How to Fight Fading Kitten Syndrome

Kittens are at risk of fading kitten syndrome until they are about 4 to 5 weeks old.

Kittens are at risk of fading kitten syndrome until they are about 4 to 5 weeks old.

Fading kitten syndrome is also called failure to thrive. There are many reasons why that may be happening but, if you can determine the cause, you can fight fading kitten syndrome. If you don't understand why your kitten is fading fast, it's tougher to handle.

Observe the litter carefully to catch fading kitten syndrome as early as possible. If you see any kitten that is not nursing regularly, off to the side and not with the litter, mewing constantly, is vomiting or has diarrhea, seems weaker than the others or is not gaining weight, you will need to figure out why. Know the benchmarks of a kitten's growth, such as the eyes opening at 5 to 14 days, crawling in 7 to 14 days, and sleeping alone at 6 weeks. If you see a kitten failing to meet these benchmarks, consider fading kitten syndrome and take action.

Determine the cause of the problem. Fading kitten syndrome occurs for one of several possible scenarios, such as the mom is neglecting the kitten, or the kitten can't stay warm, has an infection or is physically defective. There could be something toxic in the environment, or the kitten might have been born with too low a birth weight to survive. A lesser possibility, but still one that should be considered, is the kitten's blood type being incompatible with the mother's, leading to anemia and death.

It is imperative to determine the cause if you are to successfully fight fading kitten syndrome. Kittens cannot make their own body heat and chill easily, so keeping them warm is critical. Kittens can easily become dehydrated or hypoglycemic, so ensure they are nursing enough to sustain life. Infections and parasites can be fatal to a kitten whose immune system is not yet healthy enough to fight back, so make sure the kitten is parasite-free and not exposed to sick animals.

Formulate a treatment plan based on your assessment and evaluation of why the kitten is fading. For example, if the mother is sick, malnourished, neglecting the kitten or has more kittens than she does nipples, you will need to feed the kitten every four hours with a kitten milk replacement. If the kitten has a physical defect, you must decide if it is a physical problem that will make living difficult, such as a disfigured limb, or impossible, such as a cleft palate, and then determine if any action should be taken at all. If the ambient temperature is too extreme, moderate it. If there is an infection, seek treatment from a veterinarian in the form of antibiotics or immune-building medications.

Items you will need

  • Small postal or dietary scale
  • Nursing kit (optional)
  • Prescription and/or OTC medications (optional)
  • Heat source (optional)
  • Kitten milk replacement formula (optional)


  • Keep good records on your kittens' progress. Weigh them every other day to ensure they are gaining weight so you can catch any problems early on. Write down how often and for how long they are nursing, and help the mother keep the nest clean and away from curious kids and other household pets. Stress can upset the mother and cause her to neglect her kittens.


  • Fading kitten syndrome is a medical emergency, do not delay in seeking veterinary attention. Very young kittens, only a day or so old, will usually succumb to fading kitten syndrome before you even realize it is happening. You could make every effort to save the kitten and still fail. Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

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About the Author

Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.

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