Fading Kitten Syndrome – 11 Things You Need To Know

Raising a newborn kitten is a joy like no other, but it's essential to be aware of the risk of fading kitten syndrome.

In the first weeks of life, kittens are vulnerable and fragile, with some estimates putting their survival rates at only 75 percent.

As a kitten caregiver, you may be worried about this mysterious phenomenon that can claim entire litters without a clear cause.

However, armed with the right knowledge and a watchful eye, you can help protect your furry little friends from this heartbreaking fate.

In this article, we'll share 11 crucial things you need to know about fading kitten syndrome, and how you can give your kittens the best chance to thrive.

1. Know The Common Risks To The Lives Of Young Kittens

It's not a pleasant topic, but in this case, knowledge may give you the power to save a kitten's life, so let's review the list.

new born kittens sleeping on the orange soft bedding


Kittens are unable to effectively regulate their own body temperature. If they are left in an environment that's too cold or hot, they can suffer hypothermia or hyperthermia and die.


Newborn kittens who don't get enough nutrients will likely stop thriving and die. Their mother's milk is the best food for kittens.

If that's unavailable, they must receive a milk-replacement formula appropriate for kittens, such as KMR (Kitten Milk Replacement).

Infectious Pathogens

Kittens are too delicate to fight off a severe infection, whether bacterial, viral, or fungal.

This is especially true of orphaned kittens, as nursing queens provide their kittens with some amount of immunity from the antibodies in their milk.


Internal parasites (worms and protozoa) or external ones (fleas, ticks, and mites) can easily kill a young kitten as they take away nutrients its body requires for sustaining life and growth.

Non-Infectious Diseases

The most common lethal non-infectious disease in kittens is pneumonia, caused by inhaling fluids during birth or by inhaling milk formula instead of swallowing it. Other conditions can be just as lethal.

Birth Defects

Severe birth defects often result in the birth of a stillborn kitten. However, some birth defects allow a kitten to survive while in the womb.

Such a kitten may look healthy at birth, only to deteriorate within a few hours or days and die.

Physical Trauma

Any trauma incurred at a young age, such as a drop or fall, a bite from an older animal, or even a traumatic birth, can cause injuries preventing the kitten from thriving.


This goes hand in hand with malnutrition, as the kittens' only source of water is their mother's milk.

When feeding orphan kittens, carefully follow the instructions when preparing the formula so the kittens get the nutrients and the water they need to survive.


2. Know When There Is An Increased Risk For Fading Kitten Syndrome

Some kittens are more at risk for early death. They need extra care to make sure they're not failing to thrive:

  • Premature kittens.
  • Orphaned kittens.
  • Kittens with visible birth defects.
  • Runts (kittens that are noticeably smaller than their littermates).
  • Kittens in litters of more than four (the more kittens for the mother to handle, the more likely some of them are not to be properly fed or cared for).

3. Track Your Kittens' Weight

Sometimes the only indication that something is wrong is a kitten's inability to gain weight. When that happens, you must seek help sooner rather than later.

A newborn kitten on the scales. Tracking kittens weight.

Learn more about Weighing Newborn Kittens And How This Could Save Their Lives.

4. Watch For Elimination

The mother cat will encourage kittens to eliminate and clean up their secretions, so you may not see the consistency or quantity of their urine and feces.

Many of the new born kittens lie together for warmth and safety.

When caring for orphaned kittens, you should encourage them to eliminate.

When you clean up the "produce," keep an eye on it for diarrhea or constipation. Either condition can be dangerous for the kitten.

5. Watch The Mother Cat For Signs Of Distress

The mother cat's health can sometimes provide the first indication that the kittens may soon be going downhill.

A sick or malnourished queen puts the kittens at risk. You may have to care for the kittens and provide extra feedings to save their lives, and it's best to start sooner rather than later.

6. Keep Your Kittens Warm - But Not Too Hot

The harsh reality is that a cold kitten is very likely to become a dead kitten. This cannot be stressed enough. Newborn kittens cannot regulate their own body temperature.

If their body becomes too cold, they are also unable to digest their food, and their condition can deteriorate within hours.

7. Keep Pathogens At Bay

As mentioned above, kittens - particularly orphaned kittens - are susceptible to infectious diseases.

Keep other cats away from your kittens, and thoroughly wash your hands before handling the kittens. Keep the area generally clean and hygienic.

