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Fever coats in cats: What is it and should you be worried?

fever coats in cats
(Image credit: tinybutmightykittenrescue/Instagram)

If you’ve heard the term ‘fever coats in cats’ floating around lately and have been wondering what exactly it means, you’re not alone. 

While there’s a lot that we can do as pet parents to prepare for the arrival of our new fur friend, such as stocking up on the best kitten food and toys, there will be plenty of potential surprises along the way that can catch us off guard - fever coat being one of them.

The first thing that’s worth noting is that fever coat is a condition that affects kittens, not adult cats. When a mother cat is pregnant and is exposed to high levels of stress, becomes ill with a fever or is required to take certain medication during her pregnancy, the coats of the kittens she’s carrying don’t develop in the way that they should.

While the name ‘fever coat’ implies a serious issue, rest assured that this condition is nothing to worry about. A kitten born with a fever coat won’t suffer from any health issues and there will be no lingering harmful effects, it’s purely an aesthetic issue involving the pigments in their coat.

So, now that we’ve put your mind at rest that fever coats in cats are not a cause for alarm, let’s take a more in-depth look at why fever coats develop, how to spot it in your kitten and whether there’s anything you need to do about it to ensure your little bundle of fluff stays happy and healthy. 

What are fever coats in cats?

You’ll often hear the terms ‘fever coat’ and ‘stress coat’ being used interchangeably when it comes to talking about this condition, so the first thing to note is that both of these phrases are referring to the same phenomenon - a kitten whose coat seems to magically change color!

A kitten with a fever coat will be born with fur that’s either silver, red/brown or cream in color, and the roots of the fur will tend to be much darker, with the color becoming progressively lighter as it moves towards the tips. Within a few months, the coat will start to change to the color your kitten’s fur was always meant to be.

What causes fever coat in cats?

Fever coats develop in kittens while they’re still in the womb and are a result of their mother undergoing some kind of stress while pregnant. This may have been an illness or infection that caused her to have a high temperature or it could have been that she endured a period of stress caused by changes in her environment. 

Whatever the reason, these changes in her internal state and body temperature disrupted the development of her kittens. Because the pigmentation in a cat's coat is sensitive to these sorts of changes, they didn’t deposit in their usual way, meaning that the coat color at birth is different to what it otherwise would have been.

Fever coat types

A photo of a kitten at birth with fever coat beside another photo showing fever coat disappearing several weeks later

(Image credit: tinybutmightykittenrescue/Instagram)

Although fever coat has the same underlying cause, the way it presents can be different, with fever coat having the potential to manifest in one of three unique ways:

  • All-over color - when fever coat occurs in this way, all of your kitten’s fur will take on the silver, red or white coloring and this tends to be the most common type of fever coat. While silver, red or white will be the dominant color, if you look closely you may spot the first signs of what your kitten’s natural coat is going to be like lurking underneath the fever coat.
  • Patches - if your kitten has a fever coat that presents as patches then you’re in luck as this means that some of their coloring will be their natural coat and some will be the fever coat, making it that much easier to distinguish what they’re going to end up looking like. So, for example, the head might be the correct color, but the fur on the back or stomach may have fever colorations.
  • Dorsal stripes - this kind of fever coat is very rare, so you’re unlikely to see it, but just so you know what to be on the lookout for, dorsal stripes are typically stripes that run parallel and are red, gray or white. They appear on the back and like any other kind of fever coat, they’ll disappear over time. 

Is fever coat in cats anything to worry about?

Absolutely not. While the name itself makes it sound scary, fever coats are completely harmless. The condition is caused by an issue with pigmentation, which means it’s a purely aesthetic issue that does not bring with it any genetic abnormalities, potential health problems or negative side effects. 

Other causes of coat color change

While fever coat is one reason why your kitten’s coat may change color, there are other possible causes that are worth being aware of:

  • Vitiligo - this condition is basically the reverse of fever coat in that the fur starts off as a normal color and then white patches begin to appear, giving a mottled appearance. Vitiligo occurs when the pigment-producing cells are destroyed by the immune system or die off of their own accord. While it’s not always a cause for concern, if you suspect your cat has vitiligo it’s important you speak with your vet who will be able to determine whether it’s being caused by an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.
  • Nutritional deficiencies - feeding your feline friend the best cat food is super important when it comes to ensuring they’re getting all the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. A diet that’s deficient in the amino acid, tyrosine, can cause the fur of black cats to turn a reddish color. Copper and zinc deficiencies can also cause the fur to lighten. 
  • Health issues - a change in coat color can also be one of the symptoms of kidney, liver or thyroid disease.

As you can see, changes in coat color can be the result of several potential issues. If you do notice anything unusual about your feline friend's fur and you can rule out fever coat, a trip to the vet is always a good place to start.

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.