Fading Kitten Syndrome

If you read my post “Five Common Kitten Questions” then you know that I recently fostered a mother cat (now named Claire) and her five kittens. New to the world of kittens, I must say that the experience was not only interesting, but it was also educational as well!  While caring for the kittens I worked closely with the SPCA of Northern Virginia.

Thank goodness they were available to not only help me when it came time to find the kitten’s good homes; they were also very helpful when it came to the kitten’s medical needs. One phrase I heard mentioned several times was “Fading Kitten Syndrome.” When I first heard the term, it frightened me. After all, I had never heard of such a condition and well, it doesn’t sound good! So, what is Fading Kitten Syndrome? I’m glad you asked!

As you probably know, newborn kittens are small, fragile animals. The first two weeks of life present the greatest risk to newborns, therefore, it is very important that you keep a close eye on your new arrivals during this time. So why do the first two weeks present such risk? Well, during this time, any disease that a kitten may have acquired while in utero will begin to take its toll. Birth injuries (during labor) can also present several problems.

Other issues such as lack of warmth and proper nutrition are sure to cause BIG problems (not to mention the possibility of death). If the mother cat was not properly cared for while pregnant and did not receive the proper nutrition, there is a great possibility that her kittens will not receive the proper nutrition they need. Kittens need adequate calories and nutrients (including taurine) in order to get a good start in life.

What can cause fading kitten syndrome?
When kittens are developmentally delayed (due to the problems mentioned above) they begin life at a great disadvantage and are at risk of developing fading kitten syndrome. Things such as low birth weight and lack of muscle mass can begin to cause problems almost immediately. Kittens with such problems may not be able to breathe properly, nurse correctly (which will cause further nutrient deficiencies), or be able to maintain their body temperature (which is EXTREMELY important!).

When these types of problems are present…your kitten will soon be in big trouble as their bodies will soon become chilled and their temperature and heart rate will soon begin to drop. Soon, their crawling ability will be lost. When this happens, the kitten will simply lie on its side. After a while, the kitten will begin to have circulation problems which will eventually affect the brain. If this happens, you can expect spasms, muscle tremors, and eventually coma. If a fading kitten reaches this point…there is nothing you can do as the condition is irreversible.

If your kittens were born to a healthy, well cared for Queen (another word for cat mom), then most likely, they received everything they needed while in utero (including proper nutrition) in order to have a healthy start in life.  Kittens are at a greater risk of developing problems within the first two weeks of life if they were born to a mother who has never received any medical care (especially vaccinations). Other conditions the mother cat may have that can be harmful to her babies include toxoplasmosis, feline leukemia, or feline infectious peritonitis. These conditions can be transferred to the kittens while they are in utero.

All kittens need care! If your kittens were born to a healthy, well-cared-for queen, then most likely, they will have few problems. However, it is important to note that even if the mother cat is healthy, it is still very important to keep an eye on them, especially during the first two weeks of life. Kitten’s that develop fading kitten syndrome due to nutritional deficiencies will most likely need to be raised by hand in order to survive.

If one of your kittens appears ill, is not moving very much, or does not seem to be eating, take it to the vet as soon as possible (sooner rather than later!). The veterinarian will be able to diagnose the problem and provide you with the appropriate treatment plan. If you believe that the mother cat is malnourished or having other problems, it would be a good idea to take her to the vet as well. Good luck! Here’s to happy and HEALTHY kittens!