That soft, fluffy fur, her sweet little paws, your newborn is the perfect little bundle of joy to complete your family. So, if you can’t resist counting her fingers and toes (she should have five claws on each front foot and four on each back foot, unless she’s polydactyl), don’t be alarmed. You’re just bonding with your new best friend.
Physical and Mental Development
At birth, your kitten weighs only a few ounces. But she’ll grow fast, doubling her birth weight in her first week of life. If your bitty kitty is an orphan, you have a busy few weeks ahead of you. If her mother is still around, leave the heavy lifting to her. She will need her mother for warmth, stimulation of intestinal function, bowels and bladder and, of course, as a source of the ideal nutrition. Your kitten will be ready to socialize with you around 6 to 8 weeks, and adoptable between 8 to 12 weeks.
Here are some of the milestones you can expect. The small remnant of your infant’s umbilical cord will drop off during her second or third day of life. She is born both blind and deaf with her eyes sealed shut and her ears folded. Her ears will unfold somewhere between 6 and 14 days, and she will be able to stand and crawl at the end of her second week.
Your little one will take her first blurry glimpse of the world somewhere between 5 to 14 days after birth. Her eyes will be blue — at least until she’s a month old, when they may begin to change colors.
Between her third and fourth week, your fuzzy bundle’s teeth will begin to erupt. Like people, kittens start with baby teeth, called deciduous teeth. These will fall out to make room for adult teeth between her third and ninth month.
In her fifth week, she will become more adventurous, walking around with greater ease and pouncing with her littermates. It can be difficult to determine the sex of young kittens. If the two openings on the back of your cat are widely spaced and look like a colon ( : ), it’s a boy. An upside down exclamation point ( ¡ ) is a girl. That sounds easier than it actually is. You may want to compare several kittens in the litter, or have your veterinarian take a look. Male kittens may be 10 or more weeks before their scrotum (containing the testicles) starts to noticeably enlarge.
As your cat enters her sixth week, she starts getting more social. And her mother and littermates will offer her the kitty training she needs as she races toward independent cathood. If you take her away from her cat family too soon, she may become antisocial resulting in undesirable behaviors, such as fear aggression.
If you’re adopting a kitten this young, it has likely been abandoned. Up until the 8-week mark, your kitten needs the kind of love and care only her mother can provide. And if you adopt one who is younger, you are going to have extra work ahead of you to replace the training and care that would have been provided by her mother and siblings. Consult your veterinarian immediately to discuss proper nutrition and a feeding schedule as well as other care tips to keep your little orphan healthy.
Health and Nutrition
Your fuzzy fur ball will nurse or drink a kitten formula until 6 weeks or so. If you notice any health problems, like diarrhea, contact your veterinarian immediately. Many parasites cause diarrhea in kittens. Coccidia, protozoa that live and breed in the intestinal tract, are a common cause of diarrhea in kittens 4 to 12 weeks old. So are roundworms and other parasites. And kittens are susceptible to other health problems, such as fleas and upper respiratory infections, so note any signs of illness and seek medical attention immediately.
A kitten less than 3 weeks old probably cannot poop or pee for herself. So if her mother is not present, you’ll need to help her. A momma cat uses her tongue to lick the kitten’s genitals and stimulate elimination. You’ll need to mimic this action to help your kitten. Using a warm, damp cotton ball, gently massage the area using a circular motion. In her fourth week, your kitten will begin eliminating without help. By 7 weeks, you can breathe a sigh of relief as your little one begins to use the litterbox with proficiency.
During your kitten’s first veterinary visit, your veterinarian will discuss your pet’s vaccination schedule, recommended care, and preventive medicine, such as parasite control, to keep your new friend healthy. Most kittens generally receive their first series of vaccinations sometime between 6 and 8 weeks. These will help protect from diseases caused by feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus, and feline panleukopenia virus.
Once your kitten reaches the 3-week mark, you can introduce the litterbox. Her first potty pan should be shallow, with low walls and only an inch or two of litter. Avoid clumping clay for your curious little kitten. She’s still a baby and likes to put things in her mouth — even cat litter. Clumping litters can be fatal if they end up in your kitty’s intestinal tract.
Your kitten’s first few months of life are an exciting time, filled with amazing growth and development. While being the parent of these newborns can be exhausting, take heart. They’re infants only for a few short weeks before they begin to blossom into very active, curious feline youngsters.