Fading Kitten Syndrome: Symptoms & Treatments

Fading kitten syndrome is deadly in most cases. However, if a kitten receives therapy early enough, they have a better chance of surviving.

Jun 11, 2024By Monika Dimitrovska
fading kitten syndrome symptoms treatments

Fading kitten syndrome means a kitten isn’t growing well and staying healthy during the first few weeks of life. It’s most dangerous during the first month.

Sadly, it often leads to death, but spotting the signs can help you know when to get help from a vet. Moreover, purebred cats have a higher chance of dying within their first year than non-purebred ones.

Below, we’ll discuss fading kitten syndrome symptoms and treatments, so let’s dive right in!

Fading Kitten Syndrome Symptoms

baby cat sleeping
Image credit: rebel1965 from Pixabay

Watching kittens struggle with fading kitten syndrome can be heart-wrenching. This condition occurs in the first few weeks of life of newborns and lasts around 4-5 months when they’re the weakest.

That’s why if you ever find newborn kittens, you must determine their condition before anything else and respond accordingly.

Moreover, learning about fading kitten syndrome is one of the things to know before adopting a kitten, so here’s a list of potential symptoms you should be aware of:

  • The kitten can’t turn over from their back by day three after birth
  • They can’t stand up on their own by two weeks old
  • Making constant distress noises (like whining or crying), even after eating
  • Getting very tired and weak
  • Refusing food
  • Not gaining weight
  • Having trouble sucking or nursing
  • Breathing heavily
  • Throwing up
  • Having diarrhea
  • Having discharge from their nose or eyes

Fading Kitten Syndrome Causes

kitten sleeping with mother
Image credit: JackieLou DL from Pixabay

Raising puppies isn’t the same as raising kittens, and figuring out what causes fading kitten syndrome is often hard. In fact, about 80% of the time, vets can’t tell why some kittens get sick and die while others stay healthy.

The truth is that many things might cause it and make the kitten’s health deteriorate fast or even cause death if they’re not treated quickly.

Here’s a list of potential causes of fading kitten syndrome:

  • Parasites
  • Not getting enough antibodies from their mother
  • Problems during birth
  • Infections from viruses or bacteria
  • Genetic health issues like problems with their lungs, heart, brain, or stomach
  • Neonatalisoerythrolysis (this happens if the mother’s blood type is different from the kitten’s, and her antibodies attack the kitten’s red blood cells, causing anemia and fading kitten syndrome)
  • Getting hurt
  • Being too cold
  • Not getting enough food
  • Being born too small
  • Lack of care from their mother

How to Fix Fading Kitten Syndrome?

feeding baby kitten
Image credit: Clarissa Vannini from Pixabay

Sadly, most kittens affected in their first few weeks won’t make it. Usually, about 75% to 95% of kittens with fading kitten syndrome live to be eight weeks old, but around 20% to 40% of them of them don’t surpass 12 weeks.

If you suspect your kitten has a fading kitten syndrome, schedule a vet appointment as quickly as possible. The vet will suggest some tests like blood work, checking poop and pee, and taking pictures inside the kitten’s body with X-rays or ultrasounds.

Sadly, sometimes, even vets can’t find out what’s wrong before the kitten passes away or needs to be put down because they’re too sick to have a good life.

If you have other animals at home, the vet might suggest doing a necropsy to make sure they’re not at risk of getting a contagious disease.

kittens sleeping
Image credit: Dany from Pixabay

Sometimes, if the vet finds the problem early enough, they might be able to treat it. For example, they could give medicine for a bacterial infection, but some birth defects might not be treatable, especially if they’d make the kitten’s life really hard.

Treatment involves giving the kitten lots of support while the vet tries to figure out what’s wrong. This support can include:

  • Giving fluids through a tube or under the skin to keep the kitten hydrated and help their body work better.
  • Providing sugar water to kittens who can’t control their blood sugar well or aren’t eating enough.
  • Your vet can also administer medicines to fight infections, like antibiotics or antivirals.
  • Nutrition through a tube if the kitten can’t eat on their own.
  • If the kitten has trouble breathing, the vet might administer oxygen.
  • They’ll keep the kitten warm or cool, depending on their body temperature.

If treatment is delayed, the kitten could end up with low blood sugar, dehydration, or a body temperature that’s too low or too high.

Sadly, even with treatment, some kittens won’t make it. Learning everything about a cat’s pregnancy before adopting a female cat can help you cope with situations like this one.

Fading Kitten Syndrome Recovery

kitten snuggling with mother
Image credit: Antonios Ntoumas from Pixabay

If the vet can find and treat the problem in time, a kitten can get better from fading kitten syndrome. But usually, it’s really tough, especially in the first week of life.

If a kitten does make it through this tough time and gets stronger, they’ll need good care to stay healthy. That means making sure they eat well, keeping their living space clean, and taking them to the vet regularly to make sure they’re growing right.

Usually, kittens that recover do pretty well in the long run unless they have a congenital disability or a virus that affects how long they’ll live.

Note: When your kitten recovers, they will eventually become more active, curious, and mischievous. But don’t worry; kittens eventually calm down.

Is Fading Kitten Syndrome Painful?

black white kitten blue blanket
Image credit: johnnyhypno from Pixabay

Some fading kittens might feel pain, especially if they have certain symptoms, and they might express their pain by crying loudly.

Here’s what to do at home while waiting for help:

Keep them warm:

  • Wrap them up in a towel, making sure their whole body is covered except for their face. Don’t unwrap them to check on them because it can make them cold again.
  • Use a heating pad set on low wrapped around the towel to give them extra warmth. Secure it properly so it doesn’t move around.
  • If you don’t have a heating pad, warm up a towel in the dryer for a few minutes and use that as a substitute. Repeat as needed.

Boost their blood sugar:

  • Give them warm sugar water, Karo Syrup, or Nutrical. Give them three drops every three minutes.
  • If the kitten isn’t swallowing, try rubbing the sugar on their gums and tongue.

Important note: Please don’t take your kitten to the shelter right away. Following these steps right away gives them the best chance of survival.

Closing Thoughts

cat looking owner
Image credit: Kadres from Pixabay

While you can’t prevent fading kitten syndrome, you can lower the risk by making sure your mother cat gets good vet care while pregnant. Also, if your new kittens seem sick, don’t wait—go to the vet right away.

Adopting young kittens comes with many responsibilities. That’s why we encourage adopting a senior cat.

As you can probably assume, most people don’t give older cats because of their age when, in fact, they require less supervision. So, give a senior feline a chance and save a life today!

Monika Dimitrovska
By Monika Dimitrovska

Monika is a pet enthusiast and seasoned copywriter with a tech degree. She loves writing, but her heart belongs to her two mixed dogs, Buba and Bono, a mother-son duo. Bono’s siblings found loving homes, sparking Monika’s advocacy for neutering and deepening her curiosity about animal care.

But Monika’s pet family doesn’t end there. She also has two cockatiels and two rescue cats, proving her home is a haven for creatures big and small.