8. Avoid Over-Handling Kittens

Socializing kittens is important from the time they open their eyes. Until then, they need to focus on feeding and sleeping.

Even after they open their eyes and as you begin socialization, make sure the kittens get plenty of time to nurse and sleep.

Don't allow children, or adult guests, to handle the kittens to an extent that will interrupt their feeding and sleeping patterns.

9. Care For Rejected Kittens As Soon As Possible

Sometimes the mother cat rejects a kitten, either because she senses something is wrong with the kitten, or because she herself is not well.

Cat mom cleaning her baby kittens.

If you notice one of the kittens being kept away from the others or being refused to nurse, you must intervene right away.

Remove the kitten from the mother and raise it as an orphan kitten.

10. Be Prepared - Get Supplies In Advance

If you are caring for a pregnant cat, be prepared to have to hand-rear one or more of the kittens. 

As our article Pregnant Cat? What To Prepare For The Birth explains, you should be ready to feed kittens on your own, with appropriate gear and a kitten milk replacement formula.

Hopefully, you won't need any of it, but if you do, you don't want to waste precious time going out for supplies.

11. Be Prepared - Find Your Mentors In Advance

Unless you're a very experienced rescuer, chances are you'll need help in your efforts to save a kitten from Fading Kitten Syndrome.

If possible, find a mentor in advance.

If you foster, this can be someone working within your rescue organization. This could be your breeding program mentor if you're a registered breeder.

If you're not sure who to reach out to, let us know in the Pregnant Cats & Kitten Care forum.

You should also find a veterinarian who can work with you.

Not all vets are experts on newborn kitten care, but they can always help you with the basics and carry out procedures that may be needed to treat a sick kitten.

Caring for newborn kittens is a challenge. When something goes wrong, that challenge intensifies, as the responsibility for a precious kitten's life may lie in your hands.

Unfortunately, you may not always be able to save a kitten that's failing to thrive, but hopefully, equipped with enough knowledge, you'll be able to give it the best possible chance.


Help spread this information about Fading Kitten Syndrome by sharing the image below on your social media accounts. Together, we can raise awareness and save more kittens!

Close up of a tiny new born kitten held in a large human hand, squeaking and meowing. It has a colorful face, very adorable, Fading Kitten Syndrome: 11 Things You Need To Know

Read more in this guide:

Hand Rearing Kittens: What You Need To Know To Save A Newborn’s Life

Premature Kittens: The Comprehensive Guide To Care

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21 comments on “Fading Kitten Syndrome – 11 Things You Need To Know

