Fading Kitten Syndrome

Fading Kitten Syndrome is a life-threatening emergency in which a kitten, sometimes one that was previously healthy, “crashes” and begins to fade. This can occur with kittens who have a mother as well as those who do not, so watch for mother cats pushing away a kitten and not caring for it. If not dealt with immediately, this can result in death. There is no clear cause or reason for this condition. It has been linked to birth defects, environmental stress, and infectious disease. Early detection and treatment are imperative; but even with tube feeding, re-hydration and monitoring many of these kittens will still die.


  • Low body temperature; the kitten feels cool or cold to the touch
  • Extreme lethargy; not getting up, unable to stand, not responding when pet, can’t hold head up
  • Gasping for breath; mouth-breathing
  • Meowing, crying out


When a kitten is fading, two things are happening:  hypothermia, being too cold; and hypoglycemia, not enough blood sugar. You must get the kitten’s body temperature up and raise its blood sugar or it will die.



  1. Get them warm. Immediately wrap the kitten in a towel like a burrito leaving only their face exposed. Their whole body—tail, ears, and paws--should be in the towel, only nose and mouth exposed. Do not take the kitten out of the towel to adjust them or check on them. Every time you take them out you will make them cold again, even if it is only for a second.
  2. Wrap a heating pad set on low around the burrito towel (to avoid burns) as an extra source of heat. Secure it around the towel so it stays in place.
  3. The kitten’s body cannot warm itself with only a towel; you have to apply extra heat. Your own body heat won’t work because it is lower than what a kitten should be.
  4. Kittens need continuous heat. Check heating pads often to ensure kittens have heat at all times, especially is heating pad has an auto-shut off function.


As soon as the kitten is warmed, you will need to work on raising its blood sugar

  1. Put some sugar in warm water OR use Karo Syrup in a non-needle tipped syringe to give the kitten three drops every three minutes. (Syringes of this type can be found in the baby or pet section of grocery/retail/pet stores. You can also ask for non-needle tipped syringes at your pharmacy.)
  2. If the kitten is not swallowing, try rubbing some Karo or sugar-water on its gums and tongue.
  3. Be sure you are administering the sugar every three minutes and not longer.
  4. Whatever the sugar source may be, take care not to contaminate anything by double-dipping syringes.


It may seem like you are not doing enough to help the kitten, but this is the only treatment for a fading kitten. There is not anything other than the steps above that OPHS vet staff can, or will, do for a fading kitten. Be sure to let Kitty City/Foster staff know that the kitten was fading, and make clear notes about the episode. If the kitten passes, alert Kitty City/Foster staff as soon as possible.


Keep in mind, it can sometimes take hours for them to come out of it and start acting normally again. Know that even with all the love and attention and perfect treatment for fading kittens, some of them still won’t make it.