Health Conditions to Watch for With Your Kitten
A percentage of all kittens born do not survive beyond 12 weeks of age. But once they pass that marker, most will thrive. Death can result from many causes, including birth defects such as a cleft palate. Infectious diseases and parasites can also lead to kitten loss. Less commonly, if the mother and kittens don't have compatible blood types, the kittens can die within days to weeks of nursing because of a condition called neonatal isoerythrolysis. In fading kittens syndrome, kittens cease to nurse, grow gradually weaker and thinner, and die. No cause is known, although mothers with malnutrition are more likely to have fading kittens. After reaching 12 weeks, most kittens will continue to grow and develop, but may still have some problems more often than adult cats do.
Parasites are particularly common in kittens. Coccidia is one of the most commonly seen internal parasites, and is especially common in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions. Affected kittens lose weight, have diarrhea, and become weak and dehydrated. Kittens have more severe signs than adults. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with a stool sample and prescribe treatment.
Crpytosporidium is a coccidia-like parasite that can cause severe watery diarrhea, weight loss and appetite loss. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with a stool sample and prescribe treatment.
Giardia is another commonly seen intestinal parasite of kittens. Most adults cats with Giardia show no symptoms, but kittens may have watery diarrhea that can be fatal. The diagnosis is with a stool sample test for antigens. Treatment is with oral medications.
Roundworms are very common in kittens because most kittens acquire them when nursing. Large numbers of roundworms can cause weight loss and a pot-bellied appearance in kittens, sometimes with vomiting, diarrhea and appetite loss. Serious infestations can even result in kitten death. Your veterinarian can diagnose roundworms with a stool sample, and can prescribe treatment.
Hookworms are not as widespread in cats as they are in dogs, but they are more common in kittens than adults. Large numbers of them can cause anemia. Signs include pale gums, diarrhea, weakness and possible weight loss. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with a stool sample, and can also prescribe treatment.
All kittens should be de-wormed as your veterinarian recommends. Avoid over-the-counter de-wormers, which are not aimed at a specific parasite type and which can be very toxic to kittens.
Ear mites are a common affliction of kittens. They are highly contagious, so an infected cat should be separated from other cats and dogs. The kitten will scratch at her ears, shake her head and hold her head at a tilt. You will see brownish grainy debris inside the ear. Your veterinarian can make a definite diagnosis and prescribe effective treatment.
Herpes viral conjunctivitis is a very common problem of kittens and is caused by a herpes virus. It initially affects the conjunctival membranes of the eye, which are the lining of the lids and eye sockets, but can also involve the clear cornea. Herpes infection is more likely in kittens stressed by other factors such as flea infestation, malnutrition or other diseases, and is much more common in feral kittens or shelter kittens. The discharge from the eye can be so great that the lids become sealed shut; in some cases the eye can rupture. It is necessary to gently open the lids in order to drain the area and apply medication. Response to treatment is usually rapid.
Herpes infection can also cause respiratory signs such as nasal congestion and discharge, leading to appetite loss and dehydration in young kittens. Your veterinarian can prescribe medications and supportive care.
Ringworm (dermatophytosis) is a skin infection caused by a fungus, not a worm. It creates a round, red hairless area with a ring of scale around the edges. The fungi spores are in the environment and may cause infection when they contact the skin, especially of animals with reduced immune capacity, such as kittens. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with a special light or microscopic examination. There are several medications for treatment.
Contagious diseases, such as calicivirus and panleukopenia, are a threat to kittens that have not received proper vaccination. Accidents are also a major threat to kittens. But most kittens that are vaccinated properly, de-wormed, fed a balanced diet and kept indoors have relatively few health problems growing up.