Stages of kitten development
If you understand the different stages of kitten development you will be able to ensure that all of your kitten's needs are met. Kittens grow so quickly, so enjoy those first few weeks.
Newborn kittens are tiny - weighing approximately 100 g. They are born with their eyes closed, and they may have some of the umbilical cord still attached to their tummy. In the first couple of weeks after birth, they are heavily reliant on their mother. They won't move around a great deal but are able to move towards their mother and siblings for warmth. It is important that they have close contact with their mother as they are unable to regulate their own body temperature for a few weeks. The mother cat will lick the kittens to stimulate them to wee and pass poo.
Kittens will share their mother's immunity against variety of diseases so it is important that the mother cat is vaccinated before she becomes pregnant. Kittens receive this immunity via the special milk (colostrum) that the mother produces in the first 24-48 hours after birth. This immunity usually lasts until they have their first vaccinations.
Within the first couple of weeks their weight should increase and the umbilical cord will dry out and fall off.
Kittens should be treated to remove worms at 2 weeks, and then again at 5 and 8 weeks of age. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best product to use for this.
The kittens will be growing and they will be getting better at controlling their own temperature. Their eyes will now be open and they will start to take their first steps. By this stage it will be possible to tell if they are male or female.
A litter box can be introduced now as they will start to toilet voluntarily - the mother cat will no longer need to lick them to stimulate toileting but she will still do most of the grooming. The mother cat will start to wean the kittens, and she may want to nurse less as their teeth appear. You may notice the litter starting to play as a group, and they will begin to interact with people more. This is a really important time for kittens to become ‘socialised’. The interactions that kittens experience now will start to shape their future behaviour and character.
Weaning is well underway - the kittens may nurse occasionally but they will start to eat solid food several times a day.
The kitten's movement, vision and hearing are well developed by week 5, but they don't yet have the grace of an adult cat! By this stage they should be able to successfully use a litter box and they will begin to develop a preference for a particular type of cat litter. Their baby teeth will be erupting; they can suffer 'teething' pain just like human babies and may start chewing everything in the house! They will now start to show independence from the mother cat, with or without their littermates. It is important that kittens are able to experience as many new things as possible in this period. Make sure kittens have lots of toys and new environments to explore so that they can develop into confident cats who are able to deal successfully with novel experience in later life.
If they have positive interactions with people and other animals, such as dogs, at this stage they can learn to accept these other animals into their social group. Kittens that are regularly handled and stroked by a variety of people for 30 to 60 minutes a day in short sessions will be much more confident with people later in life.
Kittens are usually fully weaned onto solid food by approximately 6-7 weeks of age. Make sure to provide your kitten with a high quality premium kitten ‘weaning’ or ‘growth’ diet - often starting with wet food, or soaked dry food that can gradually be made less moist. Clean fresh drinking water should always be available.
At this stage they will develop adult-like responses like running away, freezing or showing aggression to any potential threats. They enjoy social play but will develop a curiosity for toys and household items. They love to play hide and seek, cardboard boxes are great for interactive play.
The immunity they have received from the mother cat will begin to weaken around this time, so kittens should start their vaccinations at 9 weeks. Kittens are normally vaccinated against feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus and feline panleukopenia, and for those that will be going outside (even occasionally) it is recommended that they are vaccinated against feline leukemia virus (FeLV).
3 months onwards
From 3 months onwards they may start to lose baby teeth as their adult teeth erupt. As they grow they will attempt to establish social rank with any other cats - sometimes this means challenging other grown up cats.
Kittens can become sexually mature from 4-6 months so are often spayed (females) or castrated (males) between 4-6 months or age - when they are usually around 2 kg in weight.