The story of a kitten who died of fading kitten syndrome

Mia’s death. Photo: @littlelolaandluna/Instagram

Let’s call the kitten Mia. Her mother was a stray cat. She was often hungry. She suffered from parasites, poor diet and an inadequate supply of food and nutrients. Mia was born underweight. Fortunately, her mother was not infected with toxoplasmosis, or other major infectious diseases such as feline infectious peritonitis. Mia therefore was not infected herself.

It was also fortunate that Mia’s mother was experienced. She was not a novice queen with her first litter. Neither was she an obese queen. But she was undernourished.

Her mother was rescued and taken in by a kind resident in a suburb of America. There are many Americans like this who want to help, who can’t stand by and watch a vulnerable creature struggle to survive in the human world. She knew the cat was pregnant and was prepared.

Mia, as mentioned, was a developmentally immature kitten. She was at an immediate disadvantage because of her lack of muscle mass, lack of subcutaneous fat and low birth weight. She found it difficult to breathe deeply and keep herself warm. She also struggled to nurse effectively because her birthweight was 25 percent below that of her littermates and therefore she was crowded out by her brothers and sisters. She was forced to nurse on the least productive nipple. Each kitten takes a nipple and they make it their own. Mia was the last in the queue.

Because of her low birth weight and poor covering of fat, she became chilled. Her nursing at her mother’s breast was less than successful and she became dehydrated. She entered into a shock-like state due to circulatory failure.

Her body temperature dropped as did her breathing and heart rate. Her body temperature dropped below 94°F (34.4°C) causing her vital functions to become depressed even more.

Mia lost her ability to crawl and her righting ability. She lay on her side. Her poor circulation affected her brain which resulted in spasms and muscle tremors. She slipped into a coma and her breathing declined further to a point where she failed to breath for up to a minute. She was dying and nothing could be done about it. She became just one more statistic that even well-managed catteries cannot avoid according to one veterinarian, Dr. Eric Barchas, who says that 15 to 27% of kittens die before they are nine-weeks-of-age.

Purebred cats have a higher level of neonatal mortality than random bred cats. One study tells us that the average kitten mortality is 34.5% in the first year. They also say that the mortality rate in non-pedigree cats is 10-17%. The higher level of mortality in purebred cat may be due to inbreeding. You have to factor in stillbirths due to a kitten acquiring a disease from their mother which accounts for under 10% of all kittens born but the prevalence can vary from 6-22% of pedigree cats. Ninety percent of all kitten mortality occurs in the first week of life. These statisitcs come from Danielle Gunn-Moore of the University of Edinburgh when delivering a lecture, I believe, at the World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings 2006.

The story is fiction but it is fact to millions of kittens. May they rest in peace over the rainbow bridge.

Here is a breeding Savannah cat nursing her kittens:

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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