Septicemia is a significant cause of death in neonatal kittens, usually in the first week of life. Coliform septicemia alone may account for up to 10% of deaths. Many factors can predispose kittens to neonatal septicemia: failure of passive transfer of antibodies (inadequate colostrum intake, or inadequate antibody levels in the queen), high levels of pathogenic bacteria in the birth canal or from the queen (saliva, milk), unhygienic environment, failure of passive local immunity (inadequate nursing, or inadequate immunoglobulin levels in milk). Pathogenic bacteria may enter the kitten via the mouth, intestinal tract, genital or urinary tract, or umbilical cord. The most important routes of infection are the mouth and the umbilical cord. Kittens with gram-negative bacterial infections may appear healthy to within a few hours of death.
In others, difficulty breathing from pneumonia may be the only sign. Deterioration is rapid as the kittens cease to nurse and become chilled before death. Queens will often refuse to care for such kittens. Diagnosis is reached at necropsy with culture of the umbilicus, liver, spleen, lungs, etc.
Omphalophlebitis (umbilical infection) results when pathogenic bacteria from the queen’s saliva or the environment invade the umbilical cord. Normally, the queen chews off the umbilical cord a few inches from the body wall. The cord quickly dries which limits bacterial invasion of both the cord and the umbilicus. If the cord is severed too short, especially if it is severed flush with the abdomen, bacterial invasion may occur or an umbilical hernia may result.
An abscess may form at the umbilicus, either just under the skin, or inside the abdomen. Bacteria may also enter the bloodstream via the umbilical vein (which stays partly open for several days) and cause septicemia. The two most common agents of omphalophlebitis are hemolytic E. coli and Strep. canis. If the cause of the infection is not immediately known, antibiotics with coverage of both gram-negative and gram-positive organisms should be chosen (enrofloxacin [Baytril] 5 mg/kg plus cephalexin [Keflex] 22 mg/kg, once daily if under two weeks of age).
S. canis was first identified as a cause of neonatal mortality in the mid-1980s at UC Davis. Most affected kittens die between 5 and 10 days. They may have no clinical symptoms of illness until hours before death, although they often gain weight slower than their uninfected littermates. A transient fever may be present in the 24 hours prior to death. Kittens are infected with the bacteria from the queen’s vagina during birth. Usually not all of the kittens in the litter are affected. An abscess of the umbilicus spreads into the liver and abdominal cavity, leading to peritonitis and septicemia. Some kittens may have an obvious umbilical abscess or swelling. The diagnosis is confirmed by culture of the umbilicus, liver, peritoneal cavity or lungs at necropsy. A second syndrome associated with S. canis is also seen where kittens develop abscessation of lymph nodes in the neck at about 3-6 months of age.
S. canis is found in the vaginas of about 50% of young queens. The carriage rate in queens up to 2 years may be 100% in some catteries. Generally, the queens themselves are healthy. The highest incidence of infection is in kittens from the first litter born to a young queen (under two years). Older queens are more likely to have eliminated the bacteria spontaneously. Toms can also carry the bacteria in their prepuce, leading to rapid spread of the bacteria in a naive cattery. Antibiotic therapy is rarely effective in eliminating S. canis from a queen’s vagina. However, a single dose of combined procaine and benzathine penicillin given to the queen at parturition may temporarily suppress the S. canis population and decrease risk of infection in the kittens.
Kitten mortality from S. canis is the highest when the bacteria first enters a cattery. Thereafter, any naive queens entering the cattery may become infected and have a high mortality rate in their first litters. Most affected kittens die too quickly for effective treatment. Since S. canis is almost uniformly sensitive to penicillin, remaining littermates can be treated prophylactically with oral amoxicillin pediatric suspension (every 12 hours for 5 days).
The risk of kitten mortality from S. canis can be managed prophylactically in catteries. The umbilical cord should be dipped in 2% tincture of iodine promptly after birth. In catteries experiencing recent kitten deaths from S. canis, kittens can be given a single SC injection of 0.25 ml of a 1:6 dilution in sterile 0.9% saline of product containing 150,000 IU/ml benzathine and procaine penicillin G. The queen is also given one SC injection of 150,000 IU of the same product (undiluted).
