Emergency Situations with Kittens

Emergency Situations with Kittens
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 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.