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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Hi I have four 6 mo. old kittens I adopted. Their mom was a feral cat who adopted my son. One of the kittens seems to be sad, sleeping all the time (as of today, and not cat napping). He is not himself: He’s not playing or eating (but he’s still drinking water). He is suddenly not social. I haven’t been able to catch him going potty yet, so I do not know if anything has changed in that regard.

He has no other symptoms such as runny nose, eyes, cough etc. When he does get up he moves slowly and I have seen him wobble a little. For the most part all he has done today is sleep.


Siouxsie: Lisa, it’s very important that you get this kitten to a vet as soon as you can.

Thomas: When a kitten suddenly has a behavior change — and especially if he’s not eating — it is often a sign that he is sick. A kitten that young should never lose his appetite.

Dahlia: Lethargy (sleepiness, not playing, not being social with littermates) is also a sign of illness. The wobbliness you mention is also of concern.

Siouxsie: Since these kittens were born stray, you have no way of knowing what kind of illnesses they were exposed to before they came to you. You didn’t mention whether or not you’ve taken these kittens to the vet before, so we don’t know whether or not they’ve been checked for parasites or serious illnesses such as feline leukemia (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

Thomas: FeLV and FIV are quite prevalent among stray cat populations, mostly because stray cats don’t have access to health care and because of the fighting that naturally occurs in un-neutered cats.

Dahlia: Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is another illness that’s common in unvaccinated cats. But you won’t know what’s going on with your kitten until you get him to a vet for a checkup and blood test.

Siouxsie: Parasites such as intestinal worms, can cause lethargy and fatigue because they eat up all the nutrients the cat gets from its food before the cat itself can get any. A serious flea infestation can cause anemia in kittens, too.

Thomas: So, Lisa, what you need to do is get the sick kitten to your vet and have him checked over. If he has worms or fleas, you’re going to have to treat all the kittens for the parasites so that they don’t get reinfected.

Dahlia: If a blood test reveals that your kitten has the antibodies for FeLV or FIV, this is kind of a bad news-good news situation. The bad news is that these diseases are not curable. They will carry the FIV or FeLV virus for the rest of their lives, and they will need to be taken care of very carefully. They should never go outdoors and they should not be exposed to FeLV- or FIV-negative cats.

Siouxsie: FeLV and FIV weaken a cat’s immune system and make him unable to fight off germs that other cats’ bodies can take care of with ease. But if you keep your kittens safe and indoors, they should be able to live good-quality lives. If your kittens are FeLV- or FIV-positive, you need to call your vet if they so much as sneeze, because a little cold can be a killer in a cat with limited immune function.

Thomas: If your cats don’t have these illnesses, your vet may recommend vaccinating against FeLV — particularly if they’re indoor/outdoor cats. There is a vaccine for FIV, but a lot of vets question its safety and effectiveness.

Dahlia: In addition, all cats in the US should be vaccinated against rabies — it’s actually required by law — and most vets will recommend vaccinating against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calcivirus and panleukopenia as well. This vaccine is often referred to as FVRCP or HCP by veterinarians and is sometimes called a “distemper” shot.

Siouxsie: There have been a lot of new developments in terms of vaccination schedules, and you should discuss this with your veterinarian. Our veterinarian prefers to use only the “core” vaccines (rabies and HCP on indoor-only cats; rabies, HCP and FeLV on indoor/outdoor cats) in order to avoid potential complications such as vaccine reactions.

Thomas: Probably your vet won’t to vaccinate your kitten while he’s sick. We know our vet doesn’t vaccinate sick animals. But once he’s feeling better, you’ll want to make sure he gets his shots.

Dahlia: We hope you get good news from your vet and that your kitten’s illness is easily treatable. Please let us know how things turn out.