Fading kitten syndrome

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  • A common problem. The definition of fading kitten syndrome varies between authors. Some would only include kittens <2 weeks old. This article includes kittens up to 12 weeks.
  • Cause : a fading kitten the appears to be normal at birth. However, many fading kittens will in fact have had an occult disease at birth.
  • Signs :
    • Deaths in the first 2 weeks are usually associated with genetic problems or problems acquired in utero or during parturition.
    • Deaths after weaning are often associated with primary pathogens, usually viruses.
    • Infections in the first few weeks are usually bacterial and secondary.
  • Diagnosis : a complete investigation including history, examination, laboratory tests and, sometimes, post-mortem examination.
  • Treatment : symptomatic management and nursing care.
  • Prognosis : guarded.


Clinical signs

  • Small size or failure to gain weight. (NB: need to know normal kitten size and be able to weigh the kittens accurately.)
    Kittens should be 100 g at birth and gain about 10-15 g/day.
  • Decreased activity.
  • Decreased vigor in seeking food.
  • Decreased vocalization. Although increased vocalization may have been seen earlier in the course of some cases if they were seeking food.
  • Weakness.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Low heart rate.
  • Anatomical abnormality, eg cleft palate, intestinal segmental aplastia.
  • Cyanosis.
  • Specific findings, eg musculo-skeletal disease, respiratory or gastrointestinal disease especially in older kittens.
  • Normal kittens should have a heart rate about 220 beats/min and respiration of 15-35/min up to 4 weeks of age. After this they are the same as adults.
  • Sometimes the primary disease is in the mother. In this case it would be expected that all the kittens were affected to some degree. A full clinical examination of the mother is necessary to start an evaluation of this problem.


Differential diagnosis



  • Must always be guarded.
  • Deterioration may be rapid and the owners should be made aware of this.

Reasons for treatment failure

  • Insufficient resources being available for the intensity of diagnostics and care necessary for a positive outcome.
  • Severity of disease.
  • Failure to recognize underlying disease.
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