Crystal May 17, 2023
Thank you for the helpful information. I'm really sad. My kitten, Sammie, passed away this morning. He was a little over a week old. He looked like he was a few days old when my husband picked him up from a highway on a hot day. We had him for 1 week and 5 days. He looked fine the other day. Yesterday he was beginning to look ill. He didn't make it through the night. I wish I had more knowledge about taking better care of him.
Tiffany White September 1, 2022
I had a kitten that seemed to be healthy she was an orphan we took in a tuxedo domestic long hair she never wanted ti be held i mean never then at 12 weeks one day I woke up she was at the water bowl wouldn't leave it (we have two water fountains and abd and endless bowl we also have another orphan and 4 kittens we had to go to Walmart and k told my husband and uf she is still doing this when we get back j will call the vet we got home she was dead aby ideas ti what it might b have been I feeling like it was my fault she had been wormed any insight
Charity June 8, 2022
I had found a kitten didn't know how old it was until I took it to the vet the next day. She was 6 weeks old, the vet gave me some worming medicine for her and she seemed to be doing fine. On the last day of the worming medicine we had a birthday party to go to at 1 pm we got home roughly around 6 pm and the kitten looked as if it's neck had been broken 😭. It was fine when we left the house there was nobody home either. I wish I knew what happened to her she was so sweet. He name was Stormy
    SMV June 29, 2022
    I’m curious about this. My kitten died and I don’t know why. She looks like her neck is broken.
Karen May 13, 2022
I found a kitten sick and under my car, couldn't have been more than 7 weeks old. He was the sweetest little guy and we took him to a vet same day and started antibiotics and deworming medication that day. Sadly he got weak and started passing 5 days later, the vet gave him a few hours at most. So we cuddled him and pet him and opted to euthanize him so he wouldn't be in pain. I only knew him for 5 days, but my heart absolutely broke and I'm still upset that I couldn't save him. :(
Cheryl April 3, 2021
I use a syringe to feed two kittens in our litter of four. Our cat had four kittens and it was her first litter. We could only get the kittens to nurse from two nipples. I would rotate the kittens a bit, but they were all white (ragdolls), so hard to tell apart. I gave them all a serving of KMR with a syringe and kept weighing them. Two were gaining weight and two were losing, so I started feeding the two wee ones. One was doing poorly and the other seemed to be stronger and eating better. One day 7 they switched and the one was getting stronger and the other starting to fade. We lost the one on day 9 and the other is now one day shy of 8 weeks old. He is still smaller than the other two in the litter, but absolutely the sweetest little guy.
Carmel October 27, 2020
I found an orphaned kitten (3 weeks) and really tried my best to help it. It has been difficult as I have a two year old and a dog. I believe the kitten is dying. She refuses to eat and is very limp. I took her to a vet and started her antibiotics and Herp. She has deteriorated and I feel it is cruel to keep putting a syringe in her mouth as she is not responding. I guess I’m really asking would you just make her comfortable. It’s heartbreaking not knowing what’s best.
    Furballsmom November 28, 2020
    Hi Carmel - if you come back to the site please consider registering with us.
    Colleen December 16, 2021
    If she’s still on antibiotics, I personally would continue trying to feed until they are done. If she continues to not respond, I’d just keep her as comfortable as possible till she passes . If your vet is not outrageously expensive —euthanasia is an option. Not everyone is comfortable letting go slowly. My husband can’t handle it. Prayers🙏🏻🙏🏻❤️❤️
      mtr May 19, 2023
      An adoptd mother cat is usually the best bet.mamas mij is always best.it may be givng up cause it doesnt hav mama
    Colleen December 16, 2021
    Sorry if you lost the baby—I didn’t look at the date—(3weeks ago).
Candace April 30, 2020
Is Fading Kitten Syndrome contagious to human?
    catsknowme March 30, 2021
    I know this question is a year old but will answer it anyway. No, Fading Kitten Syndrome is not contagious to humans. Human germs are more dangerous to cats than theirs are to us; some dog germs are more likely to make people or cats ill even when the dog is not showing signs of being sick (asymptomatic) ; giardia, bubonic plague and strep throat are common examples. That said, common sanitary practices are always in order. Hand washing with mild soap and rinsing well before and after handling kittens and babies and wearing clean clothes are good rules to follow. Wearing a smock or very large shirt (like the way a doctor or pharmacist wears a lab coat).
mentat March 12, 2020
Neonatal kitten care is even challenging to seasoned primary care vets, as education regarding neonatal vitals, diagnostics, therapeutics and nursing management are limited. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51714318_Feline_pediatrics_How_to_treat_the_small_and_the_sick. Cat specialists encourage vets to consider neonatal care such as oral-gastric tube feeding warm KMR reconsistuted with LRS fluids, vet probiotics, and fresh frozen plasma or healthy serum in the critical kitten neonate as their gut is still developing and is their primary route of fluid absorption and hydration (skin turgor/strength is not developed enough for SQ fluids until 4 wks age, so leaks more than it absorbs systemically). Diarrhea cause must be diagnosed and treated early, or body weight losses aka fading will persist; a dewormer or metronidazole at random without diagnostics gives a false sense of effectively treating and nursing, while the source of the GI infection is not identified or treated. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235668813_Playing_Mum_Successful_management_of_orphaned_kittens
