You have a new kitten and you’re excited — as you should be! Kittens are fun. They’re also a lot of work, though, and being a pet owner is a big responsibility. Like any baby animal, kittens are prone to several health conditions that could cause serious problems, so it’s your job to educate yourself about these diseases so you can recognize the signs and symptoms and get your kitty help if needed. Here are four of the most common health problems in kittens and how to deal with them.
Upper respiratory infections are serious — they can kill your kitten, and the younger the kitten, the more at risk it is. These infections are caused by viruses such as feline herpes virus, bordetella bronchiseptica, and feline calicivirus. Viruses travel via feline saliva (sneezes and exhales), and if a mother cat is sick, she might infect her entire litter of kittens.
Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, sniffing, and lethargy. If the infection is at a more advanced stage, you might also observe your kitten refusing to eat or having difficulty breathing. In those cases, it’s imperative to get your cat to the vet as soon as possible.
Most upper respiratory infections in cats last about a week. When you bring your kitten to your vet for treatment, the vet will most likely make a diagnosis by listening to what you have to say about your cat’s symptoms (further tests might be necessary to figure out what’s behind the infection).
Upper respiratory infections in cats can be hard to treat. Your vet might prescribe medicine or ask you to create more humidity in your home. To prevent future infections, have your kitten vaccinated against feline calicivirus and try to keep it away from other cats.
Fleas are one of the most common ailments affecting kittens, and luckily, they’re pretty easy to spot — look for little black specks on your kitten. Since your kitten’s immune system is still developing, fleas can cause anemia, which is a serious condition. Your vet can advise further treatment if your kitten has flea-induced anemia.
If your kitten is losing hair or seems constantly itchy, that’s another telltale sign of fleas. Use a vet-recommended medication or an over-the-counter option to treat fleas. You can also remove fleas yourself by combing your kitten’s dampened fur with a flea comb and cleaning all bedding your kitten has used.
To prevent fleas, regularly dose your kitten with flea prevention medicine, and keep very young kittens inside.
If your kitten is experiencing weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, and/or a bloated stomach, he or she might have worms. Some types of intestinal worms burrow into your kitten’s intestine, resulting in failure to thrive. Hookworms can also cause a serious case of anemia. It’s important to take action if you think your kitten has worms.
Your vet can deworm your cat regularly, starting when your kitten is eight weeks old. Since cats get worms by ingesting other cat’s feces, keeping your kitten indoors means he or she is much more likely to stay safe.
Feline distemper is life-threatening and contagious, and kittens between two and six months of age have a very high risk of developing symptoms. Feline distemper is the term for feline panleukopenia virus, which is a virus affecting blood cells. Cats with feline distemper are at risk for many other illnesses and infections, too.
Symptoms of feline distemper include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss, and a fever. The treatment for distemper often requires hospitalization as a form of quarantine, and normally requires antibiotics and fluids as well.
Get into a good habit of regularly having your kitten vaccinated against feline distemper.