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Kitten Development Stages: Must-Knows About Newborn Kitten Development

by | Jul 10, 2022 | Cat Behavior & Care | 34 comments

Kitten Development Stages: Must-Knows About Newborn Kitten Development

Every year when Spring rolls around we celebrate kitten season! On July 10, we celebrate National Kitten Day, so if a new baby is in your plans, here’s some kitten care info. If you love kittens, learning about newborn kitten development, when kitten eyes open, and more, helps you know what to expect, and help the baby along the way.

Even if it’s not yet kitten season, it’s helpful to figure out the best age to adopt kittens. Read on to learn about the cat behavior of a three-week-old baby compared to one six weeks old. So whatever time of year, prepare now with all your kitten questions so you’re ready when the purr-fect cat or kitten becomes available.

kitten development stages

Mother cats take good care of kittens.

Kitten Season Brings Roaming Cats

Cats are considered kittens until about one year of age. Before that, though, the girl kitties can become pregnant. It’s not unusual for the unwanted youngsters to roam, looking for someplace safe. That’s how we found Karma-Kat. He showed up in late January, just before an ice storm hit. At age 8 months or so, his “cute” had worn off, and somebody lost him either accidentally or on purpose. Their loss, and our gain.

kitten development stages

Newborn Kittens are blind and deaf, and use cries to call for mom and help.

Cat Development Stages

In the Northern hemisphere, intact girl kitties begin to go into heat in February, and can become pregnant as early as four or five months of age. Within about 63 days, new furry babies make their appearance so brace yourselves for a bumper crop of cute-icity.

Kittens gain two to four ounces a week from birth to five to six months of age. The kitten immune system becomes fully developed by six to eight weeks of age, while the immune protection he gained from Mom begins to fade.

Kitten Development Stages

At Birth

 When your kitten was born, he measured four to six inches long and weighed only two to four ounces. He was blind, deaf, toothless, and unable to regulate his own body temperature to stay warm. Newborns are able to maintain only 95 degree temperature (normal adult temp is 100-102.5) so they must be in contact with Mom or surrogate warmth to survive. At this age, kittens depend on touch, sense of smell, and thermal sensation to find Mom and food, and they move by wriggling their bodies from side to side. Babies purr as they nurse, and most return to the same nipple every time. That’s because they scent-mark the nipple the first time they nurse and the smell acts as a beacon to draw them back thereafter.

Week One

 After seven days, the kitten’s birth weight doubles. Kittens spend four hours a day suckling, and more than 16 hours sleeping. Instead of moving like little worms, their shoulders, pelvis and legs develop enough so they can drag themselves along the ground. They look a bit like swimmers paddling across the bedding. By this age, the body’s shiver reflex develops, and that means they are better able to regulate temperature and keep themselves warm.

Week Two

 By the second week, kittens suckle up to three hours a day. Their eyes begin to open between nine to 12 days of age, and babies learn to recognize Mom and others as friends or foe. Ears begin to unseal about this same time. Kittens practice raising their chest with front legs, and strengthen their muscles by moving about more. And the first deciduous (baby or milk) teeth start to appear at this age, the tiny incisors across the front of the mouth.

Week Three

 Nursing time starts to decrease, but the babies still suckle about two hours a day. The rear legs gain strength and kittens start to stand and walk on wobbly legs. The sense of smell becomes fully developed, and the babies begin to catalogue the meaning of different scents. Kittens start to play with each other, follow Mom around, learn about the litter box, and can retract their claws. They start to watch Mom and mimic her by self-grooming themselves. Body temperature control develops. Normal body temperature increases to between 97 to 99 degrees during this period. The prime socialization period begins. What kittens experience beginning at this age will have a huge impact on how well-adjusted (or not) they become as adults. Kittens handled a few minutes daily by people during their first month of life have an improved learning ability.

Week Four

 Kitten hearing is fully developed by week four, and the body weight has doubled again. Mom’s milk production starts to decrease just as the kitten’s energy needs grow. Curiosity and hunger spur the babies to sample Mom’s solid food. Kkittens understand the litter box from watching Mom. However, they still have a limited capacity for “holding it” and may have accidents when the box isn’t close enough. Needle sharp canine teeth appear next to the incisors, and premolars grow behind the canines (three on the top, two on the bottom).

