fading kitten syndrome

Fading Kitten Syndrome (FKS) is a set of symptoms that cause a neonatal kitten to fail to thrive. While FKS is not a disease in and of itself, it is a series of life-threatening symptoms in which the kitten’s health quickly declines, and may lead to death without immediate intervention. In order to support kittens through these emergency situations, caregivers should learn the signs, monitor for symptoms, and have a plan ahead of time so that you know where to go for help--even if it's the middle of the night. 

symptoms of fading kittens

Riff, a survivor of FKS, receives plasma therapy. 

Riff, a survivor of FKS, receives plasma therapy. 

If you observe these emergency symptoms, don't delay. Take the kitten to the vet immediately.

  • Agonal breathing (gasping, open-mouth breathing)
  • Pale gums
  • Extreme lethargy 
  • Odd vocalizations (cries of pain)
  • Muscle wasting (loss of muscle tone in the face and body, causing the kitten to look gaunt or frail. The kitten may develop a triangular looking face.)
  • Decreased interest in food
  • Loss of weight
  • Dehydration
  • Hypothermia or hyperthermia

Due to the fragility of the neonatal kitten’s body and immune system, even seemingly small factors can trigger a domino effect of symptoms. For instance, what might start as a small bout of diarrhea can develop into emaciation and anemia, causing the vital functions of the body to weaken. While it can be a challenge to trace the original cause, recognizing the symptoms and acting quickly is the key to beating it. Kitten caregivers should not wait until a kitten is in crisis to take action—these early signs should spring the caregiver into action immediately.

If a kitten is showing these early signs, the best thing to do is to immediately bring them into a vet, without waiting until the following day. Fading kitten treatment should address both the cause of the fading and any secondary symptoms. A vet can determine any treatable illness such as respiratory infections or internal parasites, and can prescribe an antibiotic or dewormer that can fight the exact cause. However, fading kittens typically also have secondary symptoms that must be addressed through supportive care. Caregivers should determine secondary symptoms such as dehydration or hypoglycemia and treat them accordingly.

Those who frequently care for kittens will benefit from learning advanced kitten care skills that can save a fading kitten. Tube feeding, for instance, may save the life of a fading kitten who is unable to suckle or swallow; a skilled tube feeder can bypass the mouth and supply food straight to the stomach. Subcutaneous fluid therapy can help provide essential hydration to keep a kitten’s bodily functions working. Plasma therapy, an infusion of plasma from a feline blood donor, can provide the kitten with immune support and replace metabolic proteins that are lost when a kitten is fading. Administration of vitamins such as iron and B12 can boost a kitten’s energy and combat vitamin loss. Hypoglycemic kittens can quickly bounce back with a small dose of Dextrose 50%. Each of these lifesaving skills should be learned and dosed under the supervision of an experienced veterinary professional, as every kitten’s situation will be different and will require specific treatment tailored to their needs. 

In some cases, a kitten’s condition may be too advanced. In extreme cases of untreatable suffering, euthanasia may be the most humane solution. Through early intervention, caregivers can hopefully avoid this scenario.