What Is Fading Kitten Syndrome?

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

24 April 2019

Kittens are most likely to develop the so-called “Fading Kitten Syndrome” when they are 6-8 weeks old. The kittens of stray or feral cats are especially prone to die of Fading Kitten Syndrome, which means that rescue kittens and those in foster care are especially susceptible.
What is Fading Kitten Syndrome?
Rather than being an illness, Fading Kitten Syndrome is a set of symptoms that develop in neonatal kittens. These symptoms can have many underlying causes, but they lead to rapidly declining health and often the first sign of Fading Kitten Syndrome is the unexplained death of a young kitten.
It is, therefore, imperative that those who rescue and foster kittens must know how to spot the symptoms and get kittens possibly suffering from Fading Kitten Syndrome to a vet immediately for treatment.
Causes of Fading Kitten Syndrome
The causes of Fading Kitten Syndrome includes:

  • Disease — Through a lack of adequate nutrition, the mother cat will become more susceptible to various diseases. This can lead to aborted pregnancies, but can also lead to the birth of unhealthy kittens.
  • Malnutrition — As a cat can carry up to five litters of kittens a year, it will come as no surprise that, if the cat is a stray or feral cat that they may be malnourished and that the kittens will, in turn, also be malnourished.
  • Infectious diseases — There are various infectious diseases that can quickly spread to a whole litter of kittens. Therefore, if you take in a stray or feral mother cat with her kittens you must keep them separate from your own cats or other pets. This is also one of the reasons why, usually, as many stray cats as possible are spayed or neutered.
  • Fleas and/or other parasites — While a flea infestation on an adult cat is bad enough, it can be deadly to a kitten. The reason for this is that the kitten can quickly become anaemic or even give the kitten a blood-borne parasite. Both of these can be deadly to a kitten.

Symptoms of Fading Kitten Syndrome
The symptoms of Fading Kitten Syndrome include:

  • Extremely low birth weight — Usually the runt or the smallest kitten of the litter will be the one to develop Fading Kitten Syndrome. They will also not be as active as their litter-mates.  
  • Being unable to nurse properly just after birth — As they are not able to nurse after birth as it might not be strong enough to grasp and suckle the mother’s nipple, they may not receive the colostrum that they need during the first 3 days or so of their lives. This colostrum contains essential nutrients and antibodies, giving the kitten passive immunity until they receive their vaccinations and are weaned. Bottle-fed kittens are, therefore, more likely to develop Fading Kitten Syndrome.
  • Being abandoned by the mother cat — Because the mother cat can sense that the kitten is weak, they may abandon it. This is in an attempt to keep the other kittens safe and alive.
  • Hypothermia — this includes lethargy and having a blue mouth and is usually because they have been abandoned by the mother cat and cannot yet regulate their own body heat. If no intervention occurs at this point, death will likely soon occur.

Treatment and Prevention of Fading Kitten Syndrome
Unfortunately, Fading Kitten Syndrome cannot entirely be prevented as it is not caused by one disease. The course of treatment for FKS is to treat the symptoms that the kitten(s) present and to then hope for the best outcome.
The sooner the kitten gets to a vet once any of the symptoms are spotted, therefore, the better, as they will be able to treat infections, parasites, malnutrition, dehydration, and hypothermia. This will give them the best chance of survival once they have presented with the symptoms.

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