Kitten Season! Must-Knows About Newborn Kitten Development


It’s kitten season–well, almost–and time for a refresher course on newborn kitten development. The timing is perfect (or purr-fect?) because this past week, I had a lovely kitty-girl visitor on my back patio.

kitten development stages

Mother cats take good care of kittens.

Kitten Season Brings Roaming Cats

The tortie youngster looked about five or six months old, and respectfully backed off and padded away when she saw Karma-Kat give her the hairy eyeball through the window. She looked well fed with a healthy coat and clean eyes, but at her age–and this time of year–it’s only a matter of time before she becomes pregnant. I hope that she’s already spayed and was safely shooed back inside once she returned home.

kitten development

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

Cat & Kitten Development

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 is also fully developed by six to eight weeks of age, while the immune protection he gained from Mom begins to fade.

kitten development

Kitten play can be relentless.

Kitten Development & 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!

Orphan Kitten & kitten development

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

Kitten Development & Ideal Adoption Age

When kittens are adopted too early, or are orphaned and hand raised, you’ll have extra challenges to bringing up baby. 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 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.

NEW-KITTEN-COVER-lorez

All your kitten must-knows!

Kitten Socialization For A Lifetime of Love

Puppies get more attention when it comes to socialization, but this 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 a loving pet and a scaredy cat. You can find important details in the COMPLETE KITTEN CARE book.

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.

He should learn to accept being handled and groomed by you and strangers, 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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Comments

Kitten Season! Must-Knows About Newborn Kitten Development — 37 Comments

  1. 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!

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

    Love ya, Jerra

    ________________________________

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

    • *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. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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. 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.

  11. 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.

    • 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. 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

  13. 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. 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.

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