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Health Threats to Kittens: Infectious Disease
Photo of Caged Kittens in a Rescue Home

Billy (Small Gray Kitten) Came to Us With a URI

Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy

Kittens are subject to many of the same common infectious diseases which affect adult cats, and in most cases these diseases are more serious for kitttens. If a pregnant cat is protected by Core vaccines for the more common (and most serious) diseases, kittens generally have immunity from mom's protection for a few weeks. Feral cats' kittens or kittens born by queens not immunized lack this immunity, and should be vaccinated around three weeks of age, while kittens with mom's immunity may wait until six to eight weeks old. While vaccination will not guarantee 100% prevention of these diseases, some infectious diseases can wipe out a whole litter of kittens in a short time. Consult with your veterinarian for your "kitten shots" options.

Most Common Infectious Diseases in Kittens

  • Panleukopenia aka Feline Distemper
    Panleuk, as it is commonly called, is a particularly virulent virus in the Parvovirus group, and is often found in feral cat colonies, or any other areas where large groups of cats gather. I once had a kitten, found on the street, who nearly died from Panleuk, but was saved by our veterinarian. "Spooky" forever after was unable to hold her head erect, and was left with a sort of endearing "bobble-head" walk.
  • Upper Respiratory Infections
    These include the viruses Rhinotracheitis aka Feline Herpes Virus and Feline Calicivirus. There are core vaccines for both of these viruses. A third infectious disease is Chlamydia, which is bacterial, and can be treated with antibiotics such as Tetracycline. Although there is a vaccine for Chlamydia, its potential for harmful side effects are such that the AAFPC does not recommend routine use of this vaccine. In addition to sneezing and runny nose, Chlamydia can cause Conjunctivitis (commonly known as pink-eye), which can be spread to humans. It is important, therefore, to use latex gloves when handling the kitten, to wash hands thoroughly after treating him, and to keep your hands away from your own eyes.
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