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Healthy Cats

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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.


A: There are two big categories. One is parasites, which can be internal, such as worms, or external, such as fleas. The other broad category is infectious diseases. Distemper is not that common any more, but it’s devastating to kittens. Feline leukemia everyone knows about, and there are many, many others. That’s why it’s so important to have your veterinarian check your kittens at a very young age.

Q: Can my kitten be infected with parasites, such as roundworms, coccidian, and Giardia? How are those treated?

A: Absolutely. Roundworms, hookworms, and others are easily treated with medications that are very safe for kittens. Coccidia and Giardia are protozoa, and there are anti-parasitic medications and antibiotics to treat them.

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.

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