Medical Information & Concerns

Medical Information & Concerns

Below are guidelines but please call the medical hotline for any concerns you have.

Call the Hotline Immediately in These Situations
    • Difficulty breathing, erratic breathing pattern, gasping for air
    • Very high or low body temperature
    • Very pale, blue, or grey gums
    • Not eating or drinking
    • Diarrhea
    • Vomiting
    • Sneezing or coughing
    • Seizures or neurologic symptoms
    • Accidental injury or trauma, including but not limited to cuts and fractures
    • Unable to stand or walk
    • Failure to eat or drink
    • Signs of lethargy or uncharacteristic/abnormal behavior
    • Straining to urinate or not urinating for more than 24 hours
    • Failure to defecate for more than 2 days
    • Difficulty giving birth

If you observe any of the symptoms listed below, call the medical hotline for next steps and to coordinate a veterinary clinic visit if necessary.

Upper Respiratory Infections (URI)

Viral and bacterial respiratory infections are very common in cats, especially young or stressed ones. Symptoms include clear to colored discharge from eyes and/or nose, loss of appetite, depression, congestion, sneezing, coughing, fever, etc.

Wash your hands thoroughly after handling an animal with visible URI symptoms and before contact with any other cats as URI is extremely contagious. URI is similar to

a human cold, but is generally not transmittable to people or other animal species except for cats. Any cat showing signs of an upper respiratory infection should be isolated from other cats in the household.


Symptoms include clear or colored eye discharge, painful eyes, eyes that are crusted shut or swollen. Ocular antibiotics and ointments are often required. Some viral upper respiratory infections can cause corneal ulcers, which are emergencies. A painful eye should always be examined by a vet. Many causes of conjunctivitis are contagious to other cats.

Kitten Hypoglycemia

Young kittens are very susceptible to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and regular feeding (either by bottle or by nursing if mom is present) is vital to prevent this from happening. Most instances of hypoglycemia in the kitten are the result of inadequate nutrition; either not enough or poor quality (indigestible) food.

Excessive exercise may also cause the body to use up more sugar than is available. Some illnesses can also cause episodes of hypoglycemia. The typical symptoms of hypoglycemia include lack of energy and listlessness, weakness, wobbliness and even seizures.

If untreated, kittens are susceptible to coma, severe neurological damage, and even death. If you suspect your kitten may be hypoglycemic, offer a small amount of food and call the medical hotline immediately for further instructions.


Limping can be caused by physical injury or may be the result of a fever. Place a limping kitten in a carrier for 30 minutes to rest. If the kitten continues to limp after that time, even if it is sporadic, call the medical hotline for further instruction


Vomiting is not normal. It can be a symptom of many different medical issues.


Diarrhea can be caused by a number of things (e.g. diet, stress or parasites) and can rapidly debilitate small kittens. Panleukopenia (also known as feline distemper) is a highly contagious and potentially fatal viral disease in cats and kittens that can also cause diarrhea. (See resource for complete panleukopenia information at the end of this guide.)

Internal Parasites

Foster animals are routinely treated for some internal parasites, but there are many potential parasites that may be present, and sometimes repeated treatments

are required. Common parasites include but are not limited to Coccidia, Giardia, roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms.

If parasites are observed or suspected, a fresh fecal sample may be requested for evaluation at a veterinary clinic. Signs of parasites may include a large, hard belly, diarrhea, worms in vomit or the stool, tapeworm segments (similar in appearance to grains of rice) around the anus, a scruffy looking coat, and/or an inability to gain weight. Some parasites are contagious to other animals through direct or indirect contact with infected feces. Most of these parasites require medication.


Ringworm is a very contagious fungus that is transmittable to other species as well as people. The fungal spores can live in the environment for a long time.

Signs of ringworm can vary but typically include irregularly shaped areas of fur loss and the skin in these areas will usually have a crusty appearance. Any cat or kitten showing signs that may be the result of ringworm must be isolated from other animals in the household.


Fleas feed on the blood of cats, dogs, humans and other animals and can transmit disease. Signs include intense itching and scratching and fur loss, particularly along the back and at base of tail.


Earmites are tiny parasites that live in the ear canal. They can cause itching, scratching, head-shaking and dark brown discharge in the ears that often looks like dirt or coffee grounds. They are contagious to other cats and dogs, but usually require direct contact with the infected animal to be spread.


Panleukopenia is a viral infection that most commonly affects kittens, young cats and unvaccinated felines. Panleukopenia has a very high mortality rate, even with treatment.

Unfortunately, this illness can be frustrating to deal with because the virus can survive in the environment for years. This means that other unvaccinated cats/ kittens can become infected with panleukopenia simply by coming into contact with places where an infected cat has been. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, lethargy, vomiting, loss of appetite and even sudden death.

The virus is highly contagious to other cats, especially through contact with infected feces or vomit but also contact with contaminated objects such as bowls, hands, clothes, etc. (See complete panleukopenia resources at the end of this guide.)

Feline Foster Care Content:

Overview: Is Fostering Right for You?   

Preparing Your Home and Family                     

Getting Acquainted

Kitten Growth Milestones

Daily Care for Moms with Kittens

Daily Care for Orphaned Kittens

Grooming, Bathing, Socializing

Cleaning & Sanitizing

Medical Information & Concerns

Print & Post Resources for Caregivers

More Foster Resources on ASPCApro

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