Hyperventilating kitten?
June 28, 2012 9:58 PM   Subscribe

Kitten health panic question! Short version: Six-week old kitten hyperventilates when sleeping after meals. Breathing is extremely rapid and shallow, kitten can't be roused. Healthy, active, playful and feisty in all other ways. More details inside.

Longer version: six-week old rescue kitten, removed from his mother and litter way too young (probably at 4 to 5 weeks). Not transitioned to solid food before being sold to teenager who spent a couple of days trying to feed it adult kibble, and not understanding why it had diarrhea and didn't seem to be doing well. Teenager was smart enough to give the kitten up to me six days ago. I whisked the kitten off to the vet where they pronounced him mostly healthy (although he did test FIV+ - likely due to maternal antibodies rather than actually having the virus). I have been working on transitioning the kitten to solid food by mixing increasing amounts of Wellness canned kitten food with KMR Weaning formula. We're almost up to a 50/50 mix. He now laps from the bowl on his own instead of from the bottle. Twice tonight, he's had these episodes of hyperventilation - both eps started as post meal naps as his sleep deepened his breathing became more and more rapid and shallow. Think Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters I. I was unable to rouse him and he seemed to make some noises (whimpers) of discomfort. Each episode lasted for about 15 minutes.

I'm an experienced foster for a 501c3 rescue, but haven't had one this young or still bottle feeding before.

Of course now he's fine and trying to bite my nose off while I type. Reassure me that his little metabolism is supposed to be running at this super high speed.

pic of source of worry
posted by ereshkigal45 to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
Loooooove the pic.

Go back to bottle feeding! Call vet in AM.

One of mine was a rescue we had to bottle feed. My guess is kitty ate too much, too fast. Or, allergies?

Stick to the formula since you report no problems there. Wait to call the vet in the morning if kitty is now responsive and alert.

Alternative - do you have an all night emergency hospital nearby? Call them for advice.

posted by jbenben at 11:18 PM on June 28, 2012

I caved to the panic and took him to the E-vet. He's fine. Vet had no explanation whatsoever. She said he seems perfectly healthy and normal and feisty, which is all true. I told her I would video it next time and send it to her and she said she'd take a look.

Even though it wasn't an emergency I'm glad I took him. The more vets who see him who say he seems like a healthy, active little guy, the more optimistic I get about his future.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:39 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh! I'd still like to hear opinions, experiences and even Wild Ass Guesses from the peanut gallery.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:40 PM on June 28, 2012

My dog will sometimes fall deeply asleep and breathe heavily while making wimpering sounds because he's dreaming. Sounds like your little critter is dreaming of chasing mice or some other thing kitties do for fun :)

Also, I recall seeing a youtube video where a person was messing with a cat (I think they were pulling its tongue) while it was asleep and the cat did not wake up at all. Seriously it looked like the cat was dead, but it did eventually wake up looking pretty annoyed.
posted by littlesq at 12:13 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've held kittens who would be in such a deep sleep that they were totally relaxed (and I had them on their backs, moving their paws around like they were doing kitten aerobics). I do know that they'll twitch and somewhat vocalize when in a deep sleep, like littlesq's dog. He may just be dreaming of his favorite chew toy (you).

It's good that you took him to the vet, just the same, and that you can video him when he's doing this.
posted by SillyShepherd at 2:20 AM on June 29, 2012

Infant humans do that breathing thing while sleeping. They'll breathe really fast and shallow, then stop entirely, then go back to normal. It's horrifying for a new parent, but it's normal and has to do with the still-developing nervous system.

I would not be surprised if infant-other-mammals do it too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:35 AM on June 29, 2012

Baby animals do have "active sleep" for the first few weeks of life, where you see lots of twitching and jerking as their nervous systems develop, but it's most prevalent in the first few weeks of life. I assume someone has checked him for a cleft palate? I don't know that it's something to be too concerned about as long as he's healthy, are you able to check his gums during one of these episodes? Check them a few times while he's doing his normal kitten things like biting your nose, so you know what his normal color is. If his gums are pink and normal during an episode, I probably wouldn't worry.
posted by biscotti at 5:31 AM on June 29, 2012

Suggest go back to bottle feeding. Could be his digestive system is simply not ready for more complicated food.
posted by zia at 6:13 AM on June 29, 2012

Most kittens start to wean around four weeks or so, five at most. You could try a different canned kitten food, but if he really is six weeks he likely doesn't need bottle feeding.
posted by biscotti at 7:24 AM on June 29, 2012

When my cat was an itty-bitty kitty, he would be a lot more vocal in his sleep. He'd huff and mew and twitch in his kitty-sleep. I just figured it was good dreams, but it can be weird to watch. He eventually grew out of it. (He also used to vocalize a lot while he ate--mewling with his mouth full--grew out of that too.) I think it's just part of animal development, if the vet can't find anything weird. Don't get too worried yet.
posted by ninjakins at 7:31 AM on June 29, 2012

Coming in to say this sounds like a few of our cats when they were young. (My kids also did this as newborns, as was mentioned above!) As long as babycat is alert and active when awake, and taking nourishment and fluids, I'd not worry too much. He's a handsome guy!
posted by LaBellaStella at 7:41 AM on June 29, 2012

Cats (as you know!) have very fast respiration and breathing, particularly compared to humans. And young animals sleep incredibly deeply. Without video of this event, I can't say, but I have seen young animals that look DEAD and are just asleep. (Busy growing bones and muscle!) Like, you could use them as a basketball and they'd never wake up. And I have seen young animals that look like they're panting or freaking out—and they're just breathing. I suspect also his mewling at you might actually be "HEY LEAVE ME ALONE!"
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:42 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

As far as I knew, that's what kittens do. They're all stomach at that age, so when they're really full their normal fast respiration moves their whole bodies. He's basically in a food coma, which is probably a biological safety net to keep mama cats from flinging them off cliffs for otherwise being perpetual motion machines.

I've never seen a kitten that didn't do this. The last time I had a kitten, he would eat and then climb up me, curl up in my hair on my shoulder, then pass out and drool.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:45 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks, all. He's perfectly fine this morning, and ate like a P-I-G Pig overnight.

I've not spent a lot of time with newborn humans, and I usually don't get foster kittens until they are 8 weeks old, fully weaned, and socialized enough to be separated from their litters in pairs.

Lemoncello is just a little bit behind the curve in those areas but we're working to getting him up to speed, and I hope to have him fully on solid food within the week. I'm a fan of Wellness, and they're one of the few ultra-premium brands that makes a food specifically for kittens, but I will try some different solids.

If he does the hyperventilating thing again, I'll try to video it and send it to the vet, just for the sake of satisfying curiosity for both of us.

posted by ereshkigal45 at 9:40 AM on June 29, 2012

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