Consider Puss in Boots's iconic cute face, and it's almost criminal how adorable kittens can be. It's hard to resist a baby cat between their tiny purrs and meows and their nurture-inducing faces and pocket-sized bodies. If you're privileged enough to witness it, there's a lot of development and change during the first six to eight weeks of a kitten's life, and you'll be amazed at nature and the feats she can accomplish. Your kitten will take about 12 months to become an adult cat, and those months will be equal parts entertaining and challenging.
Kittens are remarkably little and fit easily into the palm of your hand. They weigh only 3 to 5 ounces when they're born—that's the same as a deck of cards or three slices of bread. But as any experienced cat parent will know, kittens grow super quickly, and they triple in weight within two to three weeks if all goes well.
Kittens come into the world with