Cats make the popular choice of pets in America for a number of reasons. They are low maintenance and require minimal space. While caring for an adult cat is easy, kittens, especially in their early stages of kittenhood require patience and round the clock dedication. Read taking care of newborn kittens without the mother to find out how.
Most people adopt cats when they are already adults. They are thus oblivious of the milestones cats undertake when kittens. You may however find yourself caring for a kitten(s). This may happen if you unknowingly adopt a pregnant cat or delay to have your cat neutered.
We have prepared this article to guide you on the milestones kitten undertake in all stages of their kittenhood from day 1 to 18 months. If you are interested, in the FAQs section we have described how you can tell how old a kitten is.
Week by week guide on the different stages of kittenhood
One day old – Dependence
Unless orphaned or born in an unsafe location, it is best to let the kittens be in this stage. The cat mama will take care of all their needs, even a first time mama knows what to do.
- Sight – newborn kittens are born blind with their eyes closed
- Hearing – Their ears are also closed and deaf.
- Feeding – newborn kittens rely solely on their mother’s milk. It is vital for them to suckle to obtain maternal antibodies from mama’s milk. The kittens use their instinct to find their way to suckle.
- Movement – Kittens at this stage move by pushing themselves with the hind legs while moving their head side by side. They move in circles which prevent them from going very far.
- Waste – mama takes care of the waste. She stimulates the kittens to poop and pee by licking the kittens and consumes the waste. This prevents accumulation of waste which would make the nest dirty or attract predators (in the wild).
- Socialization – The mama cat purrs when with the kittens. The kittens cannot hear the purrs but sense the vibrations and associate them with happy feelings. When the mama is not around the kittens huddle together for warmth.
A newborn kitten weighs about 100 grams. A healthy newborn kitten will mostly lie on their side with their head extended. The kittens sleep most of the time. Additionally you will occasionally observe them twitching.
5 to 14 days old – Awakening
By 5 days, the kitten should have doubled their weight. It is advisable to start handling them at this stage for short periods of time. Handling for 15 to 40 minutes per day aids in the development of their social skills. However, do not handle at this stage if it upsets the mama.
- Sight – Kittens eyes start to open at 5 days. The eyes will start opening from the inner corners working their way outward. By 9 – 14 days the eyes should be completely open. You may notice kittens with only one open eye, do not to assist them as tempting as it may be.
- Hearing – By 10 days, the ears will begin to open. The kittens will begin to pick sounds but will not know what they mean.
- Feeding – at this stage kittens still depend exclusively on their mother’s milk.
- Waste – the mama is still responsible for waste management at this stage
- Movement – Kittens still move by instinct. By 14 days they will start to crawl. Their leg muscles start to develop at this stage.
- Socialization – The kittens are still dependent on mama and litter mates for socialization. You can start holding and petting the kittens at this stage. Interaction with humans from an early stage makes them friendly.
Competition for rank starts at 14 days. Separating the kittens from their mother and litter mates could lead to poor learning skills and development of an aggressive behavior.
Handling and petting them in early stages of development can lead to development of bigger brains.
2 to 7 weeks – Exploration
At 2 weeks, the kittens are beginning to explore their new found senses and walking. Interaction with people in this stage is very important in the development of their social skills.
- Sight – At 2 weeks the kitten’s eye sight starts to improve but they will not have depth perception. By 4 weeks they will have developed the depth perception and they will begin to jump and climb on surfaces. Their sense of smell and sight becomes well developed in this stage such that they are able to find their mother ad litter mates.
- Hearing – By the 3rd week, the ear canals will be fully open. The kittens will start to hear and perceive sound. By 4 weeks they will start vocal communication. You will hear tiny purrs in form of clicking sounds when contented. If startled the kitten will try to be intimidating by producing a small hissing sound.
- Feeding – At 2 weeks the kittens still rely on mama’s milk for their nutrition. By 4 weeks the kittens start growing their baby teeth and are ready to start trying solid food and drinking from a water bowl. This marks the beginning of the weaning process. Begin by offering them wet kitten food or dry kitten food that has been moistened.
Read next: Best kitten food for weaning.
