If you are going to raise or rescue kittens you need to know about Fading Kitten Syndrome. Firstly most kittens who fade are savable with intense nursing care. You don’t need to be a nurse but you need to know what to do and be practiced at doing it.
Now FKS is a syndrome not a diagnosis. It’s a description of what a kitten does in the face of illness or insult where the cause can be very different. In an ideal world knowing the cause in every case would be wonderful, but the reason for this post is that there are a lot of causes that get better by themselves and you just need to support the kittens through it. It is also an emergency in that you need to do something straight away, and you can’t delay that by driving the kitten to a vet and losing all that drive time that could be reversing the problem.
Vets are vital once you have corrected some issues. The short version is to warm them up, give them glucose and correct their dehydration. It can be that easy.
Warming in an incubator is best and easiest. Take the kittens temperature and if it is below normal set the incubator 2 degrees above what is recommended for their age. Note that they can fade because they have a fever. Overheating can also be an issue in warmer climates.
At the same time you need to give glucose. A 50% solution is best and can be absorbed through the gums. Glucose for baking (often labelled corn syrup) mixed equal parts with water and a drop or more every 3 minutes on the gums making sure an unconscious kitten is lying flat on their side so they can’t breathe it in.
Then you need to rehydrate. An unconscious kitten can’t drink so replacement is either by oro-gastric tube or subcutaneous fluid. Neonates do best with oral rehydration and tube feeding is a skill you need to learn if you want to save them. Your vet will show you how and then you need practice. Lots of medications need to be given by tube so there will be plenty of opportunity to practice. It’s very easy with a few precautions to note.
This first video is disturbing but this is what an unconscious fading kitten commonly looks like. In this case a sibling had faded a week before and seemed to have a sore throat as her only symptom. She recovered completely so it was assumed to be a virus and we were on the lookout for illness in her siblings. Then, without warning this kitten was found a couple of hours after a feed unconscious with evidence of a vomit. She recovered with the first bout of treatment only to fade again some hours later and much more dramatically. That is common so don’t relax completely at the first sign of progress. In both cases her temperature was low, approaching 35 degrees, a sign of imminent death.
Experience tells us that intense nursing care will get a kitten through an episode like this. They need a vet assessment and investigation, but often the diagnosis is viral and supportive treatment is what is needed. So regular tube feeding, glucose and fluids.
Here is a video of her waking up, which can be even more distressing. Kittens lurch around, appear drunk and as if they have a bad headache
her foster Carer persisted with feeding, glucose and electrolyes and here she is 12 hours later. She sought out the heartbeat and feliway patch and snuggled up but was easily woken
and here she is after that feed looking much more normal. It is an intense process requiring much dedication and persistence from the foster Carer, but kittens go on to lead happy, normal lives with no deficit.
She had one more deterioration which was brief, breaking our record for longest fader and here she is recovered from that
While little Cooper showed us what is possible, we believe she was suffering from calincivirus and she finally succumbed. Calici is such a virulent disease with no specific treatment. Vaccinating adult cats and young kittens is the best defence.
We have had lots of kittens fade like this and fully recover. Our first was unconscious for something like 6 hours and when messaging our mentor Ellen she asked me to check her mouth for ulcers. When I opened her mouth she woke up and bit me. She was irritable for another few hours and then made a full recovery.
We thank Lizzie who had the calm sense to video this kitten. A rare skill in the stress of treating a fading kitten.
Here is a kitten from our third season who had a similar episode but pulled through and this video was shared by his owners in our forever home group. These success stories make all the hard work worth it. https://www.facebook.com/groups/753122695065694/permalink/1284861631891795/