, and it will not look or smell good. Unfortunately, some cats don’t show this symptom at all, which means that you will have to base your decision to bring your cat to the vet clinic on the other clinical signs that we have mentioned above.
If your cat is not showing any signs whatsoever, it’s quite likely that you have nothing to worry about.
Nevertheless, since time is of the essence when it comes to diagnosing and treating miscarriages in cats, we suggest doing a bit of detective work on your own.
First of all, you should call your vet and ask them if you can do something at home. If you are lucky enough to have a stethoscope on hand (suppose you’re a med school student or related to a doctor, vet, or nurse), you will be able to easily tell whether the kittens are still alive or not.
Even in practice, while pregnancy can be diagnosed through imaging techniques such as ultrasonography, for example, the easiest and most effective test that a vet can perform once your cat has reached the mid-half of her pregnancy is to listen to the kittens’ heartbeats.
While the Internet might advise you to keep a close eye on your cat (and that’s not bad advice at all) so that you see whether there’s any movement in her belly or not, the truth is that not all cats experience such visible kitten movements inside their uteruses.
If your cat has, though, do pay attention to her lower abdomen area for a period of several hours. If nothing happens, call your vet and go to the emergency vet clinic – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
How Do I Tell When My Cat Is Done Giving Birth?
Although not exactly related to miscarriages themselves, we would like to note that there could be a number of things going wrong even if your cat doesn’t suffer one.
Suppose your cat gives birth as she is supposed to. The most likely complication that she is likely to experience is not being able to give birth to one or two last kittens that are inside of her after the first – either due to their orientation or due to her experiencing hormonal changes that can lead to her not having the right dilatation degree.
Even if she has given birth to all the kittens, there could be tissue remnants and the placenta left in her uterus, which she might or might not be able to expel.
A cat birth can take quite a bit of time, especially if this is the pet’s first pregnancy. Sometimes, it can take several hours, to the point that it lasts for 12 hours or more.
But if your cat hasn’t managed to give birth and she still keeps on trying after that time span, consult your veterinarian. The effort itself, along with the strain it puts on the cat’s body, can have negative consequences on her health, not to mention the actual delivery complications that could arise.
How Are Miscarriages Diagnosed and Treated at the Vet Clinic?
The vet can diagnose miscarriages using a very broad range of techniques. As previously mentioned, they might simply use a stethoscope to see whether the kittens still have a heartbeat.
They could test your cat’s progesterone levels with a blood test. Also, they could rely on special examination methods such as an ultrasound.
If the cat is diagnosed to have suffered a miscarriage, she needs to go into surgery as soon as possible. During the operation, the vet will remove the fetuses and the rest of the tissue present in the uterus and give it a thorough wash with saline solution and other medications.
We do have to note that depending on how complicated the procedure is or how late you’ve brought the cat to the vet clinic, her reproductive abilities might be completely damaged.
If the wall of the uterus has suffered any change whatsoever, the vet will decide to spay your cat so that she doesn’t develop septicemia or pyometra following the surgery. No matter how much the vet will attempt to clean the uterus, there could be dangerous microorganisms surviving in the tissue damage.
Moreover, if the vet decides to remove only the part that was damaged from the uterus and sutures the rest of the tissue correctly, your cat’s uterus will still have a significant scar on its surface, which will affect her future ability to maintain a pregnancy to term anyway.
Can Miscarriages in Cats Be Prevented?
It depends on every cat in part. As you know, animals are very different from one another, and they can be predisposed to various health issues.
The best piece of advice that we have for you is to monitor your cat’s pregnancy as closely as possible, especially if she is going to be a first-time mother.
As ridiculous as it might sound, if your cat is diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance or any other risk that could lead to a miscarriage, we recommend taking her to the vet once a week until she completes her term.
This will make it possible for the vet to perform a basic physical examination as well as collect a tiny amount of blood so as to check whether your pet’s hormonal concentration (especially that of progesterone) is up to par.
Do not allow your cat to go outdoors and come in contact with other animals, as they could be carriers of pathogens that might result in a miscarriage. Keep your cat in a calm and safe place and make sure she has enough nutritious food available and a warm and cozy place to rest in.
Canine and feline pregnancy loss due to viral and non-infectious causes: a review, J. Verstegen et al, 2018 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18547635/
Clinical approach to abortion, stillbirt, and neonatal death in dogs and cats, Catherine G. Lamm, DVM, MRCVS et al, 2012 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7124254/