Watching a new litter of baby kittens sucking down their mother's milk is an adorable sight to behold. This tranquil scene can turn into a frightening one very quickly if you notice one of the baby's chest caving in. This deformity is scary, but many affected kittens can be cured.
Flat Chest Syndrome
Flat chested kitten syndrome (FCKS) is a physiological defect that emerges within a few weeks after birth. It is one of the most common deformities of the chest wall in felines. Kittens with FCKS have a flattened ribcage, which forces their normally oval chest cavity into a rounded diamond shape. The deformity becomes apparent when the kittens suck milk from their mother. Their chest appears to flatten slowly as they eat due to the pressure created by nursing. The flattened chest gradually will return to normal between sessions during the first month or two. The deformity may becomes permanently apparent as the kitten ages or it may disappear altogether.
Purebred kittens are at higher risk of developing FKCS than other cats. British research conducted in 1997 showed that over 3 percent of all Burmese cats examined in the study were born with this defect, which suggests there is a hereditary link associated with it, according to Dr. Susan Little. However, nutrition and other environmental factors also have some role in the development of the condition.
Progression and Severity
The flat chested deformity does not always manifest in the same way. Cases range from mild to severe. Kittens with mild deformities suffer little or no problems at all, and some show no signs of it at all when they reach adulthood. More pronounced cases cause respiratory problems and can interfere with the kitten's development. Lethargy, slow growth and low body weight are common in these cases. Kittens with severe deformities may die if they don't receive immediate medical treatment.
Don't wait to take your kitten to the vet. Take him to the vet immediately if you suspect he has FCKS. Administering steroids and antibiotics early helps the kitten develop properly during the early formative period, which is critical for their long-term health. Ask your vet about supplements and other ways to treat the deformity. Giving the mother cat doses of taurine, up to 1000 miligrams per day, helps kittens grow out of the deformity, according to Rameses Tonkinese. Ask your vet if massage therapy or splinting is appropriate for your kitten. These methods aren't effective on all FKCS kittens, so make sure your vet okays any methods before you try them.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.