A kitten is a juvenile cat. After being born, kittens are totally dependent on their mother for survival and they do not normally open their eyes until after seven to ten days. After about two weeks, kittens quickly develop and begin to explore the world outside the nest. After a further three to four weeks, they begin to eat solid food and grow adult teeth.
Domestic kittens are highly social animals and usually enjoy human companionship. This socialization period can mean the difference between a happy cat that likes to be petted and held, is calm when traveling and is friendly to strangers or an unhappy cat that avoids human contact and is nervous and defensive.
While it may be impossible to fully compensate for a lack of socialization early in life, cats, like people, learn throughout their lifetime and may respond favorable to a systematic program of socialization later in life. Considerably more time and patience is required when working with the older kitten or adult cat.
The word “kitten” derives from the Middle English word kitoun, which in turn came from the Old French chitoun or cheton. Juvenile big cats are called “cubs” rather than kittens; either term may be used for the young of smaller wild felids, such as ocelots, caracals and lynx, but “kitten” is usually more common for these species. A litter of kittens being suckled by their mother. A kitten opens its eyes for the first time. A mother cat protecting her kittens at Chinawal, India.
A feline litter usually consists of two to five kittens born after a gestation lasting between 64 and 67 days, with an average length of 66 days. Kittens emerge in a sac called the amnion, which is bitten off and eaten by the mother cat.
For the first several weeks, kittens are unable to urinate or defecate without being stimulated by their mother. They are also unable to regulate their body temperature for the first three weeks, so kittens born in temperatures less than 27 °C (81 °F) can die from hypothermia if their mother does not keep them warm.
The mother’s milk is very important for the kittens’ nutrition and proper growth. This milk transfers antibodies to the kittens, which helps protect them against infectious disease. Newborn kittens are unable to produce concentrated urine, and so have a very high requirement for fluids. Kittens open their eyes about seven to ten days after birth. At first, the retina is poorly developed and vision is poor. Kittens are not able to see as well as adult cats until about ten weeks after birth.
The all-important first six weeks in a cat’s life will do much in determining his personality and character for the rest of his life. Health wise, this period is also extremely important to the developing kitten, as very young kittens are susceptible to a number of threats, such as fleas and upper respiratory infections.
Kittens will probably never grow again at the remarkable rate they accomplish during this period, and seeing the changes in their development from week to week is an incredible experience. We’ll start off by recapping the first week, and move on from there. For more information about your kitten’s development please visit Cat Growth.
The newborn kitten weighs just ounces and easily fits into the palm of your hand. Her umbilical cord will fall off within two or three days, but her eyes and ear canals will not be open yet.
Kittens are very helpless at this age, but the mother cat instinctively knows their needs. She feeds them, keeps them close by for warmth, bathes them with her rough tongue, which also stimulates their digestion and helps them urinate and defecate.
Mother cats are very protective of their little ones and will move them to another location if humans intrude too much into the nest.
Provided the mother has been vaccinated or has natural immunity, the kittens will receive this same immunity for the first 24 to 48 hours through her colostrum, and it will last until they are old enough to get their “kitten shots.”
Newborns will weigh an average of 3.5 ounces at birth and may double their weight by the end of the first week. They are simply little food processing factories at this point, and their only activities are nursing, sleeping, and passing waste. There is very little social interaction at this age, other than competing for their favorite nipple, where they will suckle while kneading with their tiny paws.
Your kitten is continuing his growth at an astonishing rate, by at least 10 grams per day. The mother cat should be fed a quality canned kitten food to help replenish the nutrients she will lose through nursing. Later on, the kittens will be introduced to the same food.
His eyes will start to open and will be completely open at 9 to 14 days old.
All kittens’ eyes are blue and will remain so for several weeks. Their vision will be blurred at first, and their pupils don’t dilate and contract readily, so they should be kept from bright lights.
The kitten’s sense of smell is developing, and he will seek out his favorite teat by scent. He will become more and more aware of his litter mates as his senses develop.
Ear canals will be completely open, and his sense of hearing is still developing. However, the kitten may startle at loud sounds. The ears may be fully erect by this age.
Their eye color may start to change, from the blue shared by all kittens, to the adult hue.
Kittens’ sense of smell will be well developed.
Kittens can voluntarily eliminate now, as their digestive system is developing. The mother cat will continue to clean them until they learn grooming skills.Don’t be surprised to hear a kitten start to purr at this young age.Baby teeth will start to come in now, and the mother cat will start thinking about weaning.
Kittens will start to stand sometime between the third and fourth weeks and will try to walk, although their first movements will be very wobbly. Their bodies are out of proportion to their eventual adult state. Little tails are very short and “stick-like” and their heads are disproportionately large for their bodies and legs.
This will all change, though, as they get their “sea legs” and start moving around.
