Common kitten illnesses and what to do about them

From training your kitten to use a litter tray to creating a new routine, there’s a lot to get used to as you adjust to life with your new friend. It’s also a good idea to be aware of common illnesses that can affect kittens, and what steps to take if you notice any symptoms.

It’s important to be aware of common illnesses that can affect kittens. We've listed everything you need to know to keep your kitten as healthy as possible.

As your kitten grows up, they’re going to start exploring the world around them. Whilst this is an exciting time, it also means their exposure to diseases will increase. Protect your kitten’s health by knowing the warning signs of some common illnesses. It's also important to know that many of these illnesses can be prevented by making sure your kitten is vaccinated.

Also known as feline parvovirus (FPV) or feline panleukopenia, feline infectious enteritis (FIE) is caused by a virus that can survive in the environment for up to 12 months. Kittens are very susceptible to FIE, especially between 4-12 weeks of age. This is when the antibodies from their mother’s milk have decreased but they may not have received all their vaccinations yet.

Symptoms: Diarrhoea (which may be bloody), vomiting, reduced appetite and thirst. They may sit hunched over their food or water bowls. At the start of an infection kittens will usually have a high temperature, which may drop below the usual range later during the infection. Some kittens don’t show any symptoms but can still be infected with FIE.

Action: Immediate veterinary support. FIE is extremely contagious and affected cats should be cared for in isolation. Your vet will probably take faecal and blood samples, which will be sent to a laboratory to confirm if FIE is present. Unfortunately, there’s no specific treatment and intensive care is usually required. But kittens can make a full recovery if caught early.

Cat flu is usually caused by either the feline herpes virus (FHV) or feline calicivirus (FCV) although it can sometimes be caused by other viruses or bacteria such as Chlamydophila felis. This common illness affects the upper respiratory tract and if left untreated could endanger the life of your kitten. It spreads through direct or indirect contact with an infected cat and once infected, a cat may remain a carrier for life.

Symptoms: Can range from mild to severe. Kittens may appear less energetic than normal, with a decreased appetite. You may notice them sneezing and dribbling. They will also often have a runny nose and eyes. They may also have a raised temperature.

Action: Immediate veterinary support. Your vet may take swabs to determine the cause of cat flu and then decide how to treat your kitten. They may prescribe antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or eye drops. You will also need to keep your kitten quiet and warm, in a stress-free environment as they recover.

Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) attacks the immune system and is transmitted via direct contact with infected cats. If a mother cat has FeLV, this may be passed onto her kittens. Some cats can fight off this virus and recover, but if young kittens are infected, this will often be permanent. The long-term prognosis for cats with FeLV is poor.

Symptoms: If your kitten catches FeLV, it may be months or even years before they show any symptoms. Sometimes a kitten might just seem ‘off-colour’ without any specific symptoms. Common symptoms include digestive issues, recurring respiratory infections and sore gums.

Action: Your vet will run some tests to confirm the presence of FeLV, but there is no treatment for this virus. Secondary infections may be treated with antibiotics.

Vaccinations can protect your new kitten from serious illnesses including the ones we’ve covered above. It’s also a good idea to regularly give your kitten a health check at home between their visits to the vet. That way, you can pick up on any symptoms as quickly as possible. Before your kitten is fully vaccinated, keep them inside your home. You may decide to allow them to explore your garden too, but only if there are no unvaccinated outdoor cats around.

As they mature, cats can also be affected by some other common health conditions including gastrointestinal upsets, heart conditions, respiratory issues, and urinary problems. Keeping up regular treatments for parasites including worms and fleas will also help your kitten feel as healthy and happy as possible.

At Petplan, 90% of claims are down to illnesses. As well as making sure your kitten is vaccinated, taking out cat insurance means you can rest easy knowing your kitten is covered if they do get sick and need veterinary treatment.

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