Kitten Care 2 :: Emergency Considerations

This page focuses on emergency situations in kittens.... The following is intended only to be a guide in an emergency situation.  Please contact your vet ASAP whenever an emergency situation develops.


The most common problems in kittens usually occur in utero or immediately after birth, or between birth and the first 12 weeks of life. Knowing about specific problems and diseases can help you recognize the signs of a true emergency and enable you to make the correct decisions for your kitten's safety and health.

Infectious Disease

Infectious disease may be present in the queen before or during pregnancy. Therefore the potential exists for passing along the disease to her unborn litter. In case of infectious diseases such as Feline Leukemia, Feline Infectious Peritonitis and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, your kitten may exhibit a variety of signs or symptoms that should alert you to seek emergency veterinary attention. Please familiarize yourself with these fatal diseases so that you are informed of them and you have a better understanding of what to expect.

Pathogenic Organisms

Upper Respiratory Infections (URI'S) can have a devastating effect on your newborn kitten, so recognizing the signs and symptoms early on and providing treatment and care at the onset can further your kitten's chance of survival and long-term good health. Any time the respiratory system is compromised by infection warrants immediate veterinary care. Common symptoms of respiratory infections/stress include discharge from the eyes and nose, sneezing, coughing, fever or hypothermia, breathing distress, inability to eat, lethargy, and weight loss. At the first sign of any of these symptoms, please contact your vet and seek immediate care.

Diminished Local or Systemic Immunity

Diminished immunity can exhibit many effects on your newborn or older kitten. The most common signs of illness include weakness, lethargy, inability to eat or drink, weight loss, and a general malaise. Your kitten may develop other symptoms as they progress, and seeking immediate veterinary care will greatly increase her chances for stabilization and recovery.

Nutritional Disease

During pregnancy and lactation a queen should be fed a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, such as a good quality kitten food. Her immune system is equally as important as those of her unborn litter. For both queen and newborn kittens, a quality diet is essential for proper growth and development and to help build a strong immune system with which to combat serious common illnesses. Feeding an improper diet, or one that does not meet a complete daily requirement need for kittens, can result in disastrous consequences. Do not feed growing kittens raw meat, raw whole milk products, or a "natural-only" diet, as these do not meet the nutritional requirements for these critical growing stages. Feeding such diets can deplete your kitten of vital nutrients and minerals and cause a host of problems such as vitamin deficiency-related disease, skeletal and abnormal growth problems, as well as Central Nervous System disorders and organ developmental problems. Please see the link to our Nutrition/Nutrient Page, an in-depth look into nutrition and the vital role it plays in your kitten's future health.

Congenital Anomalies

Congenital anomalies are those that involve the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and the central nervous system. A kitten's health success depends on the queen's general overall health status. Having a healthy queen can mean the difference between a sickly kitten and a healthy kitten. Proper diet and regular health care for the queen will better ensure healthier kittens in the long run. Signs and symptoms of congenital anomalies are clear, and most are visibly noticable. A kitten who has a congenital anomaly will often have a low birth weight, inability to progress in the normal growing stage, and will often seem sickly from birth onward. The signs can be many, depending on the individual problem, but contacting your vet at the onset of any signs of stress, growth dysfunction, or anything else that appears abnormal will ensure the best chance of effective treatment to rectify the situation.

Teratogenic Effects

Teratogenic effects occur when the queen has received, or is presently receiving, certain drugs or medications. If the queen is receiving certain medications, it is best to check with your vet to make sure it is completely safe to let the kittens nurse from her. De-wormers, for example, should never be given to a pregnant or lactating queen, as the medication can cause problems in utero or after birth of the kittens. Other medications in the queen can cause improper growth development in kittens as well as deformities and fatalities.

Low Birth Weights

Low birth weights can be the result of abnormal growth mechanisms, skeletal deformations, premature birth, infectious disease, and congenital anomalies. Almost every litter will produce at least one kitten who is smaller than her siblings, but it is up to you to ensure her proper care and nutrition to ensure she has an equal a chance as those of her siblings. Make sure your "runt" of the litter is either nursing sufficiently or that you are supporting her properly with kitten formula. If she develops certain signs or symptoms, this should alert you to direct and immediately seek veterinary attention.

Traumatic Birthing

Traumatic birthing can result in dystocia, cannibalism by the queen, and maternal neglect. If you are fostering or nurturing an orphaned kitten, please be responsible in her care in the very beginning. That means supporting her with kitten formula, keeping her warm and comfortable, and providing her with veterinary supportive intervention when necessary. If you do have a queen who has given birth and seems to neglect her newborns, it is your responsibility to step in and do whatever is necessary to sustain life. Cannibalism occurs when a nervous or high-strung queen cannot discern how to properly and maternally care for her new litter, and it is considered an instinct over which the queen has no control. Also, intact tomcats may possibly kill newborn kittens as a means of territorial issues, and this is another example of instinctive behavior. If you have other cats in your home, please protect your newborn(s) from danger at all costs. Seperate them if necessary until the kittens are old enough to defend themselves and are developed enough in strength, endurance, and stature.


Internal parasites such as Roundworms, Hookworms, Coccidia, and Giardia can leave a kitten in seriously ill health. Fleas and ticks can also have a devastating effect on your kittens health. Never attempt to treat these parasites yourself in newborn kittens, your vet can properly and effectively treat them. Most products for these problems are fatal to kittens, so please contact your vet for help if these situations occur. Older kittens can be treated later when your vet deems them old enough, but dewormers should never be given to very young kittens. Please ask your vet for further information.

