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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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, which can lead to life-threatening dehydration and sepsis.
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Upper respiratory infections include rhinotracheitis, a.k.a. feline herpes virus and feline calicivirus. There are core vaccines for both of these viruses. These viruses 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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FKS, which is a group of symptoms rather than a single disease, is another name for death of neonatal kittens. Fosters of pregnant cats and their kittens are well familiar with the symptoms, which may appear shortly after birth, or as late as several weeks old. There is no known single cause. However, the compromised health of the mother cat undoubtedly weighs heavily.
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FIV is transmitted by deep bite wounds (saliva to blood), or during gestation or birth (blood to blood); cats are more likely to die of secondary infection or other causes because of their compromised immune systems. Kittens who survive may be hard to place in permanent homes because of humans' misunderstanding of this disease. However, many cats may live normally for years before they become ill.Continue to 5 of 13 below.
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Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
FeLV is extremely infectious and can be spread through casual contacts, such as shared food dishes, as well as from the mother cat. FeLV can be prevented with vaccines. However, once it appears, it can't be cured, and 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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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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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, and it is a deformity that can, in many cases, be corrected through surgery.Continue to 9 of 13 below.
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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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Certain breeds of cats are more prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) than others. They include Maine Coon Cats, Ragdolls, and Sphynx, among other breeds. While there is often a genetic predisposition, it does not typically affect cats until they are middle aged or older.
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Polycystic kidney disease is found most often in Persian cats and related breeds. It is a progressive genetic disease affecting the kidneys, and is 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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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, a.k.a. hemobartonellosis, is a parasite of red blood cells that can cause anemia. It is potentially deadly (particularly in kittens), and infected cats may even need blood transfusions as part of the treatment.
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 type of serious anemia.Continue to 13 of 13 below.
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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.
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