Common Disorders and Diseases in Kittens

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    Common Health Threats

    Persian kitten and reflection by window
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    Kittens are subject to many different diseases and deformities, just like any other animal. Some diseases, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, are congenital. Most, however, are contracted through viruses, infections, or parasites. Fortunately, vaccinated kittens are protected from many of the most deadly diseases.

    Feral cat mothers (sometimes called queens) are more likely than domestic cats to have kittens with health problems. There are many reasons for this: 

    • Feral cats are likely to have more kittens than they can care for;
    • Ferals are more prone to have parasites that can cause disease;
    • Ferals are often undernourished and unable to provide proper nutrition for kittens.
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  • 02 of 14

    Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper)

    A white and orange kitten
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    Panleuk, as it is commonly called, is a particularly virulent virus in the Parvovirus group, and is often found in feral cat colonies, or any other areas where large groups of cats gather. It can cause destruction of the bone marrow as well as of the cells that line the intestine.This can lead to life threatening dehydration and sepsis.

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  • 03 of 14

    Upper Respiratory Infections

    Cat getting a vet exam
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    Upper respiratory infections include the viruses Rhinotracheitis aka Feline Herpes Virus and Feline Calicivirus. There are core vaccines for both of these viruses.  These virus can cause sneezing, nasal discharge, and conjunctivitis (commonly known as pink-eye).

    A third infectious disease is Chlamydia, which is bacterial and can be treated with antibiotics such as Tetracycline. This is not the same type of Chlamydia as the sexually transmitted infection that humans get, however Chlamydia can cause conjunctivitis, which can be spread to humans. 

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    Fading Kitten Syndrome (FKS)

    Sleeping kittens
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    FKS is another name for death of neonatal kittens.  It is a group of symptoms rather than a single disease.  Fosters of pregnant cats and their kittens are well familiar with the symptoms, which may appear shortly after birth, or as late as six to eight weeks. There is no known single cause, although the compromised health of the mother cat undoubtedly weighs heavily.

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  • 05 of 14

    ​Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

    Gray kitten at vet visit
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    FIV is transmitted by deep bite wounds (saliva to blood), or during gestation (blood to blood), cats are more likely to die of secondary infection or other causes because of their compromised immune systems. However many cats may live normally for years before they become ill. Kittens who survive may be hard to place in permanent homes because of humans' misunderstanding of this disease.

     

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  • 06 of 14

    Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

    Mother cat nuzzling a small kitten
    Nevena Uzurov / Getty Images

    FeLV is extremely infectious and can be spread through casual contacts, such as shared food dishes, as well as from the mother cat. While FeLV can be prevented with vaccines, once it appears it can't be cured, however in some cases it may become latent and cause the tests to become negative.  Kittens with latent infections will not become ill, however the infection can become reactivated. FeLV suppresses the immune system so that cats die of diseases they would otherwise be able to fight off.

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  • 07 of 14

    Deafness

    Cute kitten under a bed
    Getty Images

    Some kittens are born without hearing. This condition, while incurable, does not incapacitate a cat. White cats with two blue eyes are often, but not always, deaf from birth.

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  • 08 of 14

    Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

    Closeup of a cat's face
    aymen_bet / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    While FIP can often be found in areas with large numbers of cats, it can also be found in kittens with a genetic predisposition. While exposure to the coronavirus that causes it is widespread, few of the infected cats actually get FIP as the virus needs to mutate to cause illness. The downside is that once contracted, the disease is fatal.​

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  • 09 of 14

    Hip Dysplasia

    Hip Dysplasia is thought to be a genetic disease, although it does not always show up immediately. It is rare in cats compared to dogs. It is a deformity that can, in many cases, be corrected through surgery.

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    Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia (FCH)

    Cat getting a vet exam
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    FCH is commonly caused by Feline Distemper, contracted either immediately (one to two weeks) after birth or during gestation. As it centers in the cerebrum, CH is a neurological disease, which usually affects motor skills, including the ability to walk and control of the head.

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    Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

    Gray and white cat at the vet
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    Certain breeds of cats are subject to Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). They include Maine Coon Cats, Ragdolls, and Sphynx, among other breeds. While there is often a genetic predisposition is does not typically effect cats until they are middle aged or older.

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    Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)

    Persian kitten and reflection by window
    Benjamin Torode / Getty Images

    Polycystic Kidney Disease is found most often in Persian cats and related breeds. It is a progressive genetic disease affecting the kidneys, and often not diagnosed until later in life. Conscientious breeders are now testing their breeding queens in an effort to keep the PKD gene out of their line.

     

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  • 13 of 14

    Flea-Transmitted Diseases

    Cat scratching its ear
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    Several parasites are carriers of dangerous diseases to kittens. The common flea, as well as ticks and mosquitos, can transmit a number of diseases:

    Hemobartonella

    Hemobartonella, aka Hemobartonellosis, is a parasite of red blood cells that can cause anemia. It is potentially deadly in kittens, and they may even need blood transfusions as part of the treatment.

    Anemia

    Even if a kitten doesn't get Hemobartonella from fleas, the mere act of the fleas dining on the kitten's blood over a period of time can cause a different, still serious anemia.

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  • 14 of 14

    Tapeworms

    Vet giving a cat a pill
    Subman / Getty Images

    Veterinarians will almost always treat flea-infested kittens for tapeworms. However, you may be asked to bring a fecal sample from the kitten with you at appointment time, as they are also susceptible to other parasites such as roundworms. 

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.