Fading Kitten Syndrome Symptoms and Treatment

Published September 18, 2019
Cat Looking Away

Fading Kitten Syndrome (FKS) is a deadly condition that affects kittens. It can be a painful experience for the kitten depending on the cause or one where the kitten is simply too weak to thrive. Knowing the signs of FKS may help you prevent a kitten's death if you catch it early enough and get immediate veterinary help.

What Is Fading Kitten Syndrome?

FKS begins to affect kittens in the neonatal stage and often is fatal soon after birth. It is not an actual disease but rather one or more symptoms that leads to a kitten's inability to thrive and sadly death. It strikes kittens during their most vulnerable stage in the first two weeks of life although they can be at risk for the first nine to 12 weeks. FKS may or may not be contagious depending on what the underlying cause is, so keeping the kitten separate from the litter is a good idea in case they have an infectious disease or other contagious disease.

Causes of Fading Kitten Syndrome

Because FKS is not a specific disease, it can be related to one or more causes that eventually cause organ failure because the kitten is too weak to survive. Some common reasons for FKS include:

  • Congenital birth defects
  • Injuries due a difficult labor and birth
  • Low birth weight and emaciated body
  • Infectious and bacterial diseases
  • Environmental conditions such a dirty birthing area and cold temperatures
  • A mother in poor health
  • Rejection by the mother leading to an inability to nurse and accompanying poor nutrition
  • Hypoglycemia/low blood sugar
  • Parasites like roundworm
  • Physical injuries
  • Feline leukemia (FeLV)

Neonatal Isoerythrolysis and Fading Kitten Syndrome

Another common cause of FKS is neonatal isoerythrolysis (anemia) which is caused by kittens with type A blood feeding from a mother who has type B blood. When the kitten drinks the colostrum (milk) from the mother, the antibodies in the mother's blood found in the colostrum attack the kitten's red blood cells. Certain breeds such as the Abyssinian, British Shorthair, Persian, Devon Rex, Turkish Angora and Turkish Van are more likely to have type B blood and their kittens are more likely to get neonatal isoerythrolysis. On the other hand, some breeds only have type A blood, such as Siamese cats, and are not likely to produce kittens with the condition.

Veterinarian examining a kitten

Signs and Symptoms of Fading Kitten Syndrome

Unfortunately sometimes the first sign of FKS is a dead kitten. If the kitten is weak enough and afflicted by any of the causes listed above, they can quickly succumb to them without time for you to even notice a problem. For other kittens, you may notice:

  • Lethargy, inability to move or get up, or completely unresponsive
  • Difficulty breathing, often with an often mouth
  • Arching of the neck
  • Excessive crying
  • Pale-colored or blue-tinged gums
  • Cold body temperature
  • Moving away from the other kittens or isolation by them
  • No interest in food or nursing from the mother
  • "Runt" of the litter with a low body weight compared to the other kittens
  • Inability to gain weight
  • Emaciated appearance
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Dark red to brown-colored urine
  • Jaundice
  • Eyes not open unlike the rest of the litter

Says veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber, get your kitten to a veterinarian if you see, "Any sign of ADR, as in 'ain't doing right,' such as weakening, not nursing well, trying to latch on and they're not, going for the nipples in the back which are harder to grab and they're not strong enough to compete with the other kittens." He compares it to treating "neonatal kids that were prematurely born."

Diagnosis of Fading Kitten Syndrome

Your veterinarian will run urine, biochemistry profiles, fecal and blood count tests to look for signs of anemia, hypoglycemia, infection, parasites, or neonatal isoerythrolysis. They will also want to get any information you have, if possible, about the kitten's parents and about the environmental conditions in your home.

Treatment of Fading Kitten Syndrome

According to Dr. Werber, "FKS certainly can be treated, but the issue is no one really knows exactly what's involved with it. It can be treated but you want to get treatment to them right away."

