Reasons for early mortality in infants and how to manage it

As adorable infant kittens and puppies are, the sad reality of how many of them die each year should not be ignored. With the rise of pet overpopulation , many of them do not get a chance at life. 


In any litter of animals, some infants dying is always expected and inevitable. Generally, purebred animals have a lower chance of surviving than non-purebreds. These infants may die right after birth, or in some cases be still born. Sometimes they also die a few days after birth which are referred to as ‘fading kittens or puppies’. 

The chances of survival also depend on:

  • The condition of the mother (whether she is healthy,  sick injured etc)
  • Genetics 
  • Breeds


At the time of birth, infants born in the first litter have high    chances of dying due to:

  • Lack of experience of the mother
  • Abandoned kittens
  • Cannibalism 
  • Trauma


For older animals giving birth, usually after the 5th litter, the mortality rate for infants also becomes high because of:

  • Maternal obesity
  • Breast issues such as lack of milk production or inflammation
  • Neglect


Medical factors for early mortality include:



  • Dehydration



Infant animals rely on their mothers for feeding, and lack of milk can dehydrate them.  They also have more water content in their bodies at birth compared to adults which makes it difficult for them to regulate it. Therefore, kittens and puppies may die due to excessive fluid excreted from their skin, kidneys and lungs. 



  • Hypothermia



This is a condition where the body temperature goes abnormally low due to prolonged exposure to cold environments. Infants with hypothermia may be less active and not suckle properly. It can cause the heart rate to slow down until it can not produce sufficient oxygen for the body anymore. This means that heat loss is faster than heat production which can lead to the infant dying.



  • Hypoxia



Hypoxia refers to the lack of oxygen infants face after birth. This may be due to their difficult birth by the mother and infant kittens or puppies born in such situations may be too weak to suck milk or even be stillborn.



  • Being underweight 



Infants are sometimes born underweight, or do not receive enough nutrition to gain weight. This can cause them to be weaker and therefore have a high risk of early death. They are more susceptible to infections, hypothermia, hypoxia etc. Underweight animals may die a few weeks after birth if not fed properly.



  • Lack of Nutrition



For infant animals, nutrition is the top priority and is needed in high amounts. If the mother does not produce or feed milk properly, infants may starve.

Hypoglycaemia, or lack of glucose may result due to mal-nutritioncan or the newborn being too weak or stressed to drink milk. Hypoglycemia can make newborns ill, cause breathing problems, coma and eventually death.

Colostrum ,which is the first form of milk produced by the mother’s breast is also vital for intake of antibodies. Low colostrum intake can make the infant’s immune system weak.


Environmental conditions can also contribute to early morality:


  • Overcrowding – If a mother is feeding too many newborns at a time , this can cause them to compete for milk, causing some infants to be more healthier than others
  • Unhygienic environment – this makes infants more prone to catch bacterial, parasitic etc. infections
  • Unstable temperatures – while too cold temperatures can result in hypothermia, too hot environments can also cause hyperthermia.
  • Stress – mothers giving birth in a stressful environment eg. there is too much noise or another cat present can make them nervous which can result in accidents during birth.


Even after such complications, infants can be saved. A few ways to manage high mortality are:


  1. Taking care of vaccines, diet and overall health of the mother
  2. Providing clean and warm environments for infants
  3. Keeping track of infant weights
  4. Checking the hydration status of newborns (by the mouth and urine color)
  5. Providing adequate oxygen supplementation
  6. Breeding pets with non-purebreds
  7. Neutering pets with genetic diseases and disabilities
  8. Making sure infants suckle enough milk (In case of abandoned kittens, you may feed them special formula milk with a syringe)


If you notice any problems with the infants or mother of your pet, you may book an appointment to get them checked.