Kittens! Even the word is cute. Kittens are adorable and lovable, and they sneak their way into our hearts the moment they are born. But, how well do we really know these bundles of joy we are so bluntly in love with? Some of these facts might surprise you, but some of these you simply must know before you bring one into your home.
1. They weigh 3 to 4 ounces at birth
That’s about the same weight as a lemon! They’re so tiny they can easily fit in the palm of our hand. Healthy kittens should be gaining one pound a month until they reach six months.
2. They’re born blind and deaf
Kittens are born with closed eyes and closed ear canals. Their eyes usually open between the 7th and 14th day post birth. And, did you know that all kittens are actually born blue-eyed? Melanin (a pigment that gives eyes their dark color) doesn’t move into the eyes until the age of 7 to 12 weeks old.
Most cats develop different eye colors such as green, yellow or hazel brown later in life. Their ear canals, on the other hand, open between the 10th and 14th day. However, it takes a little longer for the outer ear to form its final shape. Even though their ears are not immediately fully developed, they can still move and twitch them from day one.
It is evident that kittens start recognizing and looking towards the sounds of other animals by the 7th day, and by the 25th day, they will also learn how to tell these sounds apart. By the time they are a month old, their hearing will be comparable to that of an adult cat.
3. They can’t thermoregulate
Feline babies can’t regulate their temperature in the first weeks of life. That’s why they like to snuggle up with their mom kitty and siblings. If you’re taking care of an orphaned kitty, it’s important to give him a source of heat, such as a heating pad. The ideal room temperature for kittens is 90 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of 55-65%.
4. Their mom boost their immunity
Kittens don’t produce their own antibodies in the first several weeks of life. From colostrum (the feline newborn milk), they not only receive vital nutrients from their mom but also her antibodies. The kitten’s intestines are developed to be able to absorb these antibodies quickly; thus they are protected from diseases at an early age. If a kitten is unable to receive colostrum from their mom, some vets offer injections of adult cat serum, which works as an alternative method for transferring antibodies.
5. They can’t pee or poo on their own
Have you noticed how the mama cat licks her babies’ stomachs at the rear end after each nursing session? Yes, the mommy likes to keep her kittens clean, but this type of licking is a kind of a massage to help her babies pass urine and poop. Kittens don’t have enough nerve control to go on their own until they’ve reached between 3 and 4 weeks of age.
If the mama isn’t around, you can help your kitten by giving it a gentle massage on the lower stomach with a soft cotton ball. Once the kitten can pass urine and poop on its own, you can start potty training him or her. After the kitten has eaten, just place it in the litter box and gently scratch the sand with its front paw until it starts urinating. If necessary, repeat this until the kitty learns where it’s supposed to go.
6. What do kittens eat and how often?
In the first few weeks, kittens solely feed on their mom’s milk. If you’re taking care of an orphaned kitten or the mom doesn’t produce enough milk for her entire litter, the kitten should be fed with kitten milk replacer from a bottle every 2 to 3 hours.
While bottle fed, kittens should be placed with their stomachs down - to simulate a natural nursing position and decrease the risk of aspiration. Kittens can start eating solid food at the age of 3-4 weeks old. That food should be similar to what they will eat later in life, only slightly softened with kitten milk replacer.
7. Kittens sleep a great deal of time
Cats are crepuscular animals - meaning they are most active during the dawn and dusk. Adult cats sleep on average about 16 hours a day. And kittens and seniors snooze even longer than that! Kittens spend most of their time sleeping. When they’re awake, they nurse and snuggle. They don’t really do much apart from that.
8. What is my kitten trying to say?
Kittens learn to meow very early. It is their call for mom and her milk. They generally start purring within a day or two after being born. They will also quickly learn to hiss whenever they smell something unfamiliar in their nest as well - such as your hand! Learn more about kitty sounds in general here.
9. When do kittens start to walk?
Feline babies should be able to stand at the age of 10 days old, and they usually start walking by the 21st day. About 4 weeks post-birth, they begin to play!
10. They grow their first teeth at the age of 3 weeks
Their baby (deciduous) teeth start erupting at the age of 3 weeks. They start falling out around the 14th week. Kittens should grow out all of their adult teeth by the age of 6 months.
11. Fleas are a major concern
Kittens cannot be treated with any medications against fleas until the age of 8 weeks old. Therefore, fleas can quickly sneak into the nest if not controlled. It is highly recommended to bathe kitties with gentle soap if they do get infected. It is critical to get rid of the fleas because they can cause life-threatening anemia in the kittens. More about parasitism here.
12. Can I hold a newborn kitten?
It can be challenging to restrain yourself from touching and holding something so adorable, soft and furry. Keep in mind, though, that it isn’t good for the kitten to be over-handled in the first 2 weeks after birth. Occasionally do pet and snuggle, but disturbing the litter one too many times may upset the queen and even cause her to reject her baby. From the third week onward, very gentle handling becomes an essential part of socializing your kitten. Make sure to always handle kittens gently. One of the more common diseases caused, among other factors, by rough handling is umbilical hernia.
13. What is fading kitten syndrome?
Dr. Heidi Pavia-Watkins from Airport Irvine Animal Hospital in Costa Mesa explains: "Fading kitten syndrome refers to the death of a kitten within the period of life from birth to weaning (approximately 4 to 5 weeks of age). This is the age when kittens are most vulnerable to hypothermia, hypoglycemia, dehydration, and infection".
The most common causes of death in feline young-lings are issues with the queen (the queen’s health status, age, or blood group clashes between mom and the baby), runts of the litter, genetics, infections, environment, toxins or poor nutrition. Dr. Pavia-Watkins wrote a very interesting article about the fading kitten syndrome that we highly recommend if you’d like to learn more about it. To learn more about blood type clashes between the queen and her kittens, you can read our article on the topic here.
14. Kittens of the same litter don’t have to have the same daddy!
One single sperm fertilizes every egg. Not all of the queen’s eggs have to be necessarily fertilized by the same tom. If the female mates with multiple partners, it is highly possible that different toms fed the different eggs. Therefore, not all kittens of one litter have to share the same father. You can find a few more fun facts about cat siblings here.
15. They’re fully weaned at the age of 8 weeks
It is very important that the kittens remain with their mom for at least the first 8 weeks of their life. Otherwise, experts stress that the babies will miss out on a lot of essential skills their mom can pass on to them. After 8 weeks, the queen starts weaning her kittens away as they are now ready to live independently. And we are prepared to adopt these little pals and welcome them into our lives. So, next time you are at your local shelter, make sure to ask and see the kittens too!
Kittens are cute, lovable and funny. It's often easy to forget how much care they really need. This is why it is important to stay informed and offer our cats the best possible care we can. A healthy cat is a happy cat! If you're interested in a few more tips on kitten care, make sure to check out our Top Kitty No Nos article too. For learning more about cat pregnancy, please refer to this piece.