From Parasites to Infections, Here Are Kitten Health Problems to Watch Out For

Lethargic kitten
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A kitten can be prone to numerous illnesses, so it's important to take her to the veterinarian as soon as possible after you bring her home.

A kitten's life can be fraught with dangers, including birth defects, infectious diseases and parasites. Not every illness is preventable, but the best way to protect your kitten is to take her to the veterinarian as soon as possible after bringing her home. Your veterinarian can examine your kitten, perform some recommended diagnostic tests and address many different issues before they become severe or life-threatening.

Early kitten death can result from many causes, including birth defects such as a cleft palate, which makes it difficult for the kitten to nurse. Less commonly, if the mother and kittens don't have compatible blood types, nursing kittens can die of a condition called neonatal isoerythrolysis. In fading kittens syndrome, kittens cease to nurse, grow gradually weaker and thinner and die. If you have a very young kitten who doesn't seem to be nursing or growing normally, see your veterinarian immediately.

Parasite Problems

Parasites are particularly common in kittens. Coccidia is one of the most commonly seen internal parasites and is especially common in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions. Affected kittens may lose weight, have diarrhea and become weak and dehydrated. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with a stool sample and prescribe treatment.

Cryptosporidium is a coccidia-like parasite that can cause severe watery diarrhea, weight loss and appetite loss. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with a stool sample and prescribe treatment.

Giardia is another intestinal parasite commonly seen in kittens. Affected cats or kittens may have watery diarrhea that can be fatal. Giardia can be diagnosed through a stool sample test and treated with oral medications.

Roundworms are very common in kittens because kittens can acquire them when nursing. Large numbers of roundworms can cause weight loss and a pot-bellied appearance in kittens, sometimes accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea and appetite loss. Serious infestations can even result in kitten death. Your veterinarian can diagnose roundworms with a stool sample and can prescribe treatment.

Hookworms can also occur in kittens and adult cats. Large numbers of them can cause anemia (a low number of red blood cells). Signs can include pale gums, diarrhea, weakness and possible weight loss. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with a stool sample and can prescribe treatment.

It's always a good idea to take your kitten to a veterinarian soon after bringing her home. A physical examination and testing for parasites is normally part of this visit, so bring a stool sample with you. All kittens should be de-wormed as your veterinarian recommends. Avoid over-the-counter de-wormers, which aren't always safe or effective.

Ear mites are also a common affliction of kittens. They are highly contagious, so an infected cat should be separated from other cats and dogs. The affected kitten will scratch at her ears, shake her head and possibly hold her head at a tilt. You may also see brownish, grainy debris inside the ear. Your veterinarian can make a definite diagnosis and prescribe effective treatment.

Other Health Concerns

Herpes viral conjunctivitis is another common problem of kittens and is caused by a herpes virus. It generally affects the conjunctival membranes of the eye, which are the lining of the lids and eye sockets. Herpes infection is more likely in kittens stressed by other factors, such as overcrowding or unsanitary conditions, flea infestation, malnutrition or other diseases. The discharge from the eye can be so significant that the lids become sealed shut; in some cases, the cornea (the clear part of the eye) can be injured. If your kitten develops watery eyes, squinting, rubbing or redness, see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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