Don’t be surprised to see kittens escaping from their nesting area, as they seek to expand their horizons. They will also interact more with their litter mates, even to the point of forming “alliances” which may or may not be gender-based.Kittens will continue to nurse regularly. It is important to continue feeding the mother a good quality kitten food, as long as she is nursing kittens.
Kittens will be walking around freely at this time and starting to play with their siblings. They will be developing a new sense of independence, although they may not stray far from their mother or their littermates.
This will be a very good time for their beginning to socialize with humans
Kittens may be introduced to canned food at this time. Select a quality brand of kitten food with a named meat source as the first ingredient (chicken is good).
Ideally, they should be given the same kitten food given the mother cat, as the kittens will quickly accommodate to eating mom’s food. Use a shallow plate and expect their first experiences to be messy.
Although the mother cat will try to wean the kittens, they still need the nursing experience to satisfy their suckling needs at least until they are eight or ten weeks old, by which time the mother cat will have gradually weaned them Kittens can also learn litter box basics now. They need a smaller, separate box, one that will be easy to access and exit, with only an inch or two of litter.
A shallow plastic storage box or lid to a shoe box might work for starters. As human babies experiment by tasting everything, so will kittens. Avoid their ingestion of harmful substances by using a natural litter such as one made from corn cobs, paper, or wood chips –never use clumping clay.
If you choose to give a worming treatment as a precaution, it is usually done in the sixth week. You will notice the kitten is more playful and constantly on the move, and may even start scratching different surfaces to sharpen the nails. This would be a good time to implement a scratching post you can also select the best quality of scratching post (See: Cat Scratching Tree Post Gym House Scratcher Pole Furniture Toy Small Grey 60cm-amazon) which you can also get at online like activefelinesolutions to teach the kitten where this behavior is allowed.
Kittens should learn at this age that hands are not for playing - hands are for holding, petting, and feeding. One of the best “toys” for teaching this lesson is a plastic drinking straw.You can visit also at online stores like activefelinesolutions.com.au for easy accessibility and to see more perfect toys(Sungpunet Pack of 5 Furry Kitten Mouse Cat Toys with Feathers and Hair-amazon) for your kittens. You can drag it across the floor and watch the kitten chase it, then wiggle it a bit and allow him to pounce on it and “capture” it. The baby may proudly strut with his prize before settling down to bite on it. The plastic is nice and crunchy and makes a good aid for teething.
Vet trip! Vaccinations are typically started in the seventh week. The kitten will be more active and playful, and you should see an improvement in coordination. This week is also a good point to introduce the kitten to grooming. Use a brush on the kitten, give it a bath (make sure not to get soap in the eyes, ears or nose, and dry thoroughly) and start handling the paws regularly.
If the kitten gets used to its paws being handled, this will make nail clipping much easier in the future. I started this with my kitten, and he didn’t mind his paws being handled. Something about seeing that clipper just annoys him though, so I usually trim his nails when he is very tired or just woken from a nap. You may have better luck with your kitten, so try to hold the paws regularly while gently pressing to extend the nails.
Once the kitten is away from the litter, he is ready to form an emotional bond with his human parent who now takes on the roll of “mother cat,” providing food, water, shelter, and emotional security to the baby. In order to develop mentally and physically, the kitten must be allowed to explore his world, but always under the supervision of the protective human parent.
A young kitten that is not allowed to explore his natural curiosity will grow up in fear of the unfamiliar things that surround them.
As an adult they will be nervous in new environments and unfriendly to strangers. During this acutely impressionable stage, it is extremely important to provide the kitten with a variety of positive experiences which will give him a sense of control over his world and to avoid disciplinary training or any other unpleasant experiences. (This is the time when kittens are most likely to develop an avoidance-response if subjected to physical or psychological trauma).
Introduce him to cat carrier and get him used to wearing a harness and leash when away from home, if you take them with you. Make sure he meets new people and other friendly animals. In short and sweet sessions accustom him to having his paws, ears, and mouth gently touched so that in the future he will accept handling by the veterinarian and nail-trimming and tooth brushing by you.
A conscientious effort to socialize your kitten during this critical, but brief, period will produce a relaxed and tolerant companion that you and your family will enjoy for the next twelve to twenty years. (See also: Complete Kitten Care - Amazon)
Cats remain kittens for longer than 8 weeks, the aim of this article was to cover the early stages of kitten development.This is a guide only, as all animals work to their own schedules, however, this does provide you with a guideline as to what should be happening and when.
It is important to keep records of weight, kittens should gain weight steadily and seek veterinary attention if weight gain stops. Also, be on the lookout for signs of sickness in your kitten. Visit Cat Care for more healthy tips and ideas for your cat’s physical and mental well-being.
These could include loss of appetite, sleeping alone (at a very young age), rejection from the mother, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, discharge from the mouth, eyes, anus etc.