At birth, the kitten weighs about 3.5 ounces (2.5 ounces at least, 5.3 ounces at most). It is born deaf and blind, possessing only the sense of taste and touch. The kitten has just enough sense of smell to find its mother’s teat. Hearing develops at about the fourth day, although the auditory canals are not open completely until the end of the second week. The eyes open in 7 to 10 days. Sight and hearing are fully developed only by the third month.
Immediately after birth, a kitten finds its own particular teat on the mother’s breast that it uses until weaned. The teat has a characteristic scent. Avoid bathing the mother because it washes away the scent. If this happens, the kittens become confused and start to fight.
During the first two weeks of life, the kitten lacks strength, coordination, and mobility. The kitten remains in the bedding area, cuddled against his mother, sleeping for nine-tenths of the day.
At first, the kitten is extremely sensitive to cold, because it cannot regulate its temperature. The mechanisms for regulating temperature – muscular shivering and the bristling of the fur (piloerection) – start to develop about the third week. By the sixth week, they are completely effective. The kitten is able to walk and get back to its den after the third week. It regularly leaves its den to explore the surroundings during the fifth week. At this stage, it also begins to climb. The kitten is completely mobile by roughly the 8th week.
During the first month, kittens rely on their mother’s milk for nourishment. By pushing their forepaws against their mother’s breast, the kittens trigger the reflex that provides the milk. Some mothers cannot always provide enough milk for their offspring. In these cases, the fretful kittens cry a lot. A veterinarian can correct the problem with a hormone injection. If a queen dies or shows no interest in her offspring, ask a veterinarian for milk replacements. Cow’s milk is unsatisfactory because the nutritional balance is not right for kittens. There are commercial formulas that match the queen’s milk.
At 3 weeks of age, the kitten can start eating solid food. Commercially prepared kitten foods can be used. If the queen’s supply of milk is inadequate, milk solid food with a milk replacement. This will speed up the weaning process. By 2 months, weaning should be complete.
The kitten learns cleanliness from its mother. In the first days of life, the mother licks the kittens vigorously, which stimulate defecation and urination. She keeps the sleeping den clean by swallowing all waste. Once the kittens are mobile, they are encouraged to relive themselves somewhere away from the den. Towards the end of the third week, they begin burying their own waste, covering it over with litter or earth.
Socialization Of Kittens
The behavior of the adult cat depends on the kind of attention that it received as a kitten. When proper stimulus is lacking, there is a risk of excessive aggression, anxiety, and other behavioral problems in adulthood.
At 2 months of age, kittens are fearless and full of curiosity about the world. Fears born out of experience have yet to take root. Now is the time to undertake the kitten’s social education. In a calm atmosphere, introduce the kitten to any other animals living in the same house. If a kitten is meeting a dog, for the first time, make sure each is under control.
Lessons From Mother
During the first weeks, the mother cat instills in her kittens the principles of feline life. By washing her kittens, she implants the lesson of keeping their living area clean. Her licking also stimulates urination and defecation. Reflex control of these functions develops quickly. By the third week, a kitten learns to control and relieves itself away from the sleeping area.
The mother’s licking also keeps the kitten’s fur in good condition. The sheer pleasure of the experience encourages kittens to groom themselves. The habit of grooming, starting the first week of life, is purely personal at first. At a later stage, it becomes a shared experience. By grooming each other, kittens reinforce group ties.
The mother also provides lessons in hunting and food-finding techniques. By imitation, observation and play, kittens acquire all the skills to survive as adult cats.