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7 Kitten Health Issues to Look Out For (Vet Answer)

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By Dr. Chantal Villeneuve

a kitten sneezing while playing with ball shaped toys

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Written by

Dr. Chantal Villeneuve

MS BVetMed (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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The fun and joy of taking care of a new kitten can quickly be dampened if you are concerned about something that is just not quite right. Worrying about something that looks off can be stressful and ruin all the fun.

Always bring your kitten to the vet for a health check when you first get them, when they need their vaccines, and when you are concerned about something. Catching it early and getting professional help and advice will help you get back to the fun and games of kittenhood that much faster.

In the meantime, it can be helpful to know what to look for in terms of things not looking quite right. Sometimes it’s easier to see something is wrong when you know what to look for. Read this article to learn more about health issues to look out for.

The 7 Possible Kitten Health Issues

1. Not Gaining Weight

kitten Cornish Rex
Image Credit: Okssi, Shutterstock

Several things can cause a kitten to not gain weight appropriately, such as an underlying illness, worms, or gastrointestinal microparasites. However, another cause of poor growth that you can check at home before you bring your kitten to the vet is that they are getting the right food and enough of it.

Kittens have different nutritional needs than adult cats, so they need to be on kitten food. There are many commercial diets that are specially formulated and evidence-based for kittens. Kittens should not drink milk, especially cow milk. If they cannot nurse from their mother, they should drink kitten formula only. Be aware of these signs of malnutrition:

  • Not gaining weight every week
  • Not growing as fast as their littermates
  • Poor coat condition
  • Legs that do not grow straight

2. Diarrhea

Diarrhea is common in kittens, especially as they change homes and change foods. Stress and a new or unfamiliar food can cause diarrhea, which usually resolves quickly in a day or two.

However, infectious diseases can also cause diarrhea, especially in a kitten with a weak immune system. So can worms and protozoan parasites. Your vet can tell the difference between an upset tummy from too many changes too quickly and an infectious problem. There are several causes of diarrhea, such as:

  • Stress
  • Change of food
  • Infection
  • Parasites

3. Itchy Skin

Cute cat has fleas and itching. cat diseases. red tabby kitten
Image Credit: Ph.artgraf,Shutterstock

A kitten that itches its skin or ears a lot may be carrying external parasites, such as fleas or mites. Fleas can be much more difficult to see than most people think, especially if only a few of them exist. They are very quick and hide in the fur shockingly well. Mites are too small to see with the naked eye and need a microscope to identify. They can live on the skin along the body or in kittens’ ears.

You cannot comb away fleas or mites. They need to be killed with medication which you can easily get at the vet. If you get one that does not work, especially from the pet store, discuss it with your vet and try another. There does seem to be some resistance to some of the medications out there—especially the essential oils like peppermint that just don’t work. Here are the following signs of external parasites:

  • Itchy
  • Scabs or crusting on the skin or ears
  • Dirty ears
  • Shaking the head excessively

4. Bloated Belly

It is easier for kittens to get worms than adults because their immune system is still weak. And they are exposed to new things that they put in their mouth and try out. A bloated belly can be a sign of worms or tiny one-celled organisms that are also gastrointestinal parasites called protozoa. Some common GI parasites are roundworms, tapeworms, flatworms, and giardia. What out for these signs of parasites:

  • Bloated belly
  • Soft stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Worms in the poop

Both worms and protozoa need to be treated with a dewormer and may need a little extra medication if the infestation is severe enough. Starting your kitten on a deworming protocol with your vet is the best treatment and prevention all at the same time.

5. Sneezing & Runny Nose

a kitten sneezing in pink background
Image Credit: Gaby Vieira, Shutterstock

A syndrome that looks like a human cold, with a stuffy nose, sneezing, and runny eyes, is very common in kittens. Called an upper respiratory infection, these colds usually heal all on their own.

It may take a few weeks, but they usually clear up unless they snowball into something more complicated. Usually caused by viruses, sometimes bacteria can also get involved and cause complications.

Making sure your kitten stays warm, dry, well-fed, and hydrated is the best medicine. Bring them to the vet to make sure nothing is getting too complicated. Here are some common signs of an upper respiratory infection:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Gunky eyes
  • Swollen eyes

6. Red Swollen Eyes

Inflammation around the eyes is called conjunctivitis. In kittens, it can be caused by viruses or bacteria. If a kitten has an upper respiratory infection, they often also have conjunctivitis. But both can happen separately.

Keep their eyes clean by gently wiping away their tears with a soft, water-damp cloth. And take them to the vet to make sure they don’t need extra medication, like eye drops. Signs of conjunctivitis are as follows:

  • Swollen eyes
  • Redness around the eyes
  • Discharging eyes
  • Changes in the opacity of the eyeball
  • Scratches on the eyeball

7. Infectious Diseases

Sick kitten
Image Credit: Songkran Wannatat,Shutterstock

Kittens are susceptible to some deadly viruses that quickly escalate to critical illness, and distemper is one of them. Many signs of severe sickness can also occur with less severe diseases, such as diarrhea for example; however, if there is more than one sign of sickness, that is more of an indication of disease.

So, for example, if your kitten has just diarrhea but is still playing and happy, they may just be adjusting to their new food. But if they have diarrhea and are lethargic, that can be a sign of something more serious. More than one clinical sign is often more worrying than a single sign.

At the same time, a kitten doesn’t need to have all these signs together to be seriously sick. It may just be two or three to begin. And sometimes, it can come on so fast that you don’t see any signs of sickness, and they just suddenly die before you have a chance to intervene.

Make sure your kitten gets their vaccines at the right times and goes to the vet for a check-up if they start displaying the following signs of disease. Be aware of these signs of infectious diseases:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy and/or depression
  • Weakness
  • Sudden death


Playing a nursemaid to a kitten is usually filled with fun and adventure. And making sure they have a warm, dry, kitten-safe home, get their vaccines and deworming medication, get a physical exam, and start to do their learning lessons is all part of the joy of it.

You are learning how to care for a cat, and they are learning how to be a cat has to start somewhere. Never be afraid to ask professionals for advice and to double-check that you are getting it right.

Featured Image Credit: Elizabett, Shutterstock

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