Fading Kitten Syndrome | Signs, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Regardless of their enviably sharp senses and outstanding hunting instincts, cats can be quite fragile, especially when it comes to newborns.

Kittens are vulnerable to a plethora of diseases, similarly to human babies. Even though many newborn kittens can survive in extremely harsh conditions, they aren’t invincible.

In fact, both feral and indoor kittens suffer from a high death rate due to one particular condition, known as “fading kitten syndrome.”

It can affect furballs of all breeds all over the globe. However, it’s mostly prevalent in adopted felines that have been born in shelters or on the street.

What Is Fading Kitten Syndrome?

To put it simply – it’s a health problem that often leads to a fatal outcome. Fading kitten syndrome can be triggered by an underdeveloped immune system, parasitic infection, hypothermia, and a number of other problems which are common for young cats.

Fading kittens often perish before they reach nine weeks of age.

Mortality is high in newborns because numerous diseases can cause fading kitten syndrome. What’s more, the problem becomes clearly visible only after it’s too late and the cat has entered the crisis stage. That’s when the symptoms become very clear and when emergency vet care is required. Unfortunately, the survival rate of cats with fading kitten syndrome in the crisis stage is extremely low.

Fading kitten syndrome strikes felines with underdeveloped organisms due to malnourishment, harsh weather conditions, stressful surroundings, parasitic infections, various diseases that have struck the mother during pregnancy, and so on. Sometimes it can even happen to experienced breeders, but the highest death rates occur among feral kittens.

Causes Of Fading Kitten Syndrome

There are a number of things which could result in the fading kitten syndrome. Inadequate upbringing, especially during the first few weeks, is one such factor. If the other kittens in the litter are getting more nutrients, warmth, and care, the outsider furball can experience this condition.

Fading kitten syndrome is often triggered by:

  • Underdeveloped immune system
  • Leukemia
  • Hypothermia
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Physical injury
  • Stress
  • Parasitic infections
  • Bacterial infections
  • Malnourishment

If the mother is obese or malnourished, can’t produce enough milk, or hasn’t been dewormed prior to getting pregnant, this can also contribute to fading kitten syndrome. On the other hand, feline herpesvirus, roundworms, coccidia, calicivirus, and other similar infections can also result in fading kittens.

As with human babies, kittens can’t fully develop their immune system at a young age. Thus, a harsh living environment with poor upbringing will definitely contribute to the problem.

Even if the cat manages to survive its first few weeks, it needs proper care in order to outgrow kittenhood. In some cases even the first few drops of milk a kitty sucks from its mother can contribute to the syndrome. This happens if said mother has a different blood type or is suffering from an infectious health problem.

Unfortunately, there is no ultimate test to tell if a kitty has fading kitten syndrome. Blood tests, X-rays, urine and feces samples and other types of exams can show if something life-threatening is going on. Due to the lack of one universal test, many pet parents don’t realize there’s an underlying issue at hand until the cat starts showing symptoms or goes into crisis.

Signs And Symptoms Of Fading Kitten Syndrome

If your beloved kitten is experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s time to take it to the vet’s office:

  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Gasping and breathlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight and muscle tone
  • Hypothermia
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Low body temperature
  • Dehydration

Once the cat has started showing these symptoms and has entered the crisis state, its chances of survival will be slim. Due to the fact that many of these symptoms may indicate other health problems, it’s even harder to catch fading kitten syndrome in time.

Many pet parents won’t see the first signs of symptoms like depression or dehydration. The lack of a strong human-like sense of dehydration usually makes cats drink less water than they should. And since a kitty who just arrived in your home may be anxious, you might miss signs of depression.

Thus, pet parents must monitor and weigh kittens on daily basis in order to make sure they’re healthy.

Moreover, we strongly recommend you get a reputable vet to examine pregnant mothers and their litters before any symptoms start occurring. Being negligent can have fatal outcomes for one kitten, as well as for the entire litter. The longer you wait, the worse an undiagnosed issue will get.

Treatment: How To Care For A Cat With Fading Kitten Syndrome

Even though the survival rate of fading kittens in crisis isn’t promising, there are treatment options. Emergency vet care is of intrinsic importance for the furball’s recovery. If you’re trying to save money from vet trips by waiting for the cat to get better on its own, you’ll only be putting the feline’s life in more danger.

The treatment plans may require hospitalization, especially in extreme cases. Veterinarians will usually carry out the following treatment methods:

  • Thermal support
  • Fluid intake
  • Nutritional support
  • Dextrose intake
  • Deworming medications
  • Antibiotic treatments

Unfortunately, even hospitalization doesn’t always help fading kittens. If the pet parent catches the syndrome’s signs at an early stage, there’s a higher chance for the vet to save the kitten.

Can You Prevent Fading Kitten Syndrome?

Yes, you can!

If you’re a breeder, you need to make sure the female is in excellent physical condition, doesn’t have health problems (obesity, malnourishment, parasites, etc.) before she gets pregnant by a reliable male. As soon as she bears the litter, you must aid the mother in taking care of the kittens. This means maintaining a hygienic, warm, nutritious and stress-free environment for them and for their mom.

The latter also applies to pet parents who have adopted a kitten.

If you’ve adopted a newborn from a shelter, breeder, or the streets, you need to take it to a vet before settling the kitty in your home. After the vet has performed a thorough check-up and you’ve taken the kitten home, you’ll need to take care of the furball with utmost responsibility and devotion. Weighing it at least once a day and monitoring it closely will be fundamental for its survival.

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Emily Parker

Emily Parker is the Content Manager at Catological. She's passionate about helping cat parents love their cats better by providing the best information and recommendations about everything you'll need to know about your cat, from kitten to senior years. She believes natural, biologically-appropriate products are best...why wouldn't you provide the best for a member of your family?!

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