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There’s nothing more exciting than bringing a new kitten home to join your family, their boundless energy and playful nature will be sure to bring a smile to your face. Just like human babies though, it’s worth remembering that the younger the cat, the less robust his immune system will be, so ensure you know the signs of these common kitten illnesses so you can act quickly and get your kitten healthy again.
Extremely common in young kittens, respiratory infections are very easily passed on between cats. If your kitten has a runny nose, weepy eyes or is coughing or sneezing, it’s probably an upper respiratory infection. Some cats will also display a lack of appetite and be lethargic. It’s important that you take your kitten to the vet for an accurate diagnosis – the medication prescribed will depend on the infection and whether it’s calicivirus, cat flu or another bacteria.
Charlie contracted calicivirus as a kitten and was very ill with a high temperature – in fact, our vet was concerned that he wouldn’t make it. He had no appetite, and was so lethargic that he couldn’t even lift his head from the bed. As his foster mum and nurse, I stayed up all night with him giving him hourly liquids via syringe, medication and cooling his body temperature with cold packs. Calicivirus is extremely contagious so he was isolated from his brother and sister for 10 days, but thankfully with special care and lots of love made a full recovery. Not long after this, I adopted Charlie and his siblings.
These are another very common, and contagious parasite in cats and kittens. If you notice your kitten scratching his ears or shaking his head a lot, have a look into his ears and see if you can spot any dark brown spots that resemble coffee grounds. You may also notice an unpleasant odour. Ear mites are easily treated by your vet or at home using prescribed medicated ear drops, although it may take two weeks or longer for the condition to clear up completely.
Kittens are often born with intestinal parasites including roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms. Signs of intestinal parasites include a swollen tummy, diarrhoea, blood in their stools, or perhaps you’ve noticed that your kitten isn’t growing as quickly as he should. If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to take your kitten to the vet for a full investigation and diagnosis, which will probably require a stool sample. Worms and parasites are easily prevented with regular worming treatments – just make sure you give your kitten the right dosage for his age and weight.
In kittens, eye infections are usually caused by bacteria or a virus and symptoms include reddish eyes with a watery discharge, or in more serious cases, crusty or mucous eye secretions. Eye infections are fairly easily treated with antibiotic drops or ointment but they are contagious so it’s advisable to separate the infected cat until their eyes have cleared up. Depending on the medication and dosage prescribed, you may be able to purchase human eye medication over the counter instead of via a vet prescription, which is often much cheaper but does exactly the same thing. Ask your vet for advice.
Fleas are the bane of many cat owners’ lives, but it can be harder to treat a kitten for a flea infestation because the usual flea treatments are likely to be too strong for them. Obvious signs of a flea problem include excessive itching, hair loss and specks of blood left in the fur near the skin. Loss of blood can also result in anaemia for very young kittens. Of course, you may also see a flea jump from your cat onto you!
The best way to remove fleas on young kittens:
If your kitten is under eight weeks old, the most effective way to remove fleas is to give them a luke-warm bath with Dawn dishwashing soap. Wet your kitten, massage the soap and leave in for five minutes, then thoroughly rise and towel dry him. You can then use a flea comb, to remove the fleas and drown them in a cup of hot water. You’ll probably need to repeat the flea baths over a few weeks to completely eradicate them.
Fleas treatments for older kittens:
Spot on flea treatments can be used for older kittens to kill fleas at the various stages of the flea lifecycle, but make sure you check with your vet first to ensure that you are using the correct dosage for your kitten’s age and weight. The chemicals in flea treatments are highly toxic, and the wrong dose could be fatal for your kitten.
Diarrhoea can be a sign of a variety of different health issues, such as diet change or intestinal parasites, or even from the stress of moving to a new home and being separated from its mother and litter mates. Ongoing diarrhoea can lead to dehydration, which is potentially serious for a young cat. Feeding your kitten something plain like chicken and rice and making sure he gets a lot of water may help settle it down, but if it doesn’t improve straight away, then it’s important to visit your vet for a diagnosis and treatment advice.
Keeping Your Kitten Healthy
You may be lucky and never encounter any of these common kitten illnesses, especially if you follow your vet’s advice on keeping your kitten happy and healthy. Unfortunately though, these things aren’t always in our control, so if you do suspect your little one might have one of these health issues, take him to the vet for a full check-up.
Have your kittens experienced any of these common kitten illnesses? Please share your experiences below…
Images: Ronny / Lisa Larsson / Debi Lee via Flickr
Inge H. Borg says
Great advice. As a shelter volunteer, I’ve come to love DAWN. It’s gentle and effective – unlike the actual process of bathing kittens and cats (as attested by your great picture above). Unfortunately, too many new kitten-owners spray flea-infested animals down with harsh over-the-counter products – in effect poisoning them (sometimes resulting in the death of the tiny kitten).
I have fostered 35 tiny kittens (with the help of my Pasha) and every little life was worth giving up some of my beauty sleep (not that it would have helped anyway). To see them grow healthy and frolic about made it all worthwhile.
Sam Walsh says
Cystitis is also very dangerous for male kittens. Great article 🙂
Great information. It’s “kitten season” at the shelter right now, and we have to be on the lookout for all of these when the babies first come in.
Sharon S. says
Thanks for sharing this important information. It’s easy to look at how cute a small kitten is and forget they are so vulnerable. Tweeted.
The most important part of the dawn flea bath treatment for kittens is that you need to leave the soap on there for five minutes to suffocate the fleas.. just soaping and rinsing will not kill fleas.
There are some vet approved (not over the counter) flea products that are safe for young kittens, you simply do not use the adult dose. a few drops on a young kitten will protect keep the kitten from becoming anemic from the fleas.