DHall January 24, 2020
4-week-old kittens are not old enough to be transitioned to solid food and should not have been removed from bottle feeding so young.
    Carmel October 27, 2020
    I found an orphaned kitten (3 weeks) and really tried my best to help it. It has been difficult as I have a two year old and a dog. I believe the kitten is dying. She refuses to eat and is very limp. I took her to a vet and started her antibiotics and Herp. She has deteriorated and I feel it is cruel to keep putting a syringe in her mouth as she is not responding. I guess I’m really asking would you just make her comfortable. It’s heartbreaking not knowing what’s best.
Faikey April 9, 2019
I took in an orphaned kitten who had such a bad infection that the mother just stopped grooming him. I actylually thought he lost his eyed because they had a layer of green gunk on them. I cleaned this fetal kitten a few weeks old and he immediately thought I was his mom and started following me the best he could to my apartment. Now he's my big old fatty with a mild mental issue related to high fever as a kitten . I've had to hand rear two litters one was caught in a freezing monsoon and I had already found 2 dead kittens under the 5 living ones. One looked like it would make it but turned out they all had birth defects :( Its so hard to hand rear kittens. The possibility of them dying in a week is above 90% according to the vets. Constant attention is required for multiple mouths and behinds. My daughter was easier to bottle feed than any cat.
CHATTY KATTY HOME December 26, 2017
Thank you for this article. I remember Miss Kitty one of her litters had a runt and we always watched out for it because he seemed to get pushed aside, so I would hand feed him with an eye dropper and he seemed to be gaining weight so happy about that and mama kitty would try to feed him to, but as I said he'd always get knocked out of the way by the other piggy kittens. After coming home from school I would rush up to check on them, runt was trying to get food from mama but was weak so I began to feed it with an eye dropper and he wound up dying I cried so hard and tried to save it. My mom was like it's not your fault it was dying before you even got to him. But I showed Miss and later wrapped the runt in a piece of warm cloth putting it's little body in a small box and buried it. but so heartbreaking:bawling:
therese August 18, 2016
I can't even imagine how terrible that had to have been for you....I fostered four, 3-week old kittens and almost lost one of them at one point...he was a runt of the litter, 4 weeks old, got a gastrointestinal infection, he went down in a matter of two hours.     We were lucky enough to save him, though, ( the vet, did, that is ) and he is now 16 lbs.   I was shocked how fast he went down, he was having diarrhea issues at 10 a.m., I made the vet appt for 3 p.m., came into kitten room at noon and he was rolled in a ball with his eyes closed  and I almost couldn't wake him up.  I rushed him to the vet right then and in addition to fluids and medication, we had to put him back on the bottle again.  I saw in a kitten webinar after that, that the most dangerous time for them to get sick, besides all the other times, is when they are transitioning from formula to solid food.  I am not sure why, but he sure had that problem. 
    Patricia D Edge April 1, 2021
    I hope that someone is able to give advice. We have a momma cat that gave birth to 6 babies on March 10th 2021. All were fine and did well, 3 days after birth momma cat starting getting sick so we took her to the vet and he said that she had infections set up. She was put on medication and received shots for 3 days. She wasn't able to nurse so I stepped in with KRM and feed the kittens. After 3 days she was back to normal but wasnt able to produce as much milk so we continued feeding them and let her feed then one at a time here and there so she could still be with them. The biggest kitten of the bunch stopped eating on March 20th in the afternoon (10 days old) ..up until then he ate fine, acted normal. He stopped eating , I had to feed him one drop at a time . At 12 days old 2:30am he passed away in my hands. The "runt" of the litter is who I am asking about . This little guy is orange and has a twin :) When he was born, the only was we could tell the difference was, his head was a little bit smaller than his brothers. He has ate fine since birth. At 9 days old he became really constipated. Gave him mineral oil lile the vet said and that helped. He ate fine and acted normal. At 13 days old -constipation again. Did the same routine and it didnt help, At 14 days old back to vet Vet said he was extremely concerned because his abdominal area was hard, advised to give mineral oil and Karo syrup. He also prescribed oral antibiotics. That night he pooped..alot. He has not had mineral oil in days, he has been drinking KRM , as well as soon on his momma He isnt gaining weight . you can feel every bone in his body. The other kittens have doubled size. Now- he will latch on and drink for a second with momma cat. He will sucked on the bottle twice this morning . none yesterday though. Other than this morning he refuses to drink for me. I have to force it with the eye dropper. Every time I did he gets diarrhea . not sure if it is stresses him out and that js why or not. He is Strong when it comes to fighting me. He doesnt really play he just sleeps. What can I do? I need him to gain weight. His face is shaped like an upside down triangle or alien shaped. ,
dennis47 April 7, 2016
Thank you for the helpful information. It tears my soul in pieces when I see a kitten die. And unfortunately, I've seen an entire litter pass on, that was so devistating to me, as I was only 9 when it happened. This is a well informed piece of knowledge, and let's hope that we can save even just one more kitten, one more litter, with these steps.

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