Contributors: Rob Lofstedt, Carlos Pinto

 Species: Feline   |   Classification: Diseases

Introduction Pathogenesis Diagnosis Treatment Outcomes Further Reading


  • Failure of expulsion of fetal membranes during third stage of labor. Occasionally a dead or live fetus also retained.
  • Treatment: conservative usually successful; hysterotomy or hysterectomy essential if conservative management fails or if the cat owner has no future breeding plans.
  • Prognosis: failure to treat can result in toxemia, metritis and death.

Presenting Signs

  • Sometimes a normal kitten may be present several days after the birth of the rest of the litter Uterus: difference in fetal size .
  • May be no clinical symptoms for several weeks post partum if only a small portion of the fetal membranes remains.
  • Vulvar discharge.
  • If several days post partum, systemically debilitated, febrile, toxemic and presence of dark, foul smelling vulvar discharge.

Acute Presentation

Age Predisposition

  • Young, pubertal animals becoming pregnant when body size <65% of adult size.

Cost Considerations



  • Little known of the pathogenesis in cats.
    Remember that breaks of several days between the birth of kittens can be normal.
  • May be an association with large litters (prolonged parturition may lead to partial primary uterine inertia; or fetal oversize  or obstruction may lead to dystocia and subsequently to secondary uterine inertia).
  • Metritis   →   toxemia.


  • Varies from hours to a few days.


Presenting Problems

  • Post-partum vulvar discharge.

Client History

  • Recent parturition.
  • Persistent copious vulvar discharge post partum.
  • Palpable masses (fetuses or fetal membranes) in the abdomen.

Clinical Signs

  • Normal queen.
  • Pyrexia.
  • Anorexia.
  • Depression.
  • Lactation ceases Lactation failure.
  • Copious odiferous vaginal discharge.
  • Occasionally symptoms delayed for several weeks post partum if only a small amount of placenta remains.
  • Abdominal palpation and ultrasonography Ultrasonography: uterus revealing mass consistent with enlarged uterus and retained kitten.

Diagnostic Investigation


  • Will reveal dead retained kitten, or partial uterine enlargement indicating retained placenta.


  • To determine fetal presence and viability  Abdomen: normal pregnancy - ultrasound 01   Abdomen: normal pregnancy - ultrasound 02   Abdomen: early pregnancy - ultrasound   Abdomen: fetal death - ultrasound .


  • Vaginal cytology: may show hairs and striated muscle if a fetus is undergoing autolysis.

Differential Diagnosis


Initial Symptomatic Treatment

Retained fetal membranes

Retained fetal membranes

Retained fetus

  • If this fetus is not born after the usual attempts to stimulate uterine activity are made (3-5 USP units oxytocin IM Oxytocin following blood chemistry for calcium (5 ml of 10% calcium gluconate Calcium gluconate given slowly IV)) it can be monitored until expulsion of fetuses are observed. PGF2alpha (dinoprost Dinoprost trimethamine) 2 mg SC per cat or 0.1 mg/kg can also be used if no response to oxytocin. Caesarean section Cesarean section is a more pragmatic approach if no response is obtained.


  • Observation of elimination of fetuses and retained fetal membranes following treatment.

Subsequent Management


  • Implement course of systemic antibiotics.


  • Monitor patient overall demeanor, resolution of significant vulvar discharge; watch for signs of toxic metritis (fever, anorexia, purulent vulvar discharge, etc).



  • Fair to good, depending on status of overall health (absence of toxemia, etc).

Expected Response to Treatment

  • Judicious use of oxytocin and calcium gluconate associated with antibiotic therapy is usually successful; surgical approach (hysterotomy or ovariohysterectomy) is invariably curative.

Reasons for Treatment Failure

  • Medical treatment not efficient if obstructive dystocia is present; however, surgical approach will resolve most conditions.

Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Ekstand C & Linde-Forsberg C (1994) Dystocia in the cat: A retrospective study of 155 cases. JSAP 35 (9), 459-464 VetMedResource.

Other Sources of Information