Week Five to Seven

 The body thermostat has matured enough the kitten doesn’t rely on Mom or siblings to stay warm. The kitten immune system fully developes by six to eight weeks of age, while the immune protection he gained from Mom begins to fade. It takes six to eight weeks for the last premolars to erupt. The drive to copy Mom is very strong, and they learn what they should do by imitating her. Kittens spend nearly an hour a day eating solid food—but they’ll still pester Mom to nurse, if she’ll let them.

Kittens learn to recognize friends and enemies. Good experiences with people and other pets during this time ensure they’ll be well-adjusted adult cats.

Week Eight to Nine

 Kittens are fully weaned and eating a commercial kitten food. They spend up to an hour each day in play—and switch from playing with each other, to playing with objects—toys, feathers, etc. That strengthens muscles, practices social skills, and teaches life lessons by learning to inhibit bites and claws, discover what rolls or bounces when patted with a forepaw, and what runs away or fights back.

Month Three to Six

Social play reaches its peak between week nine through week 16. Older kittens and adult cats continue to play after four months, but not to the same extent. Baby teeth start to fall out at 12 weeks and are replaced by permanent adult teeth. A total of 30 adult teeth are present in most cats by age seven months.

Female kittens may experience their first breeding season (heat) and may become pregnant as early as four months of age, but most reach this point at five to six months of age. “Oriental” breeds like Siamese tend to become fertile at an earlier age.

Month Nine to Twelve

Male kittens become sexually mature and are able to father babies as early as eight to nine months, and develop male-cat behaviors like spraying as early as six to seven months (average age is nine months). Both sexes continue to fill out and gain weight. Coats on longhaired breeds like Maine Coon and Persian cats may not fully develop until they are 15 to 18 months old.

kitten development stages

Kitten play can be relentless.

Kitten Development Stages & Nonstop Kitten Play

Play and interaction with others takes over during weeks five to seven. Social play with Mom and siblings begins now, and includes running, rolling, biting, wrestling, climbing, and jumping. Mom-cat and siblings let the baby know if he bites or claws too hard and they’ll hiss at him or put an end to the game. If you want to avoid kittens chasing your feet, adopt a pair together! Otherwise, you’ll need to deal with kitten play aggression. Learn more about fostering kittens with socialization tips here.

Orphan Kitten & kitten development

Handraised newborn kittes need to be fed every 4 hours or so with an appropriate kitten milk replacement.

Kitten Development Stages & Ideal Adoption Age

When kittens are adopted too early, or are orphaned and hand raised, you’ll have extra challenges to bringing up baby. By watching mom, kittens learn to use the litter box, for example. What’s cute in a tiny kitten becomes aggravating or even dangerous when he gets older and can tip playtime into play aggression.

Adopting a pair of kittens can be a good option, so the babies wrestle and play with each other rather than targeting your ankles. If you also have dogs, read about introducing your cat to dogs here. Learn more about cat-to-cat introductions here. If you are the “mother figure” it’s up to you to teach Baby about the litter box, playing “nice” and eating grown-up food. Learn more about kitten adoption do’s and don’ts here.

kitten dayKitten Socialization For A Lifetime of Love

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All your kitten must-knows — discounted Ebook here!

Puppies get more attention when it comes to socialization and puppy developmental stages are a bit different. But socialization is equally important in kittens. The problem is–prime kitten socialization takes place between two-to-seven weeks of age! Oh, the baby will learn after that, but his is the best time to pre-program a cat for success. When you adopt a kitten at this age, it’s up to you to expose him to a wide range of situations so he’ll be willing to accept them as he ages. That’s called “socialization” and can mean the difference between living with a well-adjusted and loving feline, or dealing with a scared or aggressive cat. 

Good experiences with people and other pets during this time ensure they’ll be well-adjusted adult cats. It’s ideal for kittens to stay with their littermates and mother until twelve weeks of age so they learn best how to get along with other cats, and learn all the important “cat rules” of the world. But very often, shelters need the space and adopt out babies earlier–or the kitten is alone in the world anyway, and benefits from being adopted earlier.

