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What is Early Death?

It is important to note that early kitten deaths are more prominent in pedigree cats, especially concerning the development of physical birth defects. If a specific complication is discovered, there are measures to take to prevent the death of a kitten early on.

Unfortunately, it is inevitable that some kittens in a litter may perish as cats are extremely fragile in that beginning stage of life. Many kittens that succumb within the first few weeks of life between birth and weaning are often said to have been afflicted with 'fading kitten syndrome.' Typically, around 75% to 95% of kittens make it to 8 weeks of age. Of those, however, about 20% to 40% may not survive beyond 12 weeks. Those percentages can fluctuate depending on the specific breed. Of all the breeds, Persian kittens are known to be some of most susceptible to high mortality rates.

Symptoms of Early Death in Cats

As there can be an undetermined number of causes of death in kittens, the symptoms they present vary and are sometimes not noticeable at all. Below are some of the signs your kittens may show to indicate an ailment that can potentially lead to early mortality:

  • Abruptly stop nursing
  • Failure to suckle at all
  • Lie separately away from the litter
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Restlessness/refusal to sleep between feedings
  • Frequent crying

Causes of Early Death in Cats

Causes of early death in kittens are attributed to complications pre-birth, during birth, around the weaning period, or even issues with the mother alone or the environment. 


  • Congenital abnormalities (e.g. cleft palate, skeletal defects)
  • Uterine malnutrition (typically in large litters due to competition)

Birthing process

  • Dystocia (difficult birth)
  • Hypothermia
  • Hypoxia (lack of oxygen)
  • Low birth weight

Weaning period

  • Neonatal isoerythrolysis (kitten and queen may not have compatible blood types)
  • Inadequate milk intake
  • Excessive loss of fluid
  • Infectious diseases (bacterial, viral, parasitic)

Problems with Queen

  • Inadequate nutrition
  • First litter (inexperienced queen; may lead to trauma, neglect or cannibalism)
  • Older queen
  • Extended labor

Environmental factors

  • Over-handling
  • Poor hygiene
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Overcrowding

Diagnosis of Early Death in Cats

It is not always simple to determine the cause of, or predict, early death, so approaching a diagnosis can prove difficult. There are some major signs to look out for such as rapid weight loss or if the kitten stops nursing. If symptoms are present in over 20% of the litter, then you can submit a newly expired kitten to undergo a full post mortem examination to narrow down a specific cause.

There are other areas a veterinarian will wish to investigate, many of which you can assist with by keeping thorough records. Noting the environment can help determine if it plays a factor. Also, your vet may want to examine the queen as well as both healthy and ill kittens. This examination can include blood samples as well as swabbing. Stool samples can also be taken as they will help reveal the presence of parasites.

For kitten death within a breeding cattery, it is important that records are kept, and that you consistently take note of any ailments that may occur with kittens and cats. Your vet will also wish to know the specific management of the cattery such as hygiene, feeding, and vaccinations.

Treatment of Early Death in Cats

Only once a cause is discovered can treatment occur in kittens that have not yet expired. Many of the treatments below may often require hospitalization in order for the vet to monitor the afflicted kittens.


If a bacterial infection is discovered, your vet may prescribe antibiotics. As kittens are still building up their systems, it is essential to give the antibiotics exactly as prescribed in order to adequately treat the infection. Otherwise, an infection may return, or your kitten may become resistant to that particular antibiotic.

Medication for Parasites

The signs of a parasite are not always specific, but once discovered, treatment should be prompt in order to present worsening of a kitten's condition or the spread to others including fellow kittens and even humans. Your vet will order specific medication to treat the parasite, and this medication, like antibiotics, must be used as prescribed. Signs of recovery may appear slowly over time, and your kitten may become infected once again by the same parasite. A reoccurrence can be prevented due to proper parasite management and control.


If possible, surgery may be sought for kittens with birth defects. However, some may not be able to receive surgery until they are a particular age. For instance, a kitten born with a cleft palate may undergo correction surgery once they are 3 months old or more. There are certain defects that, even with surgery, may only prolong the inevitable death of your kitten as in the case with severe spina bifida. Surgical procedures to cover the spinal cord may be conducted, but depending on the severity, some opt for euthanizing the kitten instead.

Recovery of Early Death in Cats

Prompt veterinary care is essential to managing the remaining kittens once the cause of early death has been discovered. If an infection has been treated with antibiotics, it is important to monitor the kitten to be sure they are free from the bacteria.

Good sanitation is also important, especially if parasites have been found in a kitten. This can be managed through proper cleaning and disinfecting of areas. Those handling the kittens should also maintain proper hygiene to lower the risks of spreading any disease.

When it comes to the queen, she should be kept calm at all times to lower the risk of trauma and anxiety. Managing her diet is also essential to helping the kittens properly develop pre-birth as well as allowing for appropriate milk release.

Concerning birth defects, some are manageable such as deformities of the eye. Through proper care, a kitten can grow to live a long and good life.