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What Can Go Wrong With My Kitten?

WebMD veterinary expert answers commonly asked questions about kitten care, including vaccinations, common illnesses, and birth defects.



Q: What is “fading kitten syndrome” and how is it treated?

A: It’s not a very well defined syndrome. It’s also called failure to thrive. It’s something that usually happens within the first two weeks of life. It can come from environmental factors, such as maternal neglect, or it can be physical, such as congenital birth defects, low birth weight, anemia. Various infections also can play a role.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that kittens are very fragile, just like infants are, when they are born. There are a lot of things that conspire against them. But if we keep them warm, make sure they’re nursing, check for signs of infection, we can head off problems.


Q: Are many kittens born with birth defects? Can they be helped?

A: We don’t see a lot of birth defects. Many kittens born with birth defects don’t survive. Birth defects also are more common in purebred cats, because of the way they’re bred. Purebred cats have more health issues, too. It has to do with genetics and a smaller gene pool.


Q: Are kittens prone to respiratory problems?

A: It’s almost standard issue with kittens. They have little immunity at this age, and these diseases are fairly easy to transmit. It’s airborne, it can come from contact with another animal that has it, you can even transmit it on your hands from one kitten to another. It’s very common, particularly in kittens from shelters, where if one kitten has it, they all get it. But it’s usually not a fatal disease. It’s a nuisance, but it’s very treatable.


Q: What is causing the gummy discharge from my kitten’s eyes?

A: It’s oftentimes an upper respiratory infection, and that’s a catchall phrase. That can cover things like conjunctivitis, sinusitis, and rhinitis. If your kitten has runny eyes, clean them with a cotton ball dipped in warm water. But if it lasts for more than 24 hours, you should see your veterinarian. Although it’s usually not anything serious, I’ve seen kittens go blind from this when it was left untreated. It’s also more common in younger kittens. By the time kittens reach 16 weeks, it should stop reccurring because their immunity will be built up by then.


Q: My kitten has fleas. Should I be concerned? Can I put flea treatments on him?

A: It’s a very important issue. Fleas are bloodsucking parasites. In a great big cat, that’s not particularly serious. In a tiny little kitten, it is. They don’t have a lot of blood, and they’re virtually defenseless - they’re not grooming themselves yet, they barely know how to scratch. These fleas are going to town and the kittens get very anemic and they can die from this.

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