Bottle-feeding Kitten - long term effects?

by Johanna
(West Warwick, RI)

Hello :)

I just recently adopted a male kitten who's about 12-14 weeks old. The shelter I got him from said he was bottle fed as a kitten because he was so young when they found him, and a friend of mine (with lots of cat experience) said that oftentimes that can lead to upper respiratory problems as adults, including upper respiratory infections.

I've noticed that he does sneeze VERY frequently, at least once or twice every 20-30 minutes. Is this a symptom of an upper respiratory infection or airway defect? Also, what can I do to prevent and treat these when he gets them, and are they in fact a common problem with bottle-fed cats? Any additional information you have would be greatly welcome :)


Hi, Johanna,

What your friend is probably referring to is the fact that kittens that do not nurse do not receive protective antibodies from the colostrum and milk of their feline mothers. This is true of humans as well, but many, many human babies are not breast fed and grow up ok. While it is considered best for both feline and human babies to receive their mother's milk, it doesn't always work out that way.

If you haven't taken the kitten to a veterinarian for the required series of vaccinations, you should. Even if the shelter gave the first one, there are additional ones that must be given at very specific intervals in order to provide protection, particularly against upper respiratory diseases in cats. This is especially important in kittens that did not receive any immunity from their cat mothers.

If your kitten is playing and eating and doesn't have any discharge coming from the nose or eyes, then you can probably watch the sneezing and see if it goes away on its own. Sneezing is certainly a sign of upper respiratory infection, however it can also result from the initial vaccine that is given by shelters, especially if the vaccine was of the intranasal type (given in the nose).

Enjoy your new kitten, but definitely find out what vaccines and deworming and testing was done at the shelter and what else is needed. Also, if the sneezing does not end or if your kitty loses his appetite or becomes lethargic, have him seen by a veterinarian right away.

This is the case throughout the course of his lifetime. If an upper respiratory infection is caught early and treated, they almost always go away, especially in vaccinated cats, but like anything, if not treated, they can become serious and even lead to death.

Thanks for writing,
Dr. Neely

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