Fading Kitten Syndrome: What is it, And is it TREATABLE?

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Published by Dr. Catharina Hjorth

Updated on

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Can a Kitten Survive Fading Kitten Syndrome? 

If you own or breed cats, you may know of Fading Kitten Syndrome. It is a syndrome that refers to the neonatal death of kittens from birth until weaning, with the risk being the highest the first week of life! 

Although this is a complex and trying time for the tiny kittens, Fading Kitten Syndrome isn’t necessarily a death sentence. On the contrary, knowledge of the syndrome will help you prevent it from happening, and early intervention and treatment can help give your little kittens the best chance of making it into adulthood! So what is this syndrome actually? Keep reading! 

fading kitten syndrome
From Catt Leavitt‎: “Fading kitten syndrome 😞 gave it all we had to save this guy. He was born in one of our foster houses, the mother came with a huge group in a hoarding situation. Litter of 5, all others are doing well. We suspect poor nutrition and inbreeding
Poor “Chance” tried his best ❤️ and so did we.”

What is Fading Kitten Syndrome?

Fading Kitten Syndrome isn’t one specific disease. Instead, it is a collection of signs and symptoms. So you could say it is simply an umbrella term for kittens that get sick in the first couple of weeks after being born. 

As it is not one single disease, the symptoms can be almost as varied as the number of kittens born. But, fading kitten syndrome is often suspected when a kitten starts showing rapidly declining health over a short period of time. Often with no apparent reason at first. 

The best way to help these kittens is to bring them to the care of a veterinarian that may, no matter what, help come up with a treatment plan. But, a veterinarian may also be able to find a cause, giving the kitten an even better chance of survival! 

The Causes of the Condition

But what are the causes of Fading Kitten Syndrome? One of the challenging things with Fading Kitten Syndrome is that there’s often no specific diagnosis. In up to 80% of cases, the condition is deemed idiopathic, which means the veterinarian can determine no direct cause. 

Unfortunately, this means we often don’t know what causes some kittens to become ill and possibly die suddenly. All the while, their littermates continue to grow up happy and healthy. All we know is that it can occur due to a variety of reasons and factors, including: 

  • Congenital defects. 
  • Environmental factors.
  • Infections (bacterial or viral) 

As the kitten’s immune system is not yet fully developed, even negligible, seemingly unimportant factors can cause kittens to become ill. Simply by triggering a domino effect. Leading to Fading Kitten Syndrome. Some examples of “small” issues that can become big are the following: 

Genetic Issues

Also called congenital defects, genetic issues are issues the kittens are born with. This could, for example, be the heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). 

HCM is one of the most common cardiac diseases in cats, believed to be inherited and often seen in pedigree cats. It causes the heart muscles to thicken and stiffen, causing poor heart function. 

Bacterial or Viral Infections

As all young individuals, kittens are susceptible to getting infections. These infections can be of both bacterial and viral origin. An area that is prone to infection in newborns is the belly button. 

A belly button infection is also called omphalophlebitis. Here bacteria infiltrates from the belly button into the bloodstream, causing septicemia (blood poisoning) that can lead to eventual death in young kittens

Parasitic Infections 

Almost all tiny kittens will get some parasites from their mother. While many kittens can either combat it themselves or just don’t get sick from it, it will vary a lot. But, what may start as a small, simple case of diarrhea, can lead to a rapid decline into Fading Kitten Syndrome. 

There are many possible causes, and it is paramount for anyone handling newborn kittens to know the Fading Kitten Syndrome signs to give them the best chance of survival. 

Symptoms And Signs Associated With Fading Kitten Syndrome

With so many causes, the first symptoms of Fading Kitten Syndrome are often very subtle. But, one of the first signs of something being off is often lack of weight gain. As a general rule of thumb, kittens should gain 10 g of weight every day. 

So, it could be an early sign of illness, or Fading Kitten Syndrome, if this weight gain suddenly stops, slows down, or especially if the kitten starts losing weight! 

Another sign is if the kitten seems to be “developing” slower than the other ones. Perhaps it isn’t playing or nursing as much; maybe the queen is even pushing the kitten away! 

