Felis ISSN 2398-2950

Fading kitten syndrome

Contributor(s): David Godfrey


  • 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.
Print off the Fading Kitten syndrome Owner Factsheet to give to your client.


Predisposing factors


  • Poor maternal nutrition, during pregnancy as well as during lactation.
  • Poor maternal immunity and poor transfer of maternal immunity.



  • Congenital anomalies are a common underlying cause of fading kitten. Many will be micro-anatomic or biochemical. Some may not cause problems until other factors become involved, eg after weaning with hyperchylomicronemia.
  • Low birth weight is associated with increased chance of death from fading (this tendency probably extends well into adulthood). This suggests either a premature parturition orin uterodisease.
  • Anoxia during parturition may sometimes cause a kitten, who appears normal to human observers, to fail to feed normally and to fade. Use of oxytocin during dystocia, or long parturitions may contribute to this. Although it may be considered normal for queens to take 48 hours to give birth. When long parturitions occur the later born kittens are more likely to have suffered from bouts of anoxia. (Also, in this situation early born kittens may suffer from maternal neglect which can contribute to fading.)
  • Stress from overcrowding, mixing individuals, transport, diet changes and difficulty weaning may contribute to fading.
  • Neonatal isoerythrolysis Neonatal isoerythrolysis is an important cause.
  • Overwhelming bacterial infections are usually from general environmental bacteria and normal inhabitants of the intestine or skin, eg Staphylococcus  Staphylococcus spp  , Streptococcus  Staphylococcus sppKlebsiella  Klebsiella pneumoniae  , Enterobacter  Enterobacter aerogenes (aerobacter aerogenes)Pseudomonas  Pseudomonas spp  , Clostridia  Clostridia spp  , Bacteroides  Bacteroides fragilis  , FusobacteriumPasteurella  Pasteurella multocida , and Salmonella spp   Salmonella sp.
  • Viral infections: coronavirus Feline corona virus: FIP, herpesvirus Feline herpes virus: feline rhinotracheitis virus, parvovirus Canine parvovirus, calicivirus Feline calicivirus and retroviruses.
  • The main factors causing morbidity and death in fading kittens are anoxia, hypothermia  Hypothermia, dehydration and hypoglycemia Hypoglycemia.


  • Neonatal kittens usually steadily deteriorate and die within 2 days of their food intake failing.


  • Kittens are most likely to survive if from their mother's fourth litter.
  • Kittens from their mother's first litters have much poorer survivability. It then rises until the fourth litter and then tends to decrease again.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Cave T A, Thompson H, Reid S W et al (2002) Kitten mortality in the United Kingdom: a retrospective analysis of 274 histopathological examinations (1986 to 2000). Vet Rec 151 (17), 497-501 PubMed.
  • Hoskins J (1990) Clinical evaluation of the kitten - from birth to eight weeks of age. Comp Cont Ed Small Anim Pract 12 (9), 1215-25 VetMedResource.
  • Lawler D F & Monti K L (1984) Morbidity and mortality in neonatal kittens. Am J Vet Res 45 (7), 1455-9 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Lawler D F (1994) Causes and Management of Wasting Syndrome in Kittens. In: Consultations in Feline Internal Medicine 2. Ed: J R August. Philadelphia: WB Saunders. pp 645. ISBN 0 7216 4674 3.