Everything You Need To Know About Fading Kitten Syndrome

This is super important for kitten parents 🤕😿

kitten laying down

Newborn kittens are the cutest. They’re so tiny and adorable, but they’re also super fragile and can easily get sick.

One condition that kittens can develop is fading kitten syndrome, and it’s crucial to know the early signs to be able to help a kitten.

We reached out to Dr. Alex Schechter, a veterinarian and founder of Burrwood Veterinary Hospital in Detroit, to find out what fading kitten syndrome is and how to spot it.

What is fading kitten syndrome?

Fading kitten syndrome (FKS) is a condition that can occur in newborn kittens between birth and weaning age, which is a time period of about four to six weeks. It basically means failure to thrive.

“The kitten mortality rate is highest during the first week of life,” Dr. Schechter told The Dodo.

Unfortunately, this syndrome is usually fatal, but if you know the signs and get veterinary help right away, the vet might be able to treat your kitten.

Causes of fading kitten syndrome

Kittens’ immune systems aren’t fully developed yet, so they’re extra susceptible to illness, and a variety of factors can cause them to have fading kitten syndrome. Here are the common causes of this condition, according to Dr. Schechter:

  • Birth defects, such as heart problems
  • Low birth weight
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • Environmental factors, such as unsanitary conditions and extreme temperatures
  • Poor nutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Abandonment or neglect by the mother
  • Difficult birth
  • Parasites
  • Neonatal isoerythrolysis (NI) — this happens when a kitten is born with a different blood type than the mother, and the mom’s antibodies destroy the kitten’s red blood cells.
  • Maternal malnutrition

Fading kitten syndrome symptoms

Many of the signs of fading kitten syndrome are failures to reach certain developmental milestones. These include:

  • Poor suckling reflex
  • Inability to nurse
  • Inability to turn over
  • Not interacting with siblings or mom

According to Dr. Schechter, these other signs can also mean your kitten is failing to thrive. If you notice any of these symptoms, take your kitten to the vet ASAP.

How is fading kitten syndrome treated?

“To cure FKS, the best bet is to consult a veterinarian promptly when you witness any sign of [the condition],” Dr. Schechter said.

To treat FKS, the vet will need to figure out what the underlying cause is. They’ll examine your kitten and perform tests to see if he has parasites, an infection or a birth defect.

Once your vet determines the cause, these are some potential treatments you can expect.


Kittens with hypothermia can be warmed using “water bottles, incubators, heating lamps or air warming systems,” Dr. Schecter said.

Food and fluids

Dehydration is treated with subcutaneous (under the skin) or intravenous fluids, and some kittens may be given dextrose (a type of sugar) or something similar to raise their blood sugar, Dr. Schechter said.

For kittens with NI, they’ll need to be removed from their mother and given a milk replacement so they don’t consume any more of the mom’s antibodies.


Your vet will prescribe antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or cephalosporins, to treat a bacterial or viral infection, and treatments for parasites, like dewormers, can be given to kittens.

Blood transfusions

Some kittens with NI will need a blood transfusion to help them make their own antibodies, which can fight the incompatible ones from their mother.

Preventing fading kitten syndrome

There are some steps you can take to help reduce the risk of a kitten developing FKS (though there’s nothing that can definitively stop it from happening).

If you have a pregnant cat, have her checked for infections and parasites, vaccinate her and put her on a parasite preventative. Make sure your cat’s eating enough and is getting all the nutrients she needs to stay healthy.

Once the kittens are born, keep a very close eye on them to make sure all of the kittens are healthy, eating and drinking. Newborn kittens should be weighed every day to make sure they’re gaining weight. Your vet can also let you know certain milestones to be aware of so you can know if any kittens aren’t developing properly.

Can a kitten survive fading kitten syndrome?

It’s possible for kittens to survive fading kitten syndrome if the vet’s able to determine the cause in time and treat the kitten right away.

“The prognosis relies on the underlying cause and the ability to [provide] supportive and specific therapy as soon as possible,” Dr. Schechter said.

The best thing you can do to avoid fading kitten syndrome is try to prevent it by making sure the mother cat and her babies are healthy and happy.