Are you caring for a sick kitten, and not sure what is wrong or what to do?
Sometimes shortly after birth a kitten will develop an illness or start showing signs of a problem he was born with.
In this article, we will describe the most common newborn kitten problems, and advise how to take care of a sick kitten with these health issues.
Please remember to contact your veterinarian if you suspect a problem: this page is an informational care guide only and is not meant to treat or diagnose an illness.
Sick Kitten Affliction #1: Constipation
Some kittens will have fewer bowel movements than their siblings. This is fine as long as the stools are loose (watery) and the kitten isn’t having difficulty passing them.
In this sick kitten, the abdomen may be swollen and doughy to the touch. If severe, he will appear bloated.
The nursing mother should be taking care to lick her newborn kittens often to stimulate them to pass stool and urine, but if one is being neglected you can find out how to do this yourself in this feeding newborn kittens article.
If the newborn still won’t pass a stool, you may need to consult a professional for care.
You may be advised to care for the newborn yourself by administering a warm soap-water enema by eye-dropper, or orally giving the kitten a few drops of mineral oil or milk of magnesia.
Read our post on kitten constipation for more information.
Sick Kitten Affliction #2: Toxic Milk Syndrome
The queen’s milk can become toxic to her newborn kittens for a number of reasons, but most commonly the cause is mastitis, an infection of the milk glands.
Postpartum uterine infection can also lead to toxic milk, and other times the cause remains unknown.
A symptom of toxic milk syndrome is that the newborn kittens will be distressed and will cry constantly. Diarrhea and bloating are common. Their anuses will be red and swollen from continuous diarrhea.
To take care of a sick kitten with this condition, he and his litter mates should be removed from the mother immediately and treated by a vet for dehydration. If severe, it will be treated with subcutaneous fluids.
Your veterinarian may then recommend you use Pedialyte or a Kaopectate solution. After 24 to 48 hours feeding a commercial milk replacer should become part of the care regimen for a sick kitten.
(Make sure the mother cat also receives medical attention and care, and don’t allow the kittens to resume nursing from her until cleared by your vet.)
Common Illness #3: Newborn Anemia
This is most often caused by low iron content in the milk.
Intestinal parasites also cause iron deficiency due to chronic blood loss, but however, this is more common in older kittens and adult cats.
A rare cause is feline porphyria which is caused by a defect in the formation of red blood cells. This is recognized by brownish discoloration of teeth and reddish brown urine.
Kittens with anemia are undersized, grow slowly, tire easily and have pale mucous membranes.
Luckily, newborn kitten anemia is easily treated by giving the queen and her kittens iron injections and vitamins, but it must be diagnosed by a vet.
Sick Kitten Illness #4: Naval Infections
Sometimes in newborn kittens the umbilical stump can be the site of an infection.
This can be caused if the nursing female has dental disease and passes the bacteria to the umbilical area when she bites it loose. It can also be caused from contamination of the nesting box or other factors that affect kitten immunity.
You can determine if the kitten has an infection if the area looks red, swollen, or drains pus.
This type of infection is especially dangerous because it has direct communication to the liver. Untreated and without care, septicemia (see next topic) may result.
To take care of a sick kitten with an umbilical infection, cleanse the navel with a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide followed by pHisoHex wash. Topical antibiotic ointment (panalog) may be prescribed as well.
If the infection does not clear up, consult your veterinarian as oral antibiotics may be needed to care for the newborn. Inspect the other kittens to make sure it has not spread.
Sick Kitten Ailment #5: Kitten Septicemia
Sepsis occurs in kittens 4 to 10 days old. It is caused by infections which rapidly spread and affect the abdominal area.
Infected milk is a major culprit, as is a navel infection.
Initial signs are crying, straining to defecate, and bloating, similar to the symptoms of toxic milk syndrome.
However, as the disease progresses the abdomen distends and takes on a bluish or dark red tint.
Other signs of Septicemia are refusal to nurse, chilling, weakness, dehydration and loss of weight. Death is imminent and occurs rapidly.
Septicemia must be discovered and the sick kitten must be treated at once otherwise the whole litter can be affected.
Veterinary care is urgent and to effectively take care of newborn kittens with septicemia, a broad-range antibiotic needs to be administered.
The kittens will likely need to be fed by hand during treatment, but ask your vet if they can still maintain contact with the mother. It will be distressing to the queen and the kittens if they must remain separated, and this should be avoided if at all possible.