DO NOT attempt to treat kittens for fleas or ticks without a vet's approval or advice. Newborns and very young kittens cannot tolerate the harsh ingredients and chemicals in flea and tick products, and some products may be fatal if misused, or if the improper product is applied. Please never use OTC (over the counter) products on kittens or cats of any age, not only are these products often ineffective, but can prove fatal as well. Fatal allergic reactions can occur as a result of ANY flea or tick products in young kittens, so please take every measure to call or consult with your vet for the proper treatment. He/she knows which product may best suit your particular kitten's needs.



Fading kitten syndrome can be a result of the above mentioned problems and concerns. The following are critical emergency situations that require emergency veterinary medical attention. Never waste precious time in these instances. At the very first sign of distress, get your kitten to an emergency veterinary hospital as soon as possible.

NOTE: Kitten losses are highest in the queen's 1st and 6th litters and thereafter. Kitten loss rates are also twice as high in a one-kitten litter. Kitten losses are lowest in the queen's 5th litter. Losses are also fewest in a five-kitten litter. Middle-sized queens have fewer kitten losses than larger or smaller queens.


Hypothermia occurs when kittens cannot sufficiently produce enough core body heat to regulate their internal temperature. This can be the result of the queen neglecting the kitten, crowding from siblings, infections, infectious disease, hypoglycemia, and an insufficient amount of heat during birthing, nursing, or other instances. Hypothermia can be extremely fatal in a matter of minutes to hours, so recognizing these signs as they occur can mean life or death to your kitten in her first few weeks of life. Your kitten may experience coldness to her extremeties, inability to nurse (whether from queen or nurser bottle), lethargy, and a serious sense of immobilization. In this instance, please contact an emergency veterinary hospital immediately.


  • Call an emergency vet hospital IMMEDIATELY
  • Provide a comfortable environment that reaches at least 85°F to maintain her surrounding heat environment
  • Provide additional blankets, towels, or fleece to help kitten raise her internal core body temperature
  • Use a hot water bottle to place beside her to raise her internal core body temperature. Plastic soda bottles work nicely in the absence of hot water bottles
  • Provide a heating pad to help raise her internal core body temperature. Be very careful that you put a towel or blanket between the heating pad and your kitten so that you do not risk burns or excessive heat. Heat lamps can help, but are a potentially dangerous method of warming. Please use extreme caution if you must use a heat lamp. Be certain that the heat lamp is not placed directly on or above your kitten or too close to cause burns or excessive heat
  • DO NOT feed kitten formulas to kittens who are suffering from hypothermia or who have rectal temperatures of less than 95°F. Raising kitten's temperature is paramount before nutritional measures. Please consult your vet for more information concerning nutritional measures during hypothermia

NOTE: Kittens do not develop a "shivering reflex" during the first 6 days of life, so it is extremely important that you monitor your kitten's extremities for signs of coldness and that you monitor her for other signs that may indicate serious hypothermia (noted above). If you suspect your kitten is suffering from hypothermia, please contact an emergency vet hospital IMMEDIATELY.


Hypoglycemia occurs as a result of many factors, but can best be classified with "Fading Kitten Syndrome" and it's symptoms. This can occur as a result of internal infections, hypothermia, infectious disease, insufficient collostrum from the queen, and pathogenic infections from insufficient nutrition, and other infections. The symptoms described above in Hypothermia may also be present in a hypoglycemic kitten, those being: coldness to the extremities, inability to nurse, lethargy, immobilization, and an appearance of "crashing" (jerking or seizure activity may also be noticed). Should you notice any of these signs, please contact an emergency vet hospital IMMEDIATELY. Time is critical in these instances, and like hypothermia, hypoglycemia can be fatal in a matter of minutes to hours.


  • Call an emergency vet hospital IMMEDIATELY
  • Provide adequate warming measures as described above for hypothermia. Remember to warm gradually, do not implement harsh heat sources
  • Make sure kitten's environmental heat source is at least 85°F
  • In the event your kitten seems to be "crashing", you can give a 1/4 teaspoon of glucose (in the form of sweetened jam or jelly), or you can gently rub a small amount of Light Karo Corn Syrup on her gums. Either procedure can be applied every 15-20 minutes until the kitten is responsive. If the kitten is completely unresponsive, call an emergency vet IMMEDIATELY. If the kitten does not respond do not attempt to apply these measures as you don't want her to choke or aspirate in her lungs
  • If kitten is responsive, a nutrient/electrolyte solution (available from Life-Guard or Norden's) in the form of sweetened jam or jelly, corn syrup or an electrolyte liquid form can be given every 25-25 minutes until kitten shows improvement. In all instances, please contact an emergency vet for further instruction
  • DO NOT feed kitten formulas during a hypoglycemic episode. Your kitten could choke or aspirate the formula into her lungs and this can be fatal

NOTE: DO NOT attempt feline CPR, you could actually cause your kitten more health damage in the process or fatal brain injury. Please contact an emergency vet hospital for further instruction. A veterinarian may talk you through the critical steps of life-saving procedures, but please do not ever attempt these procedures without a vet's instruction.


Anemia in kittens are most commonly noted as idiopathic, meaning of unknown origin, but a few factors to consider are: infectious disease, parasitic infection (blood-sucking fleas or ticks), internal blood parasites, and internal bacterial or viral infections. As noted above, hypothermia and hypoglycemia can eventually or quickly set in and further worsen the situation. Signs of anemia might include: pale or white mucous membranes (gums, tongue, or even skin), inability to sufficiently nurse or eat, lethargy, fever, weakness, wobbly stance, and immobilization. If you suspect your kitten may be suffering from anemia, please contact an emergency vet hospital IMMEDIATELY.


  • Call an emergency vet IMMEDIATELY
  • If your kitten is suffering from severe anemia, hospitalization may be the best method of treating your kitten. Your vet can treat her symptomatically and provide her the best treatment options to ensure the best chance for full recovery.

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