Research on Kitten Death in Shelters and Rescues
Discover how the ASPCA® used data from its kitten nursery to learn which common clinical signs, including diarrhea, weight loss, and inappetence, impact kitten mortality. You can use this information as another tool to help guide protocols and treatment decisions for underage, sick, or “fading” kittens.
In 2014, the ASPCA opened New York City’s first high-volume kitten nursery to care for felines too young to survive on their own. The program, now primarily foster-based, can care for up to 2,000 kittens during kitten season (April through September).
Researchers in the ASPCA’s Strategy and Research and Shelter Medicine departments examined the medical records of a group of 1,367 kittens under 8 weeks of age from the ASPCA Kitten Nursery during the 2017 kitten season. They looked at clinical signs and diagnoses of weight loss, diarrhea, anorexia, upper respiratory tract infection (URI), trauma, panleukopenia, and whether kittens with these concerns died or were euthanized.
Those conducting the study also explored kitten characteristics such as age and weight at intake, body condition score (BCS), how early or late in the season the kitten was brought in, and sex.
The data showed an elevated risk of dying for kittens who:
Were the smallest at intake, either due to age or being underweight (13 times greater)
Were diagnosed with panleukopenia (13 times greater)
Exhibited weight loss (over 9 times greater)
Were diagnosed with URI (almost 4 times greater)
Exhibited anorexia (3 times greater)
Were identified with a low BCS at intake (2 times greater)
Experienced diarrhea (nearly 2 times greater)
These findings will aid kitten nursery, shelter, rescue, and foster programs in fine-tuning protocols to help identify those underage kittens who are most at risk for not thriving. This study offers some insight for staff to provide supportive care sooner, decrease suffering, and allocate resources efficiently.
There may also be implications for training foster caregivers on monitoring their foster kittens for signs and risks.
You can download and read the entire research study and share it with staff and volunteers who care for underage kittens.
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