Blanchard P, Wilson D. Group G streptococcal infections in kittens. In Kirk RW,
Bonagura JD (editors): Current Veterinary Therapy X: Small Animal Practice, W.B.
Saunders, Philadelphia, 1989, pp. 1091-1093.
Many thanks to Wiebke Heron for her permission to publish this case material.
Copyright 2000, Susan Little DVM
All photos copyright SusanLittle DVM
AFTER having many problems with my breeding, I was honestly ready to throw in the towel and neuter everyone.
I had just suffered with yet another girl loosing a litter of kittens half way through a pregnancy and, to be honest, I was so sick and tired, I just wanted to walk away.
My kitten mortality rate was incredibly high and it scared me to death. I was literally wtching kittens dying and not being able to do anything. I am going to take you through each litter step by step, you will be shocked, you will say I have had a lot of kittens, but let me tell you the facts before you judge me.
Last year I had a lot of kittens, but I was involved in breeding with a friend who, due to health problems, had to retire from breeding, some of her girls were here with me, using my stud boy. The girls stayed here which meant that I had three more litters than I had planned on having, and was going to be overrun with babies had all gone to plan.
I am going to start with when I first started breeding and bring you up to today and what is going on here. The only way I get this through is to list in chronological order what has happened.
One kitten born by c section up to four inside cat partially reabsorbed.
Five kittens born, within a week or so developing runny eyes, three kittens died at roughly nine weeks of age, tests inconclusive, treated with synulox and aureomycin for flu-like symptoms.
Five kittens born, all but one lost by the age of nine weeks, again flu-like symptoms, didn’t respond to synulox, vet baffled.
Queen took two years to get pregnant, litter born by c section, kittens faded after a week even though they had two mums on babysitting duties.
Four kittens born, one died at less than two weeks old, another died at about nine weeks old with flu-like symptoms, no response to antibiotics etc.
Four kittens born healthy up until about nine weeks of age, started showing flu-like symptoms, one kitten died at 16 weeks in its new home, other kitten’s fine eventually.
Two kittens born, one had very swollen eye, vet said it was injured and would be fine, eye became ulcerated and damaged so vet wanted to remove it, kitten never came round from operation, other kitten stopped eating and faded literally before my eyes.
Five kittens born, all five faded within a week of birth, we put this one down to blood type incompatibility, mum got pyo so neutered therefore we never bothered blood typing her.
Five kittens all faded within the first week although everything was done to try to stop, including me not having any sleep for about three nights because I was sat with them.
Five kittens born at day 48, needless to say these were all put to sleep, we put this down to mum being stressed due to move, etc.
One kitten born, seemed perfectly healthy, we got up on day three and he was dead, no illness at all.
One kitten born with internal organs on outside, kitten was PTS.
Two kittens born, one faded in the first week, the other survived, at about eight weeks old got badly ulcerated eyes, vet baffled.
Five kittens born, all healthy until nine weeks when snotty noses and eyes started, one kitten started loosing weight, was concerned but not concerned enough to feed separate as not major weight loss, fed at 10pm one evening, next morning kitten had died.
One kitten born with deformed face, luckily born dead.
Lost at about 36 days into pregnancy.
I hope from the above you can see why I was desperate, this had happened to me over three years and I was at the end of my tether, after the latest miscarriage I was on the phone crying to one of my breeder friends, and she just mentioned that it could be Strep G. I had never heard of it, but duly went away and read up on it.
The symptoms which were listed on the site which I read were as follows:
a. Unexplained spontaneous abortions
b. All the signs of Chlamydia but negative on testing
c. Kittens doing OK then suddenly die from acute severe broncho-pneumonia (they are OK and you take a look a few hours later and some may already be dad)
d. Birth abnormalities, e.g. intestines on outside
e. No live kittens
f. Problems don’t respond
I could literally put a tick in every box and say I had suffered all of this. I was at the computer absolutely gob smacked. Here was the answer to my problems staring me in the face, yet my vets had never mentioned it. I was angry at the vet and at myself.
I went through every emotion with this one.
I rang the vet as soon as they were open, asked to speak to him and fired this at him straight away, his response was they he had heard of it but it didn’t affect anyone in this country, yeah right. I was loosing cats because of it I was sure. He said he would do some research and bring it up in the practice meeting that afternoon and then call me back.
