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Fading Kitten Syndrome

Fading kitten syndrome is similar to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SID). Cat breeders will, I expect, be familiar with it. On the 14th day of life, at the time when kittens open their eyes the chance of a kitten dying unexpectedly and suddenly starts to fade. The first 2 weeks of life for a kitten present the gravest risks in survival. In this brief window of life diseases acquired while in the mother's womb, and injuries sustained during birth can claim the vulnerable kitten.

fading kitten syndrome picture of kitten
His name was Cheddar. He suffered from fading kitten syndrome. Photo by Many Cats 4 Me

I would seem, however, that some deaths during this period are due to human error, for example: lack of proper heating in the kitten quarters, not vaccinating the mother and a failure to provide high quality food to the mother. Amongst the litter, the kitten who fails to thrive and is immature developmentally is disadvantaged as this kitten lacks weight, fat, muscle and can be 25% smaller than his or her siblings. This can lead to an inability to keep warm or breath properly.

Small kittens can be crowded out by siblings. Kittens who are underweight have often failed to obtain proper nourishment in the womb. If the litter generally is underweight then the indication is an undernourished mother but if one or two kittens are underweight this, according to Drs Carlson and Giffin, could be due to the placenta failing to provide sufficient nourishment.

Kittens that are likely to suffer fading kitten syndrome should be raised by hand. Some breeders might watch and wait before bonding with new kittens in case one fades. A fading kitten may appear within 24 hours to 9 days after birth. The symptoms include a loss of interest in nursing, the kitten remaining small. The kitten gets cold, dehydrates and her/his blood circulation starts to fail. This causes a drop in internal body temperature, which drops to below 94 degrees F. The kitten eventually becomes inactive, lies on her side, coma and death follow. This would be heartbreaking to a cat breeder hence keeping a distance emotionally for the first 14 days.

Deaths usually occur during the first 72 hours. If the mother is sick herself with, for example, Feline Leukemia, FIP (and see Feline Infectious Peritonitis Prevention) or Feline Panleukopenia then these diseases may be transmitted to the kittens who will be small and weak when born and die within a few days. Drs Carlson and Giffin say that mother's inadequate milk is the most common reason for the death of kittens. In turn the most common cause of inadequate milk is inadequate diet and that comes down to us.

Of course early deaths are not always due to fading kitten syndrome but any number of reasons such as neglect by the mother, disease, congenital abnormalities etc.

Kittens for Dummies

Fading Kitten Syndrome to Cat Health Problems

Photo published under creative commons license:

  • Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook
  • Proven Marketing Tips for the Successful Cat Breeder


Michelle said…
NEVER FEED A KITTEN WHEN IT'S LAYING ON IT'S BACK!!!! This is very dangerous. The kitten kan choke and die!!!

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