Vet Corner: Fading Kitten Syndrome - All You Need To Know

Vet Corner: Fading Kitten Syndrome - All You Need To Know

Author Dr. Iva Pejnovic, DVM


Fading kitten syndrome is a set of symptoms associated with a failure to thrive in the period between birth and weaning from the mother. This starts immediately after birth and lasts about 4 to 5 weeks; in this period, the kitten is most vulnerable.

What is fading kitten syndrome?

Fading kitten syndrome is not a disease. It is a group of symptoms that develop in neonatal kittens and often lead to death. It refers to a period between birth and weaning from the mother. Some studies show that kitten mortality is highest during the first week of life, and about 16% of kittens die before weaning. The real cause is still unexplained, but it is compared with sudden infant death syndrome in human babies. Sadly FKS is usually fatal.

Causes of FKS

Fading kitten syndrome has numerous causes, but the main reason is still unknown. It includes environmental factors, genetics, infections, etc. Human error plays a role as well. Because of a weak immune system, even a tiny element can be a trigger. The most important is to recognize symptoms and act quickly when treatment is necessary.

Some factors that can contribute to FKS:

  • The disease of a mother cat
  • Infectious diseases
  • Neonatal isoerythrolysis
  • Parasites
  • Trouble during birth
  • Trauma
  • Malnutrition
  • Maternal neglect

kitten in nature

RELATED: 7 Best Dry Kitten Foods

Signs of FKS

Kittens who develop FKS are often the smallest of litter. They have low birth weight, and they are less active. They are usually not strong enough to grasp and suckle the mother cat, which is essential because collecting colostrum gives passive immunity to kittens. Newborn kittens are unable to regulate body temperature. Therefore, abandoned kittens can rapidly develop hypothermia. They are usually lethargic and pale. Newborn kittens typically develop the ability to turn over from their back by day 3 of birth and the ability to support themselves on their feet by week 2; if it's not like that, the kitten may be experiencing FKS.

Some other signs that you should watch for are:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Poor suckling reflex
  • Weakness
  • Labored breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Due to the immaturity of newborn kittens' body immune systems, it is essential to react quickly. For example, slight diarrhea can quickly result in dehydration and hypothermia, causing vital functions to fail.

RELATED: 4 Best Litters for Kittens [Review]

How can I help my kitten?

If you suspect your kitten has FKS, immediately contact your vet, but it is essential to give "first aid" to your kitten. You can do several things at home: get the kitten warm. Wrap the kitten in a towel, but the face should be exposed. If you have a heating pad, you should set it on low and put around the kitten in the towel (beware of burns!); if you don't have a heating pad set, you can warm up the towel in which you wrap the kitten-but it cannot warm itself only with a towel. The second important thing is to raise their blood sugar with sugar sources like warm sugar water. If the kitten isn't swallowing, try rubbing sugar on the tongue or gums.

kitten in basket

Diagnosing of fading kitten syndrome

It is essential to take a newborn kitten to a vet clinic for an examination so the vet can determine if the kitten is thriving. Suppose the kitten is not reaching certain milestones. In that case, the vet will take extra examinations such as blood tests, biochemistry tests, or fecal and urine evaluations to see if some underlying problem can be treated.

Treatment and recovery

If some of the causes of fading kitten syndrome are determined in time, FKS can be treatable. Treatment often includes supportive care, fluids, nutritional support, antimicrobials, or temperature support. Recovery is possible if FKS is identified on time. The long-term prognosis is usually good unless there is FIV or FeLV as the underlying issue (supportive therapy). But it is essential to say that fading kitten syndrome has the highest mortality rate during the first week of newborn kitten life.

RELATED: Capstar for Kittens: Dosage, Treatment & Effectiveness


Fading kitten syndrome is a term used for kittens that fall to thrive. It is severe and often fatal, so it is essential to act fast. FKS can be treated by supportive therapy if there is an underlying issue, although there are numerous cases. The long-term prognosis is good if a kitten survives a critical period and grows stronger.

World Cat Finder Team

world cat finder logo