It’s important to have handy all the important kitten info. So if you’ve read this far, here’s an EBOOK deal for you–a discounted copy of COMPLETE KITTEN CARE by clicking here.

TEACH KITTENS NOW TO ACCEPT…

Handling and grooming by you and strangers teaches him to accept such things, so the veterinarian won’t have to fight him for an examination. This is the best age to train him to accept the cat carrier and leash. That allows him to travel with you when necessary, either to the vet or groomers or across town to visit Grandma. And if you think another pet (dog or cat), or a child might be in your future, introduce him to positive experiences at this age. That way, he’ll accept them as a normal part of his world and you’ll prevent behavior problems down the road.

How old was your cat when you adopted him? Have you ever needed to hand-raise a kitten? What do you think is the best age to adopt–and why? Please share!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

34 Comments

  1. Susan spann

    I worked as a volunteer with a cat adoption agency for almost ten years back in the 80s, so I’ve helped hand raise kittens. Talk about a lot of work!! It was lots of fun though, and we took care to make sure they grew up into wonderful, well-socialized cats that went to great homes.

    As I mentioned on you puppy post, we adopted our most recent kitten (she’s 4 but still the kitten of the family) from a woman who rescued Oobie’s pregnant mother (now spayed and living with the rescuer along with one of Oobie’s siblings). The woman couldn’t keep the kittens past six weeks due to landlord issues, but we have older cats so between that and human help we socialized her here.

    That said, she still thinks she’s a kitten and tries to get away with things more than the others do. In fact, she’s trying to eat a q-tip as I write this so I’m going to go!

    • amyshojai

      Hi Susan, That’s really the ideal situation when you have a youngster, as you know. The older cats “mentor” the baby. Wonder if they taught her about the joys of Qtips, LOL!

  2. Jerra Hood

    Where is the best place to read this entire article.  It is sooooo interesting.

    Love ya, Jerra

    ________________________________

  3. Brenda

    We rescued a kitten that was maybe four weeks old from the clutches of some children who had put him in a neighbor’s mailbox. He had not learned to climb down trees and my husband had to show him when he got stuck in one at one point and he had not learned to avoid azaleas and did when my husband hissed at him to let him know it wasn’t appropriate. Because of being taken from a reliable source of food he would eat whatever was available from maple leaves to more food than needed so at one point he had to be put on a diet, not true of our current rescue who knows when he is satiated. Our current darling was a young juvenile and his mother had had time to teach him more. We actually saw her checking on him in our yard. Apparently we were the humans she recommended he coax into making him an indoor cat. Both of them made excellent indoor cats but the dear rescued from the mailbox was always outdoor/indoor though gradually becoming indoor only at the time of his unfortunate and untimely death.

    • amyshojai

      Hi Brenda. Poor baby, to have been tormented by kids at that young an age. Just shows how resilient they can be despite rocky starts. So glad you rescued him!

  4. LAPCATS Sacramento Area Cat & Kitten Adoptions

    My foster kittens are 9 weeks old today. I took them 3 days after they were born in the shelter and it’s been so much fun watching them grow and develop to fabulous little cats. They’re all very sweet, friendly, affectionate and healthy, and actually already have adopters lined up to take them after they are spayed. Now I have to get mom ready for adoption (after her spay) too. They’re know as “The Princess Kittens” on our blog: Mom is Snow White, and then there is Rapunzel, Cinderella, Mulan, Ariel and Jasmine. It’s been a great experience.

    • amyshojai

      That’s PAW-some! I have great admiration for folks who foster. I’d be a foster failure and end up with a house full of furry wonders. Love the names!

  5. Andrea Dorn

    I love the stage when they first start washing themselves, it’s so fun to watch as they try valiantly to lick their paws but that darn paw just won’t hold still. THen they finally get around to putting the paw to their face but they can’t seem to find that face 🙂

    Of course when they start playing it is just as hilarious. They want to chase each other even though they can barely walk straight and right in the middle of a play session they collapse and are sound asleep.

    Ah, I miss my kittens. Wait, no I don’t, they’re all still here just a little bigger!