The meeting was at 3pm, I gave him until 4pm then rang him back, he was apparently just looking my number up to call me. The outcome of the meeting was, he was to do some research and see what could be done. I said I had done the research and had it all printed, did he want to see it, his response was, not at the minute.
He rang me back the next day and said the first thing he must do was to check my cats for other nasties such as FIV/FELV and Chlamydia. I knew I was clear for FELV/FIV but agreed to the test for Chlamydia even though we knew we didn’t have it. The test was going to cost me £45, and they wanted to test three cats. I came off the phone and explained to my husband what had been said, he rang the vet back and said as we knew what the problem was and it wasn’t Chlamydia they were free to test, but if the tests came back negative we weren’t paying for them as it was expense that we didn’t need. The vet then decided to test one cat and wanted the girl who had miscarried recently.
When I took the girl to the vet, he asked me if I was sure I had brought the right cat in, as she looked so healthy. I assured him that I was positive it was her, and would he just get on with it.
In the meantime, I had requested a prescription for Clindamycin, which had been recommended for the treatment of Strep G, and the only antibiotic that was known to combat the infection was Clindomycin, also known as antirobe. For me to get it from the vet it would cost me nearly £500, but for me to get it from Vet-medic it would cost me just over £230.
According to my vet I couldn’t have a prescription until he had tested for everything. I argued with him that were was no test for Strep G, but that was what I had in my opinion, as all of the symptoms were pointing to kittens I had here.
He performed the test on my girl and said if I hadn’t heard from him in a week to give him a ring and he would let me know about the prescription. I was not happy, but didn‘t have the guts to argue with him. The next day was when the boy from litter 14 died. My husband rang the vet and asked him how many more kittens we had to loose before he would give us the medication we needed. The presciption was ready for us that day.
Vet-medic were fantastic, they said as soon as I had the prescription in my hand they would order the quantity of tablets we needed as they didn’t carry that many in stock. I rang them straight away and sent the prescription off to them.
The kittens we had in the house at the time were a little boy from litter 13 and litter 14 who were all snotty and had gunged up eyes. The boy from 13 had the ulcerated eye and they were all loosing interest in food, as you can tell, I was running against the clock.
The tablets arrived two days later. Fortunately, we hadn‘t lost any more kittens, but things weren‘t looking good. The cats were all to be medicated for 21 days with 50mg for the adults and 25mg for the kittens.
I drew up a chart with all of the cat’s names and tick boxes for 21 days. It was going to take us over Christmas and into the New Year. We knew were were in for a long hard slog and lots of claws and bite marks.
I clipped all of the cats claws, got myself a pill popper and we got down to business.
The kittens were the first to be done, then the boys and then onto the rest of the household. It took us just over two hours to do them all the first time. We did eventually get this down to just over 40 minutes.
After two days the kittens were showing major signs of improvement. The little boys eyes had cleared, I couldn’t believe it. These were kittens that I was loosing and here they were with clear eyes, noses and appetites that I couldn’t satisfy. They were no longer lethargic, they were literally into everything. Even the adults seemed to be more lively and interested in stuff.
I did hole the kittens back from getting their first vaccination as I didn‘t want to overload their systems with chemicals, but we took them for the first one this week. I can honestly say, hand on my heart, that is the first time I have taken kittens for vaccinations and not been worried that their eyes are running or noses snotty.
My vet stared at me in disbelief. I am sure he thinks they were a different litter. He still isn’t convinced I had Strep G, but I am.
I know a lot of people will say I am wrong to discuss my problems like this, but if my going public like this saves just one person going through the heartache that I went through, then it will all be worth it.
On the other side, a friend had problems with her kittens and was crying out for someone to help her. Her vets were baffled, etc. I rang her, told of my experience and offered her the medication. Her kittens are now up and running and eating fine.
It hasn’t been cheap, and it has been time consuming, but sit down and think about this. It has cost me less than the price of one kitten to do this. You can see from the above how many babies we have lost - ask yourself is it worth it? I would honestly recommend that anyone who is having problems thinks about treating for it. You have nothing to loose and everything to gain.
UK Pedigree Cat Breeder