What Is Fading Kitten Syndrome?

This text might not be easy to read but it is worth being informed on the topic if you have a bunch of young kittens growing up in your house. Stay strong and read on to find out more about how to better take care of them!

Fading kitten syndrome is an umbrella-like term given to kittens that don’t make it to nine weeks of age and beyond, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, those reasons are unknown.

Read more: Kitten Care 101 - How to Take Care of a New Kitten

Fading kitten syndrome is an apt name, sometimes referred to as FKS. A kitten suffering from FKS is usually relatively healthy at first, but then the poor furball will start to ‘fade away’ their health in a steady and sad-to-watch decline.



There are times when the kitten can die suddenly, however, without warning, passing away as they sleep without any indication of a health concern.

This article was reviewed by our expert veterinarian, Chris Vanderhoof (DMV).

What Causes Fading Kitten Syndrome?

It is not really understood why some kittens make it to adolescence and some don’t, but it is actually classed as relatively ‘normal’ in the animal world for one or two of the youngsters not to survive.

According to research, the mortality rate of kittens up to nine weeks of age is thought to be somewhere in the region of 15 to 30%, which means losing a kitten or two from a litter is just as normal as not losing any kittens at all.

Not only that: the bigger the litter number, the higher the chances of one or two of the kittens crossing the rainbow bridge too soon.

Fading kitten syndrome seems to happen more frequently in certain circumstances, including:

  • Premature birth;
  • Rejection from the mother;
  • If the mother dies and leaves her kittens orphaned;
  • Large litters (more than 4 or 5 kittens);
  • Very stressed mothers;
  • Mothers who are malnourished or overweight;
  • Very young or inexperienced mothers;
  • Mothers who are unable to produce enough milk for medical reasons;
  • Hereditary defects and irregularities passed from mother to kitten.

There is usually a ‘runt’ of the litter, too. These kittens, though just as adorable and worthy of love as their non-runt siblings, just don’t progress as fast as other kittens in the same litter. Without special care, these youngsters can easily fall victim to fading kitten syndrome.

What Are the Symptoms of Fading Kitten Syndrome?

The thing that stands out the most in kittens with fading kitten syndrome is just how behind their healthy siblings they seem to be. There are certain milestones that kittens hit, just like human babies, and these include – being able to stand up by themselves, opening their eyes, responding to noises and lights, rolling over unaided, etc.

The other (healthy) kittens in the litter will be hitting those milestones, but the kitten(s) with fading kitten syndrome will not.

Kittens that are struggling and possibly suffering from FKS will often exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Not eating/drinking;
  • Smaller than the rest of their littermates;
  • Not moving around a lot (extreme fatigue);
  • Seeming drowsy or out-of-it;
  • Cold to the touch (low body temperature);
  • Slow and/or labored breathing;
  • Low heart rate;
  • Change in gum color (from pink to white/grey/very pale pink);
  • Changes in bowel movements or urination;
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Some of those symptoms are associated with hypothermia, which has been noted in most, if not all kittens that pass away from fading kitten syndrome.

What Age Does Fading Kitten Syndrome Happen?

Fading kitten syndrome usually starts to rear its symptoms in the first four to six weeks of a kitten’s life, during which time the mother will care for her young, feed them, and then eventually wean them away from her milk.

It is during this time of a kitten’s life that it is most vulnerable. They won’t have been vaccinated, and they won’t yet be strong enough to defend themselves against anything that might cause them harm.

If they haven’t managed to get enough milk from the mother, they will not have grown sufficiently. It is a good idea to monitor your litter or kitten with a Petcube's interactive pet camera, so you can be sure your furry friends are all feeding and behaving as they should.

If there are any medical conditions present at birth that have not yet been diagnosed, it is usually within the first four to six weeks of a kitten’s life that symptoms of those conditions will start to show.

Can You Get Fading Kitten Syndrome in Older Kittens?

Fading kitten syndrome is unlikely to hit kittens that are older than nine weeks of age. At that point, kittens suffering from FKS will either have succumbed to the illness(es), or they will go on to live happy and healthy lives.

Vets will usually not consider Fading Kitten Syndrome 12 weeks and beyond.

How Long Does Fading Kitten Syndrome Last?

Fading kitten syndrome lasts until:

  1. The cause is discovered, successful treatment is administered, and the kitten gets better/healthier, or;
  2. The kitten, sadly, dies.

