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Kitten Development from Birth to Eight Weeks

An awareness of the stages of kitten development greatly helps the appreciation for the growth of kittens and how much changes for them in the first two months of life. Kittens have development stages that breeders need to keep in mind to make their kittens the best they can be. This is also where we can greatly influence a kitten’s long term life by teaching things early on! Breeding kittens is more than just having the queen give birth – it is doing whatever is needed to bring the kittens to the best they can be.

The queen will naturally take charge of feeding and caring for her brood but we humans can also play a part. Handling the kittens from early on can make a difference in their bonding with people. Some studies show that they are actually kittens until two years at which time they are fully mature.

3 kittens

Newborn

Newborn kittens are helpless. They cannot see or hear, and rely solely on smell to find their mother and food. They can’t regulate their temperature so need warmth from the mother as well as her help even with elimination. Kittens can hiss and even spit at just a week old and often do until they learn human hands are friendly! 

A good mother will protect her kittens and take care of them with little interference from humans. It is important that all of the kittens get a couple of good feedings in the first 24 hours to insure they get colostrums. This helps their immunity from even this tiny age. They will nurse often around the clock and the queen should be allowed to focus on her litter.


Kitten Development at First Week 

Kittens are born at 2-4 ounces in size and in the first week double in weight. At about a week old their eyes will open, with some breeders reporting long haired kittens can take longer, as much as two weeks until opening. The eyes will be blue at first but can change as the eyes develop. The ears typically start close to the head and they have very limited movement. Their vision is blurry at first and is helped by a lack of bright lights.


Kitten Development at Second Week

At 2 weeks the ears stand up and they begin taking steps that at first are more crawling than walking. At the end of the second week most kittens will be able to hear and see, although vision might be a little blurry as their eyes adjust and take in the world around them. Some indications are it’s not until about two months before their sight is developed. Many know how to hiss even before they can see.


Kitten Development at Third Week

At three weeks they learn to stand and move better. The kittens try to walk more and sometimes explore a little further from the queen. They can be clumsy at first as they try to figure out how to make all the parts move! Kittens at this age also learn to purr and the baby teeth come in. They can be introduced to the litter box if observed to make sure they don’t ingest the litter. 

They begin to see better and sometimes are unsteady but curious about the world around them.  They learn to purr and their teeth coming in can mean a less than enthusiastic queen to nurse them. Getting them started on food and water in shallow dishes and let them learn to navigate eating solid food and lapping water. Their hearing is developing although loud noises may startle them.


Kitten Development at Fourth Week

Around four weeks the kitten often has a short tail, short body and bigger head as they grow into their body in spurts. They’ll begin playing with each other as their teeth are more developed. They’ll be navigating small obstacles and gaining rapidly in size. Often they have doubled in size in this first month of growth as well as developing eyes, muscle, and coordination and learning the things they will be exposed to in our world. 

This can take some time to learn to navigate with their quickly growing bodies! They begin to explore even though they aren’t yet very coordinated at a month old. Many kittens begin grooming themselves at this time. Their tails get longer and more flexible. 

Many kittens learn to use the litterbox between 4-7 weeks of age. Here is also where socialization takes big bounds. The kittens will automatically take cues from the queen as well as their own experiences to this point. 

Breeds that will take grooming as adults should be gently introduced to it including baths if it’s a show kitten. Pet kittens also need time and attention to learn the proper ways to act for pet homes. Without this time they may never be as affectionate as they would be otherwise.


Kitten Development at Fifth Week

The queen can often begin weaning at five weeks so this is a good time to begin offering softened food to the kittens, allowing them to navigate foods out of a shallow dish. Their initial attempts will be awkward and messy! They begin stalking and chasing “prey” which may be a toy or a sibling.


Kitten Development at Sixth Week

Six weeks is a time for increasing coordination with toys including balls that they can bat and chase around. They learn through the queen to use scratching posts and begin to pattern themselves more fully after her habits demonstrated on a daily basis. They play hard and sleep hard!


At Seventh to Eighth Week

At seven and eight weeks daily routines can be established as well as the fun part of raising kittens – playing with them, cuddling and socializing with them. This is where they learn to chase toys and climb as well as what they can and cannot do in the home.

They grow incredibly fast and it’s always amazing to consider how much growth there is in the first eight weeks as well as from there to adult hood.





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