Most of us will have at least one feline breeder as a client and if this breeder presents with a fading kitten, it is important we understand the reasons behind this sometimes complex and devastating condition. Last week’s webinar delivered by the highly respected Dr Diane Addie offers an excellent overview on how to manage these often challenging cases.
A thorough and comprehensive post mortem of a dead kitten is imperative if you want to get to the root of the problem. If necessary Diane advocates sending the whole kitten in formalin to an appropriate laboratory. However Diane also highly recommends performing post mortems in house. Checklists on all the necessary equipment required has been included within Diane’s notes.
Prior to post mortem the age at which the kitten died can help direct a clinician to the most likely cause of death. For example neonatal isoerythrolysis is likely to occur within the first few days of life whereas feline parvovirus (FPV) is likely to be seen in kittens between 3-14 weeks of age. Once a post mortem is performed, the presence of icterus within a 2-3 day old kitten
which was born normal would be a strong indicator that the kitten died or neonatal isoeryhtrolysis.
When performing a post mortem, although apparently brutal, it is also imperative to pull back the skin of a kitten especially over its skull and neck in order to locate any areas of trauma. Diane explained it has been known for the queen to handle the kitten too roughly and puncture its skull or back bone. It has also been known for breeders to man handle kittens so vigorously during the birthing process that fatal injuries result, such as a crushed skull. Often these findings may not be spotted unless the kitten’s skin has been pulled back.
According to studies Infectious causes are responsible for 55% of kitten deaths and include infections such as FIP , the flu viruses ( FHV and FCV) and Feline Parvovirus which happens to be the biggest killer of kittens representing 25% of all kitten deaths. FPV is a disease usually seen in cats from animal shelters but can sometimes surprisingly be seen in pedigree kittens within a vaccinated household. Diane explained that these kittens are still prone to infection with FPV despite being vaccinated as they exist in a multicat household where FPV can persist for up to 12 months. The maternally derived antibodies against FPV can also still be present until the kittens are 20 weeks old which may well interfere with vaccination efficacy. For this reason it may be necessary to check sufficient antibody levels have been elicited post vaccination by using an in house antibody test ( Vacochek Immunocomb).
On post-mortem FPV infected kittens are likely to have a rosy flush to their intestines which can be quite subtle. It is useful to send the kitten’s intestinal contents for an FPV PCR and to place untied intestines in formalin for histopathology. Diane also explained it is possible that the virus may have left the kittens body by the time a post mortem can be performed, hence it is imperative to perform antibody titres as well so FPV does not get missed.
Diane delivered an information packed overview of fading kittens whilst discussing the main causes of kitten death in much greater depth within this webinar. I have to admit, I would never have really considered doing a post mortem on a kitten but this webinar has given me the confidence and knowledge to consider performing this in practice which will hopefully deliver an even better service to our cat breeding clients.