The first 6 weeks are super important in a cat’s life. This will determine their character and personality for life. As kittens, they are not immune to threats like fleas, or upper respiratory infections. So, health and their development are vital.
They grow so fast during this time period and it’s so amazing to watch.
Below the supplies, we’ll get into the care and development of kittens week by week.
Last time, we talked about the kitten birthing process. What’s next?
Q. What supplies do I need when I get a kitten?
A. Below is a simple list of various supplies needed for a kitten:
- Cat carrier – I prefer the mesh airline approved cat carrier.
- Cat bed (purchased or homemade)
- Food and water dishes – glass or stainless steel. (no plastic)
- Kitten food
- Litter box, litter, and scoop – see my set up here.
- A breakaway collar/tag – if you plan on letting your little one be an outdoor cat or just to have it in case.
- Cat Toys
- Cat trees and scratching post
- Grooming supplies – varies with cat breed
- Kitty health care supplies including kitten ear cleaner, cat toothbrush, and toothpaste
Before getting your kitten, find a veterinarian whom you will be willing to work with for the next 20 years. Make an appointment for your kitten’s first exam prior to actually getting the kitten.
Newborn kitten care week by week.
In the first few weeks, kittens go through amazing changes, and we are going to cover those.
First, though, a little information about our little mammal development.
We equated the approximate nine weeks of gestation in cats to the nine months of humans.
A week of cat development equals a month of human development, pregnancy-wise.
By the time they reach 20 to 24 weeks old, they are fully self-sustainable cats who can live on their own with no problems, and can reproduce.
If we use the same ratio, humans would be fully developed and able to reproduce at 20 to 24 months old!
Obviously, this is not the case and there is a reason for it. Basically, the more advanced the mammal, the longer the gestation and the time to maturity is longer as well.
Mice have a gestation period of about 20 days (3 weeks), and reach maturity in 4 to 6 weeks (maturity is the age at which a creature can reproduce).
Elephants have a gestation period of about 22 months, are weaned between 5 and 10 years old, and reach maturity at 13 to 17 years old.
So even though we are all mammals, our gestation and time to maturity vary a great deal.
Cats are turbocharged in this regard, and you will see this as these little ones grow in front of your eyes.
1 Week Old Kitten Care: Our Little Blind Mice.
At birth, the kittens are both blind and deaf.
Their eyes are closed and their ears are folded down.
This is perfectly normal – don’t try to open their eyes, they will open on their own soon.
They also have no teeth – these little ones are pretty defenseless – and they weight about 3 ounces (though they will double in weight during that first week!)
Newborn kittens are unable to regulate their body temperatures and rely on their mama cat for warmth. This why a snuggly box is very important!
If a kitten wanders too far from the mother cat, he/she can get chilled, so keep an eye out for tiny explorers and get them back to mama.
After 3 days their umbilical cord stubs will fall off.
For that first week, the kittens will do little other than sleep, eat, and grow.
They should grow steadily during these first few weeks.
If you can, keep a daily weight record (digital postal scales will help a lot here) and make sure they are gaining weight.
A kitten who isn’t growing well calls for a trip to the vet, while a kitten who loses weight is an urgent matter and needs to get to the vet as soon as possible.
2 Week Old Kitten Care: Here Come The Senses.
During week 2, their eyes will begin to open.
Some may open partially, and that is normal and they will open completely on their own over time – don’t help them to open!
Their vision is not very good at this age, and they are vulnerable to eye infections – look for crustiness or secretions (clear is ok, white/yellow/green is not and you should take them to the vet).
Their eyes will be blue initially but will change over time.
Their pupils won’t dilate or contract well, so try and keep bright lights away from their eyes.
Also during week 2, the ears will still be folded, but their baby teeth will start to come in.
They will gain weight, though not as fast as the first week, and they should weigh 9 to 11 ounces by the end of week two.
Here’s the neat thing:
Their sense of smell is kicking in.
Most kittens will have a preferred nipple that they will locate by the sense of smell.
Keep an eye out for territorial fights and make sure everyone is nursing well!
3 Week Old Kitten Development: Give ME The Heat.
Ok, things are starting to get interesting.
Their ears become erect and their sense of hearing is improved; their sense of smell is becoming developed as well.
This is good because they will start to shakily wobble around like tiny drunk people.