Visit the Vet Immediately

Kittens taken to the vet immediately have a better chance of survival, as your veterinarian can diagnosis what is causing the condition and provide care before your kitten's weak immune system leads to death. Since there are several medical issues that can lead to FKS, your veterinarian will determine which should be treated right away to increase your kitten's chances of survival.

Treatment Options

Dr. Werber says, "Treatment involves supportive care and treating the symptoms and get to the bottom of those." This can include:

  • Providing antibiotics to fight any signs of infection, such as respiratory infections
  • Treating any parasites with dewormers and other medications
  • Providing supportive care including IV fluids to treat dehydration
  • Using a feeding tube to get badly needed nutrition into the kitten's body
  • Plasma therapy to bolster the kitten's immune system
  • Vitamins such as B12 and iron can boost the kitten's immune system
  • If the kitten is hypoglycemic, the veterinarian will administer a dextrose 50% injection to increase their blood sugar
kitten taken a medicine

Immediate Care for Kittens With Fading Kitten Syndrome

As soon as you believe a kitten may have FKS, you need to raise their body temperature and blood sugar levels as you get them to the vet. You can do this with a heating pad or a warm blanket close to your body and use a dropper with a 50/50 solution of water and sugar to feed them. However do not delay getting them to the veterinarian.

Survival Rate of Kittens With Fading Kitten Syndrome

Unfortunately the survival rate of kittens with FKS is low, particularly since many times the first sign owners see is a dying or dead kitten. Even when you realize quickly they need assistance, they can succumb to the condition despite veterinary care because they are so weak.

Incidence of Kittens with Fading Kitten Syndrome

There are no statistics among the overall cat population but studies have found that there appears to be a higher rate of FKS occurring in breeder catteries, and therefore purebred cats are at higher risk. Approximately 15 to 27% of kittens in catteries will die. Persian kittens were found to be at the highest risk. Another population with a higher incidence of FKS are kittens in shelters and foster care. This is not surprising considering many of these kittens may arrive at the shelter already malnourished and susceptible to respiratory diseases and parasites. In some litters of foster kittens it's not uncommon for all to die.

Preventing Fading Kitten Syndrome

It's difficult to give an exact plan to prevent FKS as it can be caused by so many factors. In general some recommended steps are:

  • If you have possession of the mother, ensure that she has all her shots, is healthy, and is free of parasites prior to giving birth.
  • Breeders should blood test the breeding pair to make sure there is no chance of neonatal isoerythrolysis.
  • Birthing areas should be kept clean and at a healthy temperature and handling of the kittens should be kept to a minimum to reduce stress upon the mom and the newly born kittens.
  • If you have the kittens after they are born, such as adopting one at a shelter, take them to a veterinarian immediately for a full medical check-up. Many shelters even include a free check-up with local veterinarians as part of the adoption.
  • Observe your kitten often, whether it's a newborn in a litter or one you've brought home, for any signs of the symptoms of FKS. Dr. Werber recommends that, "If you even see there is a problem with a particular kitten which is usually the runt, you should be prepared to tube or bottle feed because a lot of these kittens are too weak to nurse."
  • It's a good idea to keep track of your kitten or litter's weight with a kitten weight chart. If a kitten is not thriving, failure to gain weight is a clear sign that something is wrong.
  • Dr. Werber also recommends "checking for dehydration and providing subcutaneous fluids, giving vitamins like B12 and dextrose if hypoglycemia is a concern, and an oral supplement called Nutri-Cal can help."

Dealing With Fading Kitten Syndrome

Although FKS can be a deadly condition for many kittens, there are methods to prevent it. Responsible breeders and rescues should be prepared to monitor their kittens and provide a safe, appropriate environment. Pet owners should be vigilant as well. Dr. Werber advises that care and treatment should occur, "relatively quickly so you don't let them get too weak." Do not hesitate to get your FKS kitten to a veterinarian before it's too late.

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Fading Kitten Syndrome Symptoms and Treatment