Early Death in Kittens

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 29, 2009
Early Death in Kittens

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.


In cases where a neonate is presenting with a low body temperature, the veterinarian will slowly warm the kitten to a normal body temperature over several hours to avoid shocking its system. Oxygen supplementation will be given if required, and intravenous fluid therapy will be initiated to correct fluid deficits.

In cases with low glucose levels in the blood (hypoglycemia), fluids with glucose will be selected for fluid therapy. The kitten will not be allowed to feed if its body temperature is significantly lower than normal and it has no suckling reflex; however, once it has been warmed, nursing will be encouraged. Antibiotic therapy will be started in the event that there is a bacterial infections present.

Living and Management

Do not attempt to feed your kitten at home if the kitten is not sucking properly at its mother's teat. Check your kitten daily for its hydration status by checking its urine color and looking into its mouth for evidence of dryness. Dry mouth and dark yellow urine will indicate that your kitten is dehydrated. If this is the case you will need to call your veterinarian for advice. Also monitor your kitten's weight daily, and ensure that the queen (mother) is properly nursing the kittens. Good home care will give your kitten the best chance of healing quickly and effectively.

It is essential that you follow all guidelines to ensure proper medication and feeding at home. Do not stop or alter the treatment on your own or change the dosage times. It is especially important to give medications at the exact prescribed dosage and time because at this immature stage, animals have great variations in drug metabolism and excretion. Even minor changes in drug dosage can be detrimental to your kitten's recovery. Your kitten will also need extra care regarding its nutrition due to its delicate requirements and inability to feed properly on its own.

Featured Image: iStockPhoto.com/Olga Gubskaya

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health