Newborn Kittens: What You Need to Know
Your cat just had kittens. What now? The answer to that depends on how well the cat knows and trusts you. If it's your cat that you've had for a long period of time, she probably won't mind if you touch her kittens. If it's a stray, or a cat you've only had for a short while, she might not like it if you come near her babies. Take it slowly, and make sure she is okay with it before you touch them. Either way, they really should not be handled that much at all until they are about 2 weeks old. If you do handle them, be sure to either wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly before and after.
Kittens are born with their eyes closed. They will open eventually, but not for a week or two (Between 7 to 14 days approximately). Never try to open a kitten's eyes. They will open on their own. If you do try this, it can cause damage to their eyes and even blindness. If, however, the eyes seem swollen, you may try to take a damp washcloth (with warm water) and very gently wipe their eyes so it may be easier for them to open. Don't try this until after the 14 days are up. If that doesn't help, they need to be taken to a vet so the vet can open their eyes and check for infection.
Newborn Kittens: The First Six Weeks
~The first 6 weeks are the most important in a cat's life. During this time they are developing, and what they do and you do in this period will determine their personality.~
The First Week
During the first week, all kittens do is eat, sleep, and have their mother help them go to the bathroom. They will typically weigh around 3-4 ounces and are smaller than the palm of your hand.
The Second Week
During the second week, the kitten's eyes should be opening. They can open sooner, even at 6 or 7 days, but it's usually closer to 10-14 days. Just like children, all kittens will be born with blue eyes. This won't change for a few weeks. Their vision will be blurry at first so try to keep them away from bright lights.
~My kitten, Tux, started opening his eyes at 9 days. He started with both eyes half open. At 11 days he had 1 eye fully open and 1 eye 3/4 of the way open. By 12 days both eyes were open. My sister's kitten, Binx, started opening his eyes at 10 days. He started with one eye 1/4 of the way open and the other just barely a slit in the corner. At 11 days he had 1 eye 1/2 open and the other eye 1/4 of the way open. By 12 days both eyes were open. The other kitten, Twix, didn't start opening her eyes until 13 days old. She started with one eye 1/3 of the way open and 1 eye 1/4 of the way open. By 14 days she had 1 eye all the way open and 1 eye 1/2 of the way open. At 15 days both of her eyes were open. Twix was the first born but was the last to open her eyes. It all just depends and they do it in their own time. By 2 weeks they will probably be open, but if they're not, give them until about 3 weeks before worrying and contacting your vet.~
The Third Week
During the third week, kitten's ear canals will be open and they may get startled by loud sounds. Their sense of smell should be fully developed by now. Also, kittens have their digestive system developing so they may now start to go to the bathroom on their own. Teeth may also start to come in.
The Fourth Week
During the fourth week, kittens will be starting to stand and walk. They will also be more interactive with their brothers and sisters.
The Fifth Week
During the fifth week, kittens should be socializing with humans. They are now more independent and getting out on their own. During this time, 2 important things can happen. First, you can introduce them to a canned kitten food. This food should have a primary meat source as the first ingredient, like chicken. Second, the kittens can also start to learn to use the litter box. They will need a small shallow box (you could even try the lid off of a shoe box) and only an inch or so of litter. You should line this with a plastic liner so it doesn't leak through. Kittens will try to taste everything, so you should try to use a natural kind of litter instead of clumping clay. You can buy a special litter from a pet store or make your own. Simply shred up some newspaper or even use some sand or soil from outside.
The Sixth Week
During the sixth week, kittens can run and play now and should be socializing with humans if you want them to be a friendly house cat. At this time you should teach your kitten that hands are not for biting so they learn not to play too rough or try to bite when you are simply holding or petting them. You can try to use a plastic straw for this lesson. Drag it across the floor and let the kitten pounce on the straw and bite it, but not on your hand. Chewing on the straw is also good for teething.
Between the 7th and 10th week kittens could go to new homes, but they are still learning from their mother. They would be okay, but it's still best to wait until after 10 weeks. People who are cat breeders don't usually give their kittens to new homes until they are 12 weeks. If you do give them away before 7 weeks though, they will be more likely to develop behavioral problems. They really need as much time as possible to learn from their mother to develop good social skills with other pets and humans. They could become "fraidy cats" or even become mean. Also, it depends on the maturity of the cat. If they are litter-trained, eating only cat food (and completely weaned from their mother) and can walk around and play well with their brothers and sisters and you, they will probably be ready. But this won't be before 8 weeks for sure. Others may need a little more time, until 9 or 10 weeks. If you absolutely can't keep them and have to give them up, then 6 or 7 weeks isn't the worst you can do, but definitely not before.
Also, around between 8-10 weeks you can start your kitten on hard KITTEN food. Regular hard cat food shouldn't be given until they are near their adult weight, which is typically around 9 months.
Six Months In
By 6 months, your kitten is now basically a "teenager." They will now be showing signs of sexual behavior. So around 6 months, you should really have your cat spayed or neutered. If you don't, that's fine, just be aware that female cats can get pregnant easily, even while they are still nursing, and male cats will spray (which is not a pleasant smell to have in your home.) The only main side effect of this will be that your pet may gain weight due to the fact that they are no longer roaming around looking for other cats to mate with and may become "lazy." However, this can be easily managed by a healthy diet. Having your cat spayed or neutered will be for the good of society as many shelters are full already due to an over-population of cats. There are not near enough homes for the number of kittens cats can have.
Other than that, your kittens should grow into happy, healthy adult cats as long as you give them lots of love and attention!
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Brandi Goodman