Having been the midwife to a few litters of kittens in my time, I’ve seen every moment of the feline growth process. From those first moments as blind, deaf, squirming food factories to the day when they look like miniature versions of their full-grown kin, each day is precious.
No matter how many litters of kittens I’ve seen grow up, though, I still get surprised about how quickly they become self-sufficient little felines. Here’s a brief rundown of kittens’ developmental milestones.
About a week after the kittens are born, their eyes open. Their vision will still be very blurry, though, and they’ll be relying more on their noses to find their way around.
Around the third week of life, the kittens’ ear canals open. Their hearing gradually improves, and you’ll start noticing that loud noises may startle the kittens. You’ll probably notice that the kittens’ ears start to stand erect at this time.
For the first three weeks of their lives, kittens needed their mothers to stimulate their rear ends to provoke them to urinate and defecate. But now comes a turning point: the kittens’ own bodies will tell them when they need to do their business.
During the third and fourth week of life, the kittens begin to start walking instead of crawling. They’re still very clumsy, though.
Around the fourth week, the kittens’ tiny baby teeth start to emerge. As you can imagine, this is a good motivation for mama cat to begin the weaning process! This is also the time that you can start feeding canned food.
By the ninth week of life, kittens pretty much are done with their need for mom-cat’s milk. This does, of course, vary from breed to breed. They can get their sustenance from cat food now, although their teeth may be too tiny and their jaws too weak to be able to eat kibble.
Unless you have a Siamese or Oriental cat, the odds are good that around week 12, your kitten’s beautiful blue eyes are going to start changing to the gold and green shades more common in the feline world.
Between 12 and 16 weeks of age, your kitten’s adult teeth will start coming in. The first big-kitty teeth to emerge will be the incisors. Those will be followed by the canine teeth and premolars, and then four shiny new molars will sprout behind those.
This stage comes sooner than a lot of people think. Female cats can go into heat as early as five months of age, and that’s way too soon to have a good outcome, either for themselves or for their kittens. Males may start urine spraying and engaging in other tomcat behavior as early as six months. If you have littermates and you wait too long to have them spayed or neutered, you may find your kitten having kittens, which could well be fathered by her brother. Long story short: Get your kitten spayed or neutered as soon as possible.
Kittens don’t reach their full growth until one to two years of age, depending on the breed. By age three, the equivalent of a 28- to 32-year-old human, they’ve reached social maturity: They’ve settled into their adult personalities and size and have (mostly) outgrown their "kitten crazies."
Are there any developmental milestones I missed? Share them in the comments!
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.