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Early Death in Kittens

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Fading Syndrome (Neonatal Mortality) in Kittens


Neonatal mortality, or fading syndrome, involves the death of a kitten at an early age of life (generally, less than two weeks). Because of their immature body organs and systems, kittens are prone to various insults, including infections and environmental, nutritional, and metabolic factors. The immune system (vital for fighting infections) is still in the building stage, so if it is not yet strong enough to ward off an infection the young cat may not survive the condition. Also, young animals do not yet have strong body temperature regulation, and their body temperature can fluctuate profoundly in response to changing environmental temperatures and humidity. Glucose control may also be poor, and blood glucose levels may fall below normal ranges in cases of nutritional disturbances, leading to a state of hypoglycemia. This syndrome is more commonly seen in pedigree kittens, as they have a tendency to be more delicate.


Symptoms and Types


  • Weakness/lethargy
  • Low birth weight
  • Loss of weight
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Decreased activity
  • Poor appetite
  • Constant vocalizations and restless in early phase, but kitten may become inactive and quiet in later stages
  • Straying away from its litter-mates
  • Diarrhea
  • Low body temperature




Queen (mother)-related


  • Difficult birth or prolonged labor
  • Problems with milk letdown
  • Injury
  • Inadequate nutrition




  • Temperature and humidity extremes
  • Poor sanitation


Kitten related


  • Congenital defects
  • Infections




You will need to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your kitten’s health, including a background history of symptoms and any background information you have regarding your kitten's parentage. After taking a complete history, your veterinarian will conduct a complete physical examination. Laboratory tests will include a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis.


Blood testing may reveal anemia, changes in leukocyte (white blood cells, WBC) counts, including an abnormally low number of platelets (the cells responsible for blood clotting) and an increase in the number of white blood cells, which is what is usually seen in infections. A biochemistry profile may indicate abnormally low levels of glucose (hypoglycemia) along with other changes, depending on which organs are being the most affected. The urinalysis may indicate the presence of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component of red blood cells, in the urine. It may also show bacteria present in the urine, indicating an infection of the urinary tract. More specific testing would include isolating the virus or bacteria from various body fluids. Your veterinarian will also conduct a fecal examination to test for the presence of parasites.



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