    • amyshojai

      *giggle* Seren used to pounce (or try to) on her tail, hold it down and vigorously groom all the while the tip did this manic dance. Hilarious! And I love it when the kittens suddenly POOF and take off pretending to be scared. Fun when they’re still learning how to manage all those feet.

  6. brokenteepee

    Back in my rescuing days I bottle raised a litter when their feral mother was hit by a car. It is a LOT of work – especially when you are working full time.

    • Amy Shojai

      I know, it’s sleepless nights and worry but not a little joy, too.

    • Amy Shojai

      I think that’s one reason all those kitty videos are so popular!

  7. Robin

    I love kittens, but they are a lot of work! My Manna came to me as an abandoned kitten at 3.5 weeks of age. I absolutely loved raising her and CInco (who was a year and half old at the time) was a big help. Watching her develop was amazing. Young kittens are definitely not for everyone, though.

    • Amy Shojai

      It’s always a big help to have an interested adult cat to supervise and take the little one under a paw.

  8. Sharon, Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog

    Thank you for sharing this important information. I work in animal rescue and have taken care a litter of feral kittens when they needed help. I was lucky to have experienced people to guide me through the process, but not everyone does. Your tips and book are a lifesaver. Will share.

    • Amy Shojai

      Awww…ferals are a special case, too. By fostering them you not only helped save them physically, but also emotionally. Socialization comes sooooo early in kittens!

  9. The Daily Pip

    I also learned the hard way that mother cats can get pregnant again while they are still nursing! We rescued a cat with her seven babies. The kittens were only about 2.5 months old. The mother was so thin I never even considered she could be pregnant …4 weeks later she had 4 more kittens. The kittens all went to Treehouse Animal Society here in Chicago and we kept mama cat, Daisy. She lived with us for 12 more joy-filled years …

  10. M. K. Clinton

    My only experience with newborn kittens was a nightmare. My sweet Miss Gitty escaped out of my window and found herself pregnant. She went into labor but the first four kittens were stillborn. The last one was alive but she wouldn’t bite the cord so I had to tie it off and cut it. I was only 20 years old and was FREAKING OUT. Thankfully, my vet was on the phone walking me through it. Of course, I had to keep the kitten too.

    • Amy Shojai

      Oh wow…at that age, it would have freaked me out, too. Aren’t veterinarians great?!

  11. Sweet Purrfections

    I’ve never been around newborn kittens. I didn’t meet Truffle and Brulee until they were 5-6 weeks old. They were a handful when they came to live with me. They were both spayed by the time they were six months old. I feel so bad when I see feral cats in the various locations I visit.

    • Amy Shojai

      I feel awful seeing feral cats, too, when they’re not cared for. That said–there are some passionate and fantastic TNR folks who manage feral colonies, and by all accounts, those cats stay healthy and happy–just apart from humans. My heart still hurts they miss out on the all the lap-love they should get.

  12. Cathy Armato

    Great information! I can’t believe kitten season will be here again with shelters full of kittens needing permanent and foster homes. I think the ideal age to adopt a kitten is no younger than 8 weeks old. Tip: donating kitten formula to a shelter or rescue will be much appreciated during kitten season. It’s not cheap & both foster moms & shelters will really appreciate a donation.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    • Amy Shojai

      What a great idea! People often think of donating food or cat litter–but kitten formula, that’s brilliant. Thanks for the suggestion!

  13. Sadie

    Great information about kitten care. Also good reminder that there will soon be an influx of kittens at the shelter and continued education regarding spay/neuter is so important.

  14. Lola The Rescued Cat

    Mommy hasn’t had a kitten since she was 19 years old. She often thinks she would like one, but then remembers how much time they require.

    • Amy Shojai

      Kittens can be a handful. And…there are so many lovely adult kitties around, too. Would love to be able to adopt them all!

  15. Christy Paws

    Mom fostered for a rescue in southern California for nearly five years. She cared for hundreds of cats and kittens of all ages, including some of those bottle babies. I am her lucky third foster failure.

  16. Kristian Taylor

    Kittens are amazing, they are so tiny and yet a fully functioning little cat. I loved the article, thank you for sharing!

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