Other more general fading kitten syndrome signs include: 

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Weakness or being lethargic 
  • Lack of sounds (like meowing
  • A dull or “patchy” coat

If one of the kittens, or them all, are showing the above signs, it is crucial to contact a veterinarian. 

sickly gray kitten
Fading Kitten Syndrome: What is it, And is it TREATABLE? I Love Veterinary - Blog for Veterinarians, Vet Techs, Students

Available Treatment Options

A tiny kitten has no proper immune system to assist in combating any kind of disease. You should, therefore, never hesitate to contact a veterinarian if you are in any way worried about your kittens, 

A veterinarian will be able to help you determine what the best cause of action for your sick kitten is. Treatment may include rehydration with liquids, assisted feeding, anti-bacterial medicine or anti-parasitic medicine, as well as lots of tender loving care. 

It is important to remember one crucial thing: Unfortunately, a veterinarian may not be able to save all sick kittens. In the vast majority of cases, it is not due to any fault of the owners or lack of willingness or skills of the veterinarian. Tiny kittens are fragile, and sometimes they get very sick, and in some cases, the best thing we can do for them is give them peace. 

Again, a veterinarian is the best person to contact to help you make those decisions and guide you towards what is the best for you and your little kitten. 

How Can Pet Owners Help Kittens With Fading Kitten Syndrome?

If you suspect a kitten is suffering from Fading Kitten Syndrome, the best thing you can do to help is seek medical assistance from veterinary professionals. However, until then, keeping the kitten warm is essential. Wrap a small warm towel around the kitten to keep in the body heat. Just make sure it’s not too hot, as kittens are also easily burnt. 

If the kitten seems weak, rubbing a tiny bit of sugar water on its gums can help keep the blood sugar up. Low blood sugar is hazardous for kittens, especially if they’re sick, and a little sugar will definitely not harm it. Just don’t overdo it. But, again, it is only a temporary help while contacting a professional. 

At What Age Do Kittens Get Fading Kitten Syndrome? 

Fading Kitten Syndrome affects kittens most often in the first four to six weeks of their life, or until they’re weaned from their mother. When presenting in the veterinary clinic, treating them can be difficult for both owners and professionals – but it is not impossible. 

The first and most important thing is to conduct a thorough examination like you would with any other patient. Hereafter, diagnostic tests, like blood samples, can be used to help determine whether any (easily) treated illnesses are present. 

These could, for example, be respiratory infections, belly button infections, or gastrointestinal parasites. 

It is also important to treat secondary symptoms like hypothermia (low body temperature), dehydration, and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) as soon as possible through supportive care. To prevent the kitten’s condition from deteriorating further. 

In advance cases, the kittens may not survive, no matter how hard the professional works. In some cases, euthanasia may be the most humane solution for the kitten. But, with early and urgent intervention and treatment, you and the kitten may hopefully avoid this! 

Preventing FKS in Cats

Even if you know all the Fading Kitten Syndrome signs by heart and have helped rear several kitten litters before, there’s no sure way to prevent it from happening. The best thing you can do is to monitor the kittens and the queen regularly and systematically.

Track how much the kittens are eating, and even more importantly, how much weight they’re gaining. A tiny kitten should grow daily. One of the best ways to monitor whether a kitten is growing correctly is to compare it to its littermates. 

If one single kitten isn’t growing as much as the others or suddenly stops growing, it is cause for concern, and you should contact your veterinarian for further guidance. 

Just remember, although some of the causes of Fading Kitten Syndrome may be infectious and contagious, if this is the case, all the kittens may be affected and, therefore, may all slow down their weight gain! 

Another way to help prevent Fading Kitten Syndrome is to ensure that the queen is healthy and fed nutritious cat food made for pregnant or lactating queens. 

lactating queen

The Final Meow

Fading Kitten Syndrome is a horrible thing to experience as a kitten owner – and even more so as a kitten. But, knowing the fading kitten syndrome signs and what to look out for, and even more importantly, when to call a veterinarian, is the very best way to help your kittens grow up to become strong, beautiful, and healthy cats! 

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With a veterinary master's degree from the University of Copenhagen in 2023, this accomplished writer's academic journey culminated in a thesis focused on the "Feasibility of using ultrasound of the abdomen for early diagnosis of necrotizing enterocolitis in neonatal pigs." Additionally, their dissertation delved into the intriguing topic of "Mercury accumulation in Greenlandic sleddogs." Beyond her academic achievements, her passion for animal health seamlessly merges with her love for writing. She excels in harmonizing clinical precision with literary expression, crafting articles that resonate with the heartbeat of her veterinary profession.


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