Pet Care Blog

Fading Kitten Syndrome: What It Is, Why It Happens & What To Do

Dr. Ricky Walther
fading kitten syndrome

Fading Kitten Syndrome (FKS) refers to a set of symptoms related to a failure to thrive in neonatal kittens (within the period of birth until weaning). The condition affects up to 30% of kittens and is often life-threatening, but recognizing the signs on time and providing adequate care immediately can increase your pet’s chances for survival.

Keep reading to learn the causes of fading kitten syndrome, how to tell if your kitten has it, and what you can do to help your pet. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is fading kitten syndrome?

Fading kitten syndrome refers to kittens whose health begins to deteriorate in the first few weeks of life. This period usually lasts about 4-5 weeks, during which newborn kittens are most susceptible to illnesses. A kitten with FKS can suddenly become ill, unresponsive, or die, even if there were no previous signs of an illness.

What causes fading kitten syndrome?

Identifying the exact cause of FKS is very often not possible. In fact, about 80% of the cases remain undiagnosed, and veterinarians can’t tell for sure why some kittens become ill and die while others thrive. The condition can have a variety of underlying causes, many of which can result in fast deterioration of health or even death if not treated promptly.

Causes of Fading Kitten Syndrome

When vets are able to pinpoint a cause of FKS, it can be a number of things, including:

  • Trouble during birthing
  • Lack of maternal antibodies
  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Belly button infections (omphalophlebitis)
  • Parasites
  • Genetic cat health issues (such as lung defects, heart defects, brain defects, gastrointestinal defects, etc.)
  • Neonatal isoerythrolysis (if the mother cat has a blood type that’s different from the kitten’s, the maternal antibodies might attack the kitten’s red blood cells, resulting in anemia that can cause FKS)
  • Low birth weight
  • Trauma
  • Maternal neglect
  • Malnutrition
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)

What does fading kitten syndrome look like?

Fading kitten syndrome is a set of indications that occur in neonatal and premature kittens, rather than a single disease. It has numerous underlying causes and leads to fast health decline. The unexpected death of a very young kitten is unfortunately one of the first indicators.

The symptoms of fading kitten syndrome are mild at first. Kittens should grow approximately 0.35 ounces in weight per day, so if a kitten isn't gaining weight, losing weight, or falling behind the littermates, that might be an indicator of FKS.

You should also keep an eye on the litter. If you observe a lethargic kitten, a kitten that won’t eat, or one who appears to be excluded from activities (such as playing with other kittens, or breastfeeding and sleeping separately from the rest of the kittens in the litter), it may also indicate signs of fading kitten syndrome.

Symptoms of Fading Kitten Syndrome

A fading kitten might also exhibit symptoms like:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Dull hair coat
  • Lethargy
  • Hypothermia (body temperature below 99 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Labored breathing
  • Excessive vocalizing or lack of meowing or other sounds

At what age does fading kitten syndrome happen?

Fading kitten syndrome affects kittens between the ages of six to eight weeks old, or from birth to when they are weaned from their mother.

The best you can do is keep an eye on how often the kitten eats and how much weight they gain on a daily basis. This way, you'll be able to recognize the first signs of FKS and contact your veterinarian immediately.

How long does fading kitten syndrome last?

It depends. Kittens might fade very quickly (within hours) or more slowly, over the course of a few days or weeks. Most kittens that are affected within the first few weeks of life won’t survive. Typically, about 75% to 95% of afflicted kittens live to eight weeks old. Of those, around 20% to 40% might not survive beyond 12 weeks old.

Is fading kitten syndrome contagious?

It depends on the cause. Infectious or contagious causes of FKS can include viral, bacterial, protozoal, and internal and external parasites. Bacterial infections can occur in the gastrointestinal and respiratory tract, in wounds, or the umbilical cord.

How to treat fading kitten syndrome

Often, a fading kitten will not survive, even with medical intervention. However, there are some steps you can take immediately in order to treat fading kitten syndrome at home and give your pet the best prognosis. The kitten emergency protocol in these situations includes:

  • If the kitten seems lethargic or weak, rub honey, sugar water, or Karo syrup on their gums to increase blood sugar.
  • Wrap your kitten in a towel to warm them up. You can also apply a heating pad or hot water bottle to the towel for extra heat.

It should be noted that these steps are only temporary measures and should not be considered a cure for FKS. If you notice anything out of the ordinary about your kitten, be sure to get in touch with your vet or an emergency animal hospital right away. The vet will examine and test your pet for parasites or infections and prescribe the best course of action.

Can a kitten survive fading kitten syndrome?

If the underlying cause can be identified and therapy started early enough, it is possible for a kitten to survive FKS. However, fading kitten syndrome is fatal in most cases, with the largest fatality rate occurring in the first week of life.

Do fading kittens suffer?

Depending on the symptoms, some fading kittens might be in pain and make loud, pained cries.

Can you prevent fading kitten syndrome?

Fading Kitten Syndrome is not entirely preventable, but regular vet visits and adequate care will enable you to catch any signs of illness early on and ensure your kitten gets adequate treatment.

Pet insurance can help ensure your kitten receives gold standard care with less of a financial burden for the cost of treatment. At Pawlicy Advisor, you can quickly compare pet insurance plans from the leading US providers to review minimum age requirements and coverage details, so you can find and enroll in the one that best suits your pet’s needs.

Key Takeaways

  • The term Fading Kitten Syndrome describes a collection of symptoms that cause kittens to slowly become weaker and then pass away, usually in the first few weeks of their life. Symptoms of FKS include lethargy, decreased appetite, weakness, hypothermia, etc.
  • There are many different reasons why kittens might suffer from FKS. Sometimes, there is more than one problem present, and it can be hard to work out the exact cause. Possible causes include viral or bacterial infections, parasites, genetic conditions and malformations, low birth weight, maternal neglect, malnutrition, and hypothermia.
  • If you suspect that your kitten might be fading, be sure to seek urgent veterinary treatment, as your pet can get sicker and pass away very fast.

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Ricky Walther, DVM

Dr. Ricky Walther

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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