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5 Most Common Infections In Kittens

Your brave kitten may seem invincible when they’re attacking their toys, scaling the furniture, and sprinting from room to room. In reality, they’re still babies with a delicate immune system that has not yet fully developed. Almost all kittens will contract an infection of some kind before their first birthday, but with routine care, you can keep them safe and healthy. Here’s how you can protect your little one from the five most common infections in kittens.

Ringworm
Ringworm is a common fungal infection in cats that causes raised, scaly lesions on the skin. Though it can look like an earthworm nestled just under the surface of the skin, the infection is caused by the fungus Microsporum canis. Ringworm usually causes mild symptoms like itching and hair loss at the affected site, but it’s highly contagious. It can spread to other cats, dogs, and humans through close contact and contaminated objects like brushes and blankets. If you suspect your kitten has ringworm, see your veterinarian to rule out other infections that may present similar symptoms. Your vet will usually prescribe a topical ointment, and will recommend that you wash contaminated surfaces with hot water and diluted bleach.

Feline Leukemia Virus
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is one of the leading causes of death in domestic cats. The virus attacks the immune system, leading to increased susceptibility to other infections, as well as symptoms like anemia, loss of appetite, gingivitis, and seizures. Cats with a strong immune system can often clear the virus without any symptoms, but kittens are at greater risk for complications. The virus only affects cats and it spreads through close contact, mainly through grooming, fighting, and sharing water bowls. Cats that spend time outside or live with other cats should be vaccinated for FeLV. Upon adoption, your vet will test for FeLV with a blood test. The virus can take up to 30 days to show up in test results, so your cat may need to be re-tested if there’s a chance they have been exposed.

Internal Parasites
Almost all cats will have intestinal parasites at some point in their lifetime. Worms in kittens are so common that routine deworming is the norm at first vet visits. Kittens can get worms from their mother’s milk, and as they grow older they may contract worms from eating infected mice or fleas. While self-grooming, they can also swallow parasites that have stuck to their fur. Though you may keep your home very clean, even an indoor cat can get worms. Left untreated, advanced parasitic infections can compromise your cat’s liver, brain, and heart, and can take over your cat’s digestive system, making them unable to absorb nutrients from their food despite an increased appetite and a pot-bellied appearance. Thankfully, worms are easy to prevent. Your veterinarian can prescribe a treatment like Revolution to protect your cat against multiple types of parasites.

Conjunctivitis/Pink Eye
Conjunctivitis or pink eye is common in kittens under a year old. Symptoms of an eye infection include thick green or yellowish discharge, excessive tearing, squinting, and swollen, reddish tissue around the eye or eyelid. Pink eye is caused by a number of different bacteria and viruses, and you may see similar symptoms from allergies, bug bites, and foreign objects, so you’ll need to see your veterinarian for a diagnosis to ensure your kitten gets proper treatment. The bacteria and viruses that cause pink eye in cats cannot spread to humans, but feline eye infections are highly contagious to dogs and other cats. Pink eye is often associated with upper respiratory infections, especially when paired with symptoms like sneezing and coughing.

Upper Respiratory Infections
Upper respiratory infections (URI) and pink eye often go hand-in-hand. Feline calicivirus (FCV) causes about half of all feline URIs, and while it’s not deadly, it can cause serious complications in rare cases. Initial symptoms typically manifest as sneezing, nasal and eye discharge, fever, and drooling. Cats usually make a full recovery within a few weeks, but they’re vulnerable to secondary infections during that time period, especially if they’re very young or otherwise immunocompromised.

Feline herpesvirus infection or feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) is another very common cause of URIs in cats, and shows similar symptoms to FCV. FVR can also cause corneal ulcers that can cause permanent vision loss. Both viruses are highly contagious to other cats, spreading through aerosol droplets (sneezing) and contaminated objects like water bowls, brushes, and blankets. Cats recover from FVR within a few weeks, too, under normal circumstances, but some become lifelong asymptomatic carriers.

Keeping Your Kitten Safe From Infection
Most infections in kittens can be prevented by keeping them indoors, away from stray cats, infected prey, and unhygienic areas they might encounter outdoors. If you’re bringing a new kitten home and you already have other cats, isolate the kitten for at least two weeks. As recommended by your veterinarian, use parasite preventatives, schedule yearly wellness exams, and get routine blood and fecal tests to catch infections early.