Why do kittens die

Why Do Kittens Die?

While it’s always very sad, the truth is that sometimes kittens die.

Despite our best efforts at creating a safe environment for our beloved kittens, early kittenhood can be a dangerous time in the life of a cat. Because they are born in such a helpless state, kittens are susceptible to a variety of illnesses and accidents.

And occasionally, even if they are being raised under the best of circumstances, some kittens simply don’t make it.

In this article, we’ll cover the following;

  • Why Do Kittens Die Suddenly?
  • How Do Kittens Die?
  • Can A Kitten Die From Worms?
  • How to Keep Kittens Safe

Why Do Kittens Die Suddenly?

While it’s sad to think about, something like 15%-25% of kittens don’t live past nine weeks of age. For those of us who raise kittens at home or foster kittens while they are waiting to be adopted, the premature death of a kitten can be heartbreaking and frightening.

While it may seem that kittens die suddenly, this is rarely the case. Except in cases of trauma, in which a kitten is injured and dies as the result of said injury, most kittens that die suddenly have actually succumbed to what veterinarians call “fading kitten syndrome.”

Fading kitten syndrome isn’t really a syndrome, nor is it an illness. Rather, it is a set of circumstances that, when combined together, can take the life of a young kitten.

The symptoms of fading kitten syndrome are:

  • Lethargy
  • Low body temperature
  • Pale gums
  • Low heart rate
  • Low respiratory rate
  • Failure to nurse

Inadequate care on the part of the mother cat is usually the root cause of fading kitten syndrome. While most mother cats do their best to care for their kittens, there are a variety of factors that may lead a mother cat to inadvertently fail to care for her kittens.

Young and inexperienced mother cats, stressed or malnourished mother cats, or mother cats that are unable to produce enough milk to sustain their entire litter are at risk.

While the death of a kitten may seem sudden, it rarely is. Most often a kitten has been struggling for a while and finally succumbs.

When kittens actually die suddenly, it is usually the result of trauma (a fall, for example) or hypothermia. Kittens with fading kitten syndrome are at a high risk for hypothermia because they aren’t eating enough or regulating their own body temperature.

However, even kittens who are being well cared for by their mothers can succumb to hypothermia if they are separated from their littermates or allowed to catch cold.

Thankfully, there are a few ways to prevent fading kitten syndrome and treat it once you realize a kitten is in danger.

Some of the warning signs of fading kitten syndrome are:

  1. Low birth weight
  2. Failure to gain weight normally
  3. Failure to open their eyes with the rest of their littermates
  4. Kittens who do not nurse normally or successfully
  5. Kittens who cannot right themselves after being placed on their backs

If you notice a young kitten displaying these symptoms, you should bring them to the veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will warm them up and make sure they get adequate nutrition and care.

How Do Kittens Die?

Very young kittens are very vulnerable creatures and are susceptible to a variety of illnesses, disorders, and problems.

While most kittens grow up to be happy, healthy, cats, the period between birth and ten weeks old is the most delicate. During this period, kittens are at risk for problems such as:

  • Failure to thrive
  • Malnutrition
  • Hypothermia
  • Low blood sugar
  • Anemia
  • Disease
  • Accidents
  • Worms and fleas, while mere annoyances to adult cats, can be deadly for kittens.

If your cat has kittens, make sure to keep them in a warm, dry place. Monitor your cat and the litter frequently to make sure that the kittens are eating correctly, growing at the same pace, and meeting all of their growth milestones.

If you notice one or two kittens acting differently than the others, or see that one or two of the kittens is smaller than the rest, take action immediately.

Human intervention is sometimes necessary to save the life of a kitten. You should always consult your veterinarian and bring the kittens to the vet in the case of an emergency. However, some people choose to hand rear kittens that are otherwise having a difficult time.

Hand-rearing kittens is an extremely time consuming and often heartbreaking experience. But if you’re up for it, and as long as you obtain the advice and guidance of your veterinarian, you can give it a shot.

If you want to hand rear a poorly kitten, make sure you have:

  • Kitten milk replacement. Don’t feed kittens cows milk! Kitten milk has the specific vitamins and minerals that young kittens need to survive. While kittens can drink goat milk as a treat, it is not a replacement for cat milk for very young kittens who are still nursing.
  • A feeding syringe and nursing bottle kit.
  • If you frequently have kittens in your home, you may want to consider an emergency feeding kit, which will allow you to have everything you need to feed an ailing kitten at a moments notice.

Can A Kitten Die From Worms?

Yes, kittens can die from worms. Young kittens are especially susceptible to worms and can become quite ill and even die if they are not properly treated.

Kittens can be dewormed at 6 weeks of age, and many kittens are dewormed more than once just to make sure that the medicine worked properly.

If kittens are not adequately treated for worms they can deteriorate very quickly. Because they are so small, they can become anemic from the blood loss caused by worms and can die within weeks. They are also susceptible to death from diarrhea and dehydration as well as malnutrition.

The symptoms of worms in kittens are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Visible worms in stool
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Coughing
  • Distended abdomen

If you suspect your kitten has worms, bring them immediately to the vet! Don’t wait, and don’t try and treat them yourself. Worms can be deadly for young kittens and your veterinarian can give them the de-worming treatment as well as advise you on properly caring for a kitten that is dealing with a worm infestation.

How to Keep Kittens Safe

If you have a litter of kittens on your hands, it’s important to:

  • Monitor them as frequently as possible
  • Intervene early- if a kitten is struggling, don’t wait to get them help
  • Have kitten milk replacement and a feeding syringe on hand in case of emergencies
  • Call your vet if you feel unable to handle a situation or don’t know how to help

Have you ever hand reared a litter of kittens? Have any tips for giving ailing kittens the best start in life? We want to hear about it- let us know in the comments!

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Amanda K.

After moving to New York City from Rome, Italy, I began working in the nonprofit world. Despite my day job, my passion has always been animals, especially dogs and cats, and writing. What better way to combine the two? I've been a pet owner for 15 years, and my menagerie includes dogs, cats, hamsters and the occasional hermit crab. My beloved cat, Mozart, who I found as a newborn kitten, sparked my love for felines and is now nearly 15 years old. I am an enthusiastic volunteer at the local ASPCA, where I enjoy spending time with the cats and cleaning up after the dogs. I've been writing about pet ownership and care for the past five years.

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