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How to Tell If a Kitten Is Sick

How to Tell If a Kitten Is Sick

Kittens can go from perfectly healthy one minute, to dangerously sick at a moment's notice. Our Maury County vets reveal signs that you may have a sick kitten on your hands and when they may require medical attention.

Why You Should Know the Signs of a Sick Kitten

Even in the best setting/environment, kittens will still struggle to surpass the 20% mortality rate (even higher in orphan kittens) they face. With concerns of parasites, predators, disease/illness, and general accidents, it is all but a miracle that a mother cat will see any of their kittens reach adulthood.

Especially with newborn kittens, you have likely been told to call or visit the vet in just about any medical situation. The reason is that some issues that may even seem minor, can become fatal overnight or within a few hours. Issues that go completely unnoticed in an adult cat, can be deadly to a kitten.

Our Maury County vets explain how to detect your kitten may be sick to get them the special care they need, when they need it.

How to Tell if a Kitten is Sick

If your kitten(s) show any of the following symptoms below, immediately seek emergency medical care. Signs include:

  • Dehydration
  • Constant crying
  • Decreased appetite
  • Losing weight or failing to gain weight
  • Lethargy
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Body temperature over 103°F or under 99°F
  • Bleeding
  • Trauma
  • Pale gums
  • Continuous diarrhea
  • Swollen stomach

Common Health issues in Kittens


Constipation can occur in kittens due to dehydration. Try adding some extra water to your kitten's formula or food to keep them hydrated.

If your kitten still does not pass a stool in the next 48 hours, or if they begin to vomit, take them to the vet immediately. 


Diarrhea may not seem like something to be overly concerned about, but this could be your kitten letting you that all is not well.

More mundane causes include stress, a change in diet, or overfeeding. If your kitten is experiencing a mild case of diarrhea but is behaving happy and alert, try adding more water to their formula (or food if not bottle-fed) or cut back on the amount they are being fed.

Diarrhea can also be a symptom of a serious medical concern caused by internal parasites, bacteria (or lack of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract), viruses like panleukopenia (distemper), or feline leukemia.

Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)

Kittens are much more vulnerable to disease than adult cats, but orphan kittens are even more at risk for upper respiratory infections. Kittens or cats should not be given over-the-counter medications as some are poisonous to cats. Once you notice sniffles or sneezing, take your kitten (especially an orphan) to the vet. You can’t begin treatment too soon with kittens so vulnerable so a professional should examine your kitten to decide the best steps to take.

URIs are very contagious, so if you have other cats, keep the sick kitten isolated from the others until they are once again healthy.

If you have a sick kitten who is suffering from one of the issues mentioned above, you may see symptoms including:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal and eye discharge
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Limping due to joint pain

Parasites - Fleas

Kittens are vulnerable to fleas, especially if your kitten was found or born outdoors. An infestation of fleas will collectively consume enough blood to the point where they can cause potentially fatal anemia in your kitten. Fleas can additionally give your kitten tapeworm, all of which warrant a  call or visit to the vet.

Only use flea treatment that is labeled as safe for the specific age and size of your kitten. You can safely remove fleas from kittens younger than eight weeks by combing them thoroughly with a very fine-tooth flea comb, similar to how you would remove lice.

Fading Kitten Syndrome

In this devastating situation, a kitten will appear to be perfectly healthy will quickly start to decline out of nowhere. This usually happens within the first several weeks of birth. Causes can seem unknown to the owner but can range from a virus to a birth defect, to blood incompatibility with the kitten's mother. These kittens seem healthy one day, then stop nursing, lose weight and pass away.

This is something that just happens and there is nothing the owner (or vet) can do about it. Sometimes the kittens are just too weak or too sick to make it. If this terrible event occurs, remember that the kitten only made it as far as it did because of your love and care. You gave them their best shot

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you have a sick kitten, or your kitten is showing symptoms of an illness, contact our Maury County vets immediately to get them back on their feet.

New Patients Welcome

At Veterinary Wellness Clinic Of Columbia, we are always accepting new patients. Our team of experienced veterinarians are passionate about lifelong pet health client education. Contact us to book your pet's first appointment today. 

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