Common Diseases That Affect Kittens

Posted by Dr. Roth on

Common Diseases That Affect Kittens

Bringing a new kitten home is a joyous day for all pet parents, and the last thing any pet parent wants is a sick kitten. Knowing how to prevent deadly kitten diseases is key for maintaining good kitten health.


Common Diseases That Affect Kitten Health

Kittens don’t have fully developed immune systems and can get sick quickly if they’re not properly cared for. The following diseases can be fatal to kittens, but thankfully most are treatable or preventable.


Internal and external parasites are some of the most common conditions kittens can contract. Parasites might not seem like a life-threatening ailment, but a kitten can die from extreme parasite infestations if not treated.

Internal parasites include:

  • Tapeworms
  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Giardia
  • Coccidia

Some of these parasites can be seen by the naked eye in the kitten’s feces, but a diagnosis is usually made at a vet clinic via fecal exam. 

External parasites include fleas, ticks, and mites. These parasites can be easy to diagnose because they are usually visible. Kittens as young as 8 weeks old are able to use a monthly flea and tick preventive to protect against these illness causing parasites. 


Herpes Virus

Herpes in cats is an upper respiratory disease and not a sexually transmitted disease. Clinical signs of this disease are:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Congestion
  • Frequent sneezing

This disease is highly contagious but not usually life-threatening. There’s no cure for this disease, and an infected cat can have flare-ups throughout their life. Thankfully, there is a preventative vaccine available.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus 

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is also known as feline AIDS. FIV affects only cats and cannot infect people or other species. An infected FIV cat can transmit the disease to other cats or kittens through blood-to-blood contact.

Kittens infected with FIV can live long lives before experiencing any complications from the disease. This virus affects the immune system and can go undiagnosed for many years. A preventative vaccine is available.

Feline Leukemia Virus

The feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is not cancer, but it can eventually cause cancer in a cat. FeLV is similar to FIV because it is a retrovirus that attacks a cat’s immune system. Like FIV, a cat can live for many years without any signs of the disease. This virus is also specific to cats and cannot infect other animal species or people.

Vaccination can help prevent kittens from contracting the virus. 

Feline Panleukopenia

Feline panleukopenia (FP) is a deadly disease caused by the feline parvovirus. Young kittens are the most susceptible to contracting FP and should be vaccinated as soon as they’re of age. 

Clinical signs of FP are the same as many other diseases and include:

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration

Healthy adult cats that contract this virus can survive with adequate treatment. Unfortunately, this disease is usually fatal in young kittens, and there’s no cure. However, supportive IV fluids and medications can help while a cat develops antibodies to fight the virus.


Congenital Conditions

Congenital conditions are defects a kitten is born with and caused by environmental factors or genetics. Many congenital conditions can be fixed via corrective surgery. However, these surgeries can be expensive and may require a specialty surgeon.

Common congenital conditions include:

  • Cleft palate
  • Umbilical hernia
  • Heart defects
  • Pyloric stenosis

FIV can be considered a congenital disease if a mother cat passes the virus to her kittens in utero. 

Keeping Kittens Healthy

The easiest way for pet parents to maintain their kitten’s health is following the recommended vaccine schedule. Since many of the most common kitten diseases are deadly, non-curable viruses, prevention is the best way to keep them healthy.

Kittens should visit the vet at two weeks for deworming. Vaccines begin when a kitten reaches six to eight weeks of age, and then boosters are required every three to four weeks until the kitten is four months old.

Pet parents with more questions about kitten health can use Fuzzy’s 24-hour vet chat to speak with a licensed vet or behaviorist.

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