A kitten with FKS can get better without human intervention, but this is rare. This is especially the case when kittens have been orphaned, rejected, etc. Without human intervention, in most cases, those kittens will die.

With certain fading kitten syndrome causes, such as sepsis (infection), hypothermia, or trauma, the process can be quite quick. The symptoms come on suddenly, and the kitten’s health declines at a fast pace, sometimes even as quickly as overnight.

In other cases, however, such as with undiagnosed and unrecognized defects or medical conditions, the process can be a long one. Fading kitten syndrome symptoms materialize slowly and over a longer period of time.

These include conditions such as:

  • Underdeveloped immune systems;
  • Irregularities with the heart or other vital organs;
  • A range of viral infections – Feline AIDS/FIV, panleukopenia, calicivirus;
  • And others which you can discuss with a licensed veterinarian.

Can You Stop Fading Kitten Syndrome?

Yes, you can stop fading kitten syndrome, but it can't always be successful.

In order to make your kitten healthy and happy again, you will need to find out what is making them unhealthy and unhappy. The cause or causes won’t always be obvious, and veterinary intervention will be necessary.

What is the Treatment for Fading Kitten Syndrome?

Treatment for fading kitten syndrome will depend on the root cause or symptoms. Initially, the kitten will usually be taken in overnight for monitoring and treatment – antibiotics (for infections), plenty of fluids, sugar IVs (dextrose), and assistance to bring up body temperature and prevent hypothermia.

Diagnostic tests will also be performed, at which point decisions can be made. If the condition(s) can be treated, obviously it/they will be. If they cannot, the outcome might be humane euthanasia.

In some cases, fading kitten syndrome can be treated with special kitten-safe formula, such as when mothers have rejected their young, or died and orphaned them. In such instances, kittens are often hand-fed every two to three hours for the first four or five weeks of their lives.

Some kittens will go on to need a restricted diet, or special dietary measures for part of, or all of their lives.

Online Vet & Emergency Fund

If you believe your kitten is suffering from fading kitten syndrome, you can chat to a qualified professional vet immediately, and it’ll cost you as little as $1 per day to get access to the service.

As well as around-the-clock advice, you can get up to $3,000 in funds for emergency treatment.

With medical conditions like fading kitten syndrome, there really is no time to waste. Learn more about Petcube’s Online Vet Service & Emergency Fund and get access to specialist pet care when you and your furry friend need it the most.

FAQ

What does fading kitten syndrome look like?

FKS will look different in different kittens, depending on the cause. In some cases, it might be obvious: the runt of the litter, for example. In others, however, the cause is not obvious. It could be related to viruses, parasites, internal organ defects, and many more factors. These will each bring their own range of symptoms.

Is fading kitten syndrome contagious?

Fading kitten syndrome itself is not contagious. However, if the kitten dies because of a contagious parasite or virus (for example), then it is likely that other kittens in the same litter will also become afflicted with the same condition.

When one kitten in a litter dies, it is recommended to have the remaining littermates checked by a vet to rule out potentially contagious causes.

Is there a cure for fading kitten syndrome?

There isn’t a catch-all cure for fading kitten syndrome, but you can treat the causes of the medical condition. This can include antibiotics for infections, raising the base body temperature to prevent hypothermia, making dietary substitutions, long or short-term medication, and more.

Can you cure fading kitten syndrome at home?

In some cases, yes, you can cure fading kitten syndrome at home, but this will only be the case if you can one-hundred-percent rule out medical causes, such as infections, birth defects, allergies, etc. In cases such as rejection or orphaned kittens, however, around-the-clock care and two-hourly feeding can sometimes save them.

Sometimes, boosting your kitten’s energy can help. The fading kitten syndrome sugar water solution is to essentially mix a little sugar with water, and feed it to them every couple of hours, or a couple of times per day, depending on how frequently it is necessary.

Note from Dr. Vanderhoof: Most recipes call for 2-3 tablespoons per liter of warm water with a couple drops given every few minutes until the kitten is more responsive, then as needed. Warmed up Karo Syrup is also commonly used.

How long will a kitten live with fading kitten syndrome?

For some kittens, life with fading kitten syndrome is a short one. In other cases, where the root causes are diagnosed and then successfully treated, kittens with FKS can return to full health and live a happy life. The best way to treat this condition is with a visit to your vet.