Kitten Development (Weeks 1 to 8)
It is always reassuring to know what to expect in regards to your kitten's development: if he is reaching his milestones on time and progressing well. Obviously, not all kittens will develop at the same rate, but hopefully, this timeline will give you a rough idea of what to expect and will alert you to any possible problems.
Newborn right, 2 weeks old, left
Kittens are born blind and deaf. Their eyes are closed and their ears folded down.
In the first week of life, kittens basically sleep and eat. When they are awake, they stay close to the mother.
Newborn kittens are unable to regulate their body temperatures and rely on mum to keep warm. The kitten's environment must be kept at a constant temperature to avoid hypothermia or hyperthermia.
The umbilical cord remains attached for the first three days. At birth, they usually weigh between 90-100 grams.
Toileting is stimulated by the mother. After her kittens have fed, she will lick their bellies and genital areas, eating any feces and urine.
By the second week, their eyes are beginning to open (although their vision is not very good at this stage). Do not force their eyes open, as it could result in damage. Young kittens are vulnerable to eye infections, so keep a watch for any signs of infection, such as crustiness or white/yellow secretions. All kittens have blue eyes at this stage.
Weight gain is around seven to ten grams a day, and by the end of the second week, the kitten should have doubled its weight.
The sense of smell is developing. They will often have a preference for a particular nipple.
By three weeks, the kitten is becoming more aware of his littermates. His sense of smell is continuing to develop. It is around the three-week mark that kittens begin to shakily move about. Some kittens will try to walk and explore.
By three weeks, their ears will be erect. Their baby teeth begin to show. The sense of smell is well developed.
They can now purr.
The sense of smell is fully mature.
The kittens are becoming more and more active and are interacting with their littermates. They may attempt to explore outside the confines of their kittening box.
The mother is still grooming her offspring, but they are also able to groom themselves.
Their eyesight is improving, although it will be a few more weeks before it is fully developed. The sense of hearing is now well developed.
It is at this time that the mother will begin to leave her kittens for short periods of time.
At this stage, you can provide a small bowl of water for kittens to drink from.
The sight is fully developed at five weeks.
The weaning process can begin around five weeks of age. Start out slowly by mixing canned or dry cat food in with some kitten formula to make baby food (check the ingredients to make sure the food contains no onion, as this is toxic to cats). Not all kittens will take to food immediately, so patience is important. Introduce a small amount, initially. You can introduce solids either by placing a small amount of food on your finger or in a cat bowl.
Kittens are much more graceful on their feet at this stage and are exploring a lot more, often stalking and pouncing on their littermates.
They may start to use the litter tray, although you will likely still find some accidents. Make sure that the bedding is easily washable, so you can ensure the area remains clean. Provide them with a small litter tray, and make sure it has litter which is safe for young kittens to use (and possibly eat).
Kittens receive their first vaccinations at 6 weeks of age.
The kittens are extremely active. The mother will have longer periods on her own.
The role of the human is to take an active part in the socialisation process without intruding, especially in the very early days. Take the time to not only play with your kitten but also to offer plenty of cuddles and familiarise it with being handled, in general. This includes frequently touching the paws, ears, and mouth, which will make basic health inspections, medicating, and claw trimming easier, as the kitten is brought up to accept this.
At this stage, kittens should be eating four, small meals a day and, by eight weeks, should be eating mostly solids. They should have almost all of their baby teeth by now.
Obviously, 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, all animals work to their own schedules, but this does provide you with a rough idea as to what should be happening and when.
It is important to keep records of weight, kittens should gain weight steadily. If they do not, then veterinary attention should be sought quickly. Also, be on the lookout for signs of sickness in your kitten. 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. If you are at all worried, seek veterinary advice.