- Waste – At 2 to 3 weeks the mother still encourages and takes care of the kittens waste. By 4 weeks when they start to feed on solid food, kittens begin to develop elimination behavior. As such, they instinctively start digging and burying their waste when litter is made available. Keep a litter box where they can see it. Beware that the kittens may try to taste the litter therefore use non-clamping and non toxic litter such as the Purina Yesterday’s news litter.
- Movement – At 4 weeks the kittens walk with less stumbling. By 5 weeks the kittens can right themselves and place their feet precisely and avoid obstacles. They begin to run, stalk and pounce on litter mates and other objects in their environment.
- Socialization – The kittens continue to interact and socialize with their environment at this stage. Additionally, they start to groom themselves and their litter mates (including you) at this stage. By 7 weeks they develop adult sleeping patterns and social cues. Playing with their litter mates enable them to learn about feline hierarchy.
Attention from litter mates, mama and you is most important at this stage. This is where they learn how to be a cat. You will notice them observing their mother and mimicking what she does.
Continue petting them on a regular basis. This is very important at this stage as it determines whether they will become well socialized adult cats. Your interaction with mama is also important as they mimic her behavior towards you.
7 to 14 weeks – Independence
The 7 to 14 week bracket is all about play and more play.
Generally kittens are weaned between 7 and 8 weeks. They will however continue to suckle for as long as mama will allow.
By 7 weeks their senses are fully developed. Additionally, their teeth are fully developed and are now primarily eating kitten food. Furthermore, they are also able to effectively use the litter box on their own.
During this stage the kittens spend most of their time playing with their litter mates and other play mates including you.
During play you will observe them using skills such as; ambushing, tackling, hugging, licking, pawing, mouthing, tossing, holding, pacing, tail chasing, pouncing and leaping among others.
Encourage them to play by providing them with toys such as small balls or small toys. Additionally, get out that laser beam or have them chase a string. This is because social and object play increases the kitten’s physical co-ordination and social skills.
You can find several types of toys suitable for kittens in pet stores or on online platforms. Amazon has several kitten toys such as play mice or fashion talk cat toys. I have used the fashion talk toys with most of my foster kittens.
It is recommended to start the first round of vaccination at 7 week. By 8 weeks they can safely be neutered (fixed). At 12 weeks they should receive their final round of vaccination and can be adopted.
Although kittens can be adopted by 8 weeks, it is recommended to let them stay with their litter mates until they are 12 weeks to allow for social development.
3 to 18 months –Ranking and adolescence
At 3 months the kittens are influenced by their litter mates and play mates. The kittens at this stage have an understanding of rank and dominance within the household.
At 9 months the kitten reaches puberty and becomes an adolescent. This leads to more exploration and experimentation. If not neutered they begin to exhibit sexual characteristics and may be mated.
FAQs on kittenhood
How long does kittenhood last?
Kittenhood is the first stage of a cat’s life. Ideally kittenhood lasts from birth to 1 year. It is however not always true for all cats with some ending as early as 6 months and others past 1 year when puberty begins.
Kittenhood marks the stage where maximum growth of the cat takes place. As such kittens need to be fed on diets that ensure maximum growth and development. Additionally, kittenhood is the most important stage of a cats life as it determines if a cat will become a well socialized adult or not. This is because well socialized cats are more desirable and therefore kittens need to be socialized at all stages of kittenhood.
How can you tell a kittens age by its teeth?
You can use a number of factors to tell a kittens age. To determine how old a kitten is by their teeth consider the following.
- 3 weeks- baby teeth start to develop
- 8 weeks – all baby teeth fully developed
- 4 months – permanent teeth start to develop
- 6 months – all permanent teeth fully developed
By developmental stage
You can also use kitten developmental stage to determine how old a kitten is as follows.
- 1 day old – closed eyes and folded ears
- 3-5 days old – unfolded ears
- 6 days old – eyes slightly open, kitten begins to crawl
- 10-15 days – eyes fully open but pupils not dilated
- 2 weeks old – kitten walking unsteadily
- 3 weeks old – baby teeth start developing, kitten walking steadily and using litter box
- 5 weeks old – kitten playing with litter mates and starts self grooming
- 6 weeks old – kitten’s eyes change from blue to their permanent color.