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What Is Fading Kitten Syndrome and How To Manage It

Posted by Dr. Roth on July 22, 2022

What to do if
kitten
wellness care
fading kitten syndrome header photo

Fading Kitten Syndrome is one of the most heartbreaking afflictions to threaten newborn kittens because of its sudden onset. 

Cat parents or caregivers to newborn kittens, such as foster parents and breeders, will benefit from familiarizing themselves with fading kitten syndrome symptoms and treatments.

What Is Fading Kitten Syndrome?

Fading Kitten Syndrome can be difficult to understand because rather than being a diagnosable disease with specific associated symptoms, it's an umbrella term used to refer to a wide range of clinical symptoms that ultimately result in the death of a kitten. 

Fading Kitten Syndrome can affect kittens at any time, from birth to weaning. Even seemingly healthy kittens can experience Fading Kitten Syndrome and typically face a steep decline in health that results in death within a few days but can occur in as short a period as a few hours.

Fading Kitten Syndrome is particularly threatening to neonatal kittens within the first week of their life when 70-90% of kitten death occurs

Clinical Signs of Fading Kitten Syndrome

Because Fading Kitten Syndrome refers to a wide range of concerns, cat parents may notice several warning signs that their kittens are declining in health. 

Lack of Weight Gain

A lack of weight gain is one of the most obvious indicators that a kitten is failing to grow and thrive. Kittens should begin gaining weight almost immediately after birth and should gain between seven and ten grams daily.

Experts suggest weighing kittens between one and two times per day. Having an accurate birth weight is the best chance of determining a baseline for each kitten in a litter.

A plateau or decrease in weight gain is one of the primary signs of fading kitten syndrome, so logging kitten weight is an essential tool in monitoring their health. 

Sleeping Away From the Litter of Kittens

Normal kittens can often be observed piling onto one another to play and sleep, which is comforting and helps regulate their body temperature by keeping each other warm. 

Sick kittens, however, tend to sleep away from their littermates, which is not only an indicator that they're unwell but makes them more susceptible to environmental factors, like the cold. 

Vomiting and Labored Breathing

Vomiting and labored breathing are serious concerns in kittens and potential symptoms of fading kitten syndrome. 

Vomiting can lead to dehydration and weight loss, both of which can seriously impact a kitten's health. It can also indicate underlying health issues that need to be resolved. 

Labored breathing is another sign of Fading Kitten Syndrome and should always be treated as an emergency. Kittens with Fading Kitten Syndrome may be observed gasping for breath or having difficulty breathing.

What Are the Causes of This in Newborn Kittens?

Kittens are considered newborns from their time of birth until they're four weeks old. During this stage, they're extremely delicate and can't feed themselves, regulate their body temperatures, or have fully functioning immune systems

Because of this, newborns face more potential health risks and may crash more quickly than older kittens and adult cats. 

Trouble During the Birthing Process and Maternal Neglect

Potential Fading Kitten Syndrome causes include complications arising during or immediately following a kitten's birth and associated maternal neglect. 

Fading kittens may appear physically healthy when born but struggle to latch, making it difficult for them to receive the colostrum from their mother's milk that nourishes them and provides essential antibodies and growth hormones.

Additionally, a mother cat may have a complicated birth that can take several days, impacting the ability of kittens to get enough oxygen during the birthing process. Those born early in this process may also be unable to nurse while their mother continues to give birth to their littermates.  

A mother cat's inability to produce healthy breast milk can affect her kitten's potential to thrive without human intervention.

Heart Defects, Parasites, and Congenital Defects

In addition to problems arising from birthing complications and maternal neglect, kittens may experience Fading Kitten Syndrome as a result of other complications such as heart and congenital defects and parasites. 

Although it can often only be confirmed by a necropsy, heart and congenital disorders often end in a kitten's failure to thrive, and give way to Fading Kitten Syndrome. These defects are often not physically noticeable and may even be biochemical, making it impossible for a kitten to grow past the neonatal stage. 

In addition, because newborn kittens are so small, they are at a much higher risk of falling victim to parasites. Depending on the severity, a flea infestation can cause fatal blood loss for a newborn kitten.

fading kitten syndrom newborn kitten

What Are Your Treatment Options?

Unfortunately, there are limited treatment options because it can be challenging to identify the root cause of Fading Kitten Syndrome, and a kitten's decline can be so rapid. 

However, there are several preventative steps that cat parents can take to help their kitten avoid falling subject to Fading Kitten Syndrome: 

  • If possible, ensure that their mother is clean, vaccinated, and flea treated before giving birth.

  • Keep them warm.

  • Monitor their weight gain and intervene if they are unable to nurse.

  • Plan routine vet checks to monitor their health.

  • Keep their housing area clean to avoid potential bacterial infections.

If newborn kittens show signs of illness or injury, it's best to seek vet help immediately. Fading Kitten Syndrome can result in fatality in only a few hours, so consistent monitoring is recommended. 

Supportive care, fluids, and medicine to treat underlying bacterial or viral infections can all help protect kittens from Fading Kitten Syndrome. 

Prevent Kitten Deaths Before They Happen

Fading Kitten Syndrome is a severe and life-threatening condition, and pet parents should not wait to seek medical attention if they believe their kitten may be sick. Fuzzy's 7-day free trial can help concerned cat parents receive immediate access to a team that can provide a care plan and recommendations, no matter the day or time. Sign up for Fuzzy to access their round-the-clock care, available 365 days a year. 

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