Her weight had started to climb, but something still seemed amiss. Whenever Andy or I entered the guest room, the little black kitten was lying down? Shouldn’t a kitten do more than lie down? Shouldn’t she be playing? One evening, Andy tossed a fluffy yellow ball her way. Onyx sat upright but otherwise didn’t move, not even when Andy and I tried to play ‘keep away’ with her. Another evening, I dangled a pink plush mouse near her. Again, despite her green eyes sparking with curiosity, Onyx made no attempt to play. Even though she snuggled into us and purred whenever we picked her up, worry tugged at me. Andy was still having to syringe feed her, which didn’t seem normal for a growing kitten. Then there were the regular soft stools in her litter box. I tried to push the phrase “failure to thrive” out my head, but it got harder with each passing day to maintain hope.
Failure to thrive in kittens can occur from birth to nine weeks of age. Affected kittens often decline quickly and die. Immediate detection and treatment are key to survival. The problem is that fading kitten syndrome, like its name implies, is a condition and not a disease. There are many causes. Worse, many of those underlying causes are difficult to prevent. It can be the fault of the mother, who might have a difficult birth, inadequate milk production, or even an incompatible blood type with her offspring. The fault can lie with the kitten, who as the runt might have congenital abnormalities, immature lung development, or decreased nursing ability. Infections, toxins, and other environmental causes such as temperatures that are too high or low can be at fault. Finally, nutrition can be at fault, if the mother h didn’t eat enough while pregnant or nursing or the kitten received inadequate milk replacement formula. Especially when a kitten is discovered homeless, many of these causes can already have taken a toll, in which case recovery will be an uphill and sometimes impossible battle.
scheduled a vet appointment for Onyx, but also collected a stool sample to bring to the Capital Humane Society for which we were fostering Onyx. At the vet, Onyx meowed plaintively when touched, showing that she wasn’t feeling well. But she also insisted on exploring the exam table, showing that she still had some fight left in her. The vet left to run some tests and we let Onyx roam the floor. She discovered some hanging leashes and began to play with them. Andy and I exchanged glances, surprised and delighted with Onyx’s energy level. Moments like these are what calmed my worry that Onyx had fading kitten syndrome. The vet echoed feeling that Onyx had too much spunk to die. The call we received later that day from CHS gave us even further reason to hope. Onyx was diagnosed with Giardia. That would certainly explain her poor appetite, runny stools, and lethargy. The good news was that, although Giardia was contagious and potentially life-threatening, it was treatable.
Giardia is a common intestinal parasite in people and animals. It’s excreted in the feces of an infected cat, then picked up when ingested by other cats sharing litter boxes. Giardia can also be found on contaminated surfaces, in soil, or in food or water that has been contaminated with feces from infected creatures. The most common symptom is diarrhea. Other symptoms are weight loss, poor grooming, and lethargy. Unfortunately, these symptoms can also be indicative of many other medical conditions, and so Giardia isn’t always readily recognized by its symptoms alone. The incidence is relatively low in North America, but can spread quickly wherever several cats share space, such as in shelters and multi-cat households. For treatment, Onyx received a week’s worth of metronidazole. We already had Onyx confined to the guest room, so we didn’t need to quarantine her, and had already been thoroughly washing our hands well after each contact. I consulted Lancaster County (Nebraska) Ask-A-Vet and learned that I should bathe Onyx and then clean her after every bowel movement. In addition, I followed the advice to change clothes after cleaning her litter box.
The crate was a mess. Diarrhea soaked the litter box and the blankets. There was even diarrhea splattered on the floor around the crate. This was the worst incident, but the next day the tide turned. Onyx had a solid stool. She began eating both her wet and dry food. Syringe-feeding had suddenly become a thing of the past. One night she turned escape artist and found her way out of her crate. Having realized that adventure can be fun, Onyx started to explore the guest room with earnest. She soon discovered the delights of closets, curtains, corners…. and of playing hide-and-seek with her guardians.
At the time of this article, Onyx continues to thrive. In the three weeks that we’ve had her, she’s gone from 1.2 pounds to over 2.5 pounds. Her litter box, scratching post, and toys get put to full use. She’s showing even more curiosity, wanting to play with Andy’s beard and my glasses. She’s also learned to jump, and a few times she’s managed to climb into the guest bed. Friends of ours have nicknamed her Black Beauty and Blackjack, as her personality develops. More adventures lie ahead for Onyx, when we introduce her to our other pets. In addition, soon she will be spayed, and then we can begin our search for an adopter. Thank you Capital Humane Society and Joining Forces Saving Lives for letting us foster this beautiful little girl.