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Kitten Health: Six Common Problems and What to Do

How to Spot and Treat the 6 Most Common Health Problems for Kittens

By Jesse Feldman. January 08, 2013 | See Comments

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Kitten Health: Six Common Problems and What to Do

Kittens, being so tiny and new, are especially susceptible to illness. Here are a few things to know in order to keep your little fuzzball healthy.

Congratulations on your decision to bring home a kitten! Kittens are a wonderful addition to a household and with proper care, you'll have many years of happiness with your new pet.

As you may know, though, kittens can be prone to a few health issues in this early life stage. Here's what you need to know about the most common kitten ailments, and what to do to get your kitten healthy again.

1. Ear Mites

Ear mites are one of the most common external health problems for cats and kittens. Ear mites are parasites that can infect your pet’s ear canal, and symptoms include ears filled with a dark wax that can resemble coffee grounds, unpleasant odor, and itching.

  • Your vet will diagnose ear mites after examining your kitten’s ears.
  • Your vet will then flush debris from your cat's ears and either use medicated drops at the office or prescribe drops for you to use at home.
  • Following your vet’s instructions, you may need to squeeze drops in your kitten’s ears several times a day. Complete eradication can take a few weeks.
  • Note: Mites spread very easily from pet to pet, so in a multi cat household, you will probably need to treat each animal.

2. Fleas

Fleas in kittens are more than a nuisance that can spread to your other pets—they can cause life-threatening anemia in young cats. Symptoms of a flea infestation are excessive itching, blood left in the fur, hair loss, and, of course, seeing the fleas themselves on your pet.

  • Flea combs can provide immediate relief for your pet. Learn about selecting and using a flea comb.
  • You cannot use traditional flea removal applications on kittens less than six weeks old because the chemicals can be toxic. The best way to remove fleas on a very young kitten is with a warm water bath and Dawn dishwashing soap. Wet the kitten in warm water (think baby-safe temperature), massage in the soap, then carefully rinse and towel dry the kitten. While his or her fur is still damp, run a flea comb through, dropping the fleas into a cup of hot water to kill them. It may take several rounds of baths to completely eradicate the fleas.
  • For older kittens, topical chemical treatments may be used, but you should consult your vet for the proper dosage. Spot on treatments are applied to your pet’s skin and kill fleas at all life stages.

3. Ticks

Although they are more common in dogs, ticks are small arachnids that can attach to the skin of your kitten if they've spent time outdoors. Ticks can transmit serious and contagious diseases into your pet’s bloodstream, and they can also cause anemia in kittens. 

  • If you find a tick on your kitten, you’ll want to remove it right away with tweezers. Be careful to pull from the head and not crush the tick’s body, which can send harmful bacteria into your pet’s bloodstream.
  • Clean and monitor the bite site after the tick is removed.
  • Some spot on flea treatments can also kill ticks, but these can be toxic to young kittens, so read the package carefully.

4. Worms

Roundworms are the most common internal parasites in young cats and symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and pneumonia. Hookworms are less common and symptoms include blood in the stool, diarrhea, low weight gain, and lethargy. Heartworms, although more common in dogs than in cats, can lead to a persistent cough, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.

  • Your vet will test for worms as part of a routine kitten physical. This is why your vet may ask you to bring a fresh stool sample from your new kitten to your visit.
  • If your vet diagnoses your pet with worms, they will recommend a deworming medication which will clear up the infection in just a few doses.

5. Feline Herpes or Feline Viral Rhinopneumonitis

Feline herpes is one of the most common upper respiratory infections in cats. If your kitten came from a shelter, chances are pretty high that they were exposed to this highly contagious virus. Symptoms include heavy sneezing, eye discharge, eye lesions, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

  • Unfortunately, there is no cure for the virus, and your pet may reshed it during times of stress.
  • But you can treat the symptoms and prevent secondary infections with antibiotics or antiviral medications.
  • Lysine supplements may help strengthen your infected cat’s immune system against the virus.
  • Your vet will be able to vaccinate your kitten against contracting the virus, if he or she has not yet been exposed.

6. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the membrane on the surface of the eyeball and eyelids. Your kitten’s eye may look pink or swollen with a clear, watery discharge.

  • For mild cases, your vet will recommend a home treatment plan including an over the counter eye drop cleanser.
  • For more serious cases, with a crusty or mucus-like secretion, your vet may recommend an oral antibiotic treatment, topical antibacterial applications, or warm compresses.
  • Conjunctivitis is very contagious in pets, so in a multi-cat household, you’ll want to separate your kitten until the infection is cleared up.
  • Severe conjunctivitis is often a secondary infection caused by a disease like feline herpes.
More on Caring for a Kitten

Kitten Health Basics: How to Be Sure Your Kitten Is and Stays Healthy
How to Train a Kitten
What to Feed a Kitten

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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