Try not to let wander too far for too long, they may get a bit chilly… keep them warm.
They can’t see well, and their hearing is still developing, so that sense of smell is what will get them back to mom and help them not get lost.
They will be very curious and will want to explore, so make sure you put any wanderers who have gotten outside their area back in with mom.
Creative Commons This Is What A 3 Week Old Orphan Kitten Looks Like by Wendy Berry is licensed Under CC BY 2.0
They’ve also figured out these other kittens are there and will explore each other as well. This is always fun to watch.
4 Week Old Kitten Care: Becoming Mischievous.
They should weigh about a pound to a pound and a half by this point.
Their sense of smell is fully developed, and their longer fangs will start coming in. Their hearing is good at this point, though their eyesight still lags behind.
They will be more active and will start to play with their litter-mates/brothers and sisters..
They will start grooming some, and will explore their area.
This is the real beginning of wandering kittens, so keep an eye on them even more.
Moving their snuggle box into a large bin or kiddy pool may save you from having to retrieve them when they explore.
Mama will leave them for a bit now, and they can drink water from a shallow dish, though they will likely also stomp through it, flip it over, and make a mess.
Why Wont My Kitten Poop?
Just a side note, if you have an orphaned kitten or you are finding that mamma can’t get her kitten to pee/poop, below is a great tutorial on how to help those little ones do some elimination!
5 Week Old Kitten Care: I Can See… And Pee & Poop!
Their eyesight is finally fully developed!
The will look at each other, at you, at shiny things, at anything interesting and then, like all babies, they will go towards what interests them.
Let the kitten roundup begin!
They can start on small amounts of food at this point or soon after.
Mix some dry or canned cat food with some kitten formula (not cow milk!) until it turns into gruel and put it into a shallow dish for them.
They will eat it, and also walk through it and wear it, but it will help them figure out how that whole eating thing works.
Fortunately, they are self-cleaning and mama will help clean any spot they miss.
They will still be nursing from mama, this is just a little extra nutrition and showing them how food works.
They will also start using the bathroom on their own, so a shallow low sided litter box is needed – and frequent changes of bedding, because there will be accidents.
The best part, though, is that full play mode will be a constant thing now. They will stalk and pounce on each other and a kitten wrestle pile will happen.
There will be so much adorableness, and their personalities will start to show.
6 to 8 Week Old Kitten Care: Ch Ch Cha Changes…
Somewhere between six and eight weeks, their eyes will start to change to the adult color.
Their final teeth will come in, and they will be incredibly active.
Mom will feel comfortable leaving them for longer periods, and they will leap and wrestle and tackle and play constantly – until they fall over asleep and change from a kitten wrestle pile to a kitten sleep pile.
Sometimes there will be an activity that could only be described as sleep playing, where they will paw and wrestle with each other in slow motion because they are mostly asleep.
This is a good time to make sure you handle and interact with all of the kittens as much as you can.
Play with them, cuddle with them, pick them up, and touch their eyes, ears, mouths and tails – get them familiar with this kind of touch so trips to the vet and giving medication are easier and less stressful.
While they still will be nursing, they will happily eat 4 to 6 times a day (small meals often to keep that metabolism going). Slowly transition the kitten gruel to less kitten milk replacer and more solid food.
8 to 10 Weeks: Ready For The Wild
By eight weeks they should be eating almost solid food, taking a lot of pressure off of mama.
Between six and eight weeks they should also receive their first vaccines and be de-wormed, if they have not already been.
They should be completely on solid food now, but they may still nurse a little – it is comforting and familiar.
The kittens are old enough to go to adoptive homes, and if you haven’t yet they can be introduced (with supervision) to the other pets and children in the house.
Weeks 10 to 12: To Infinity And Beyond…
The kittens are now small cats!
There should remain no trace of the previous wobbliness – they are sleek and graceful little tigers now, playing with and stalking anything they can.
Once they reach two pounds, they are old enough for juvenile spay/neuter and once they reach sixteen weeks old they have reached sexual maturity and may be able to reproduce, so spaying or neutering should be done soon.
From tiny three-ounce newborns that fit in your hand to small fully matured cats, the first twelve weeks on your kittens’ lives will be jam packed with change.
You will see their personalities emerge and develop and you will be amazed at the changes they go through during this period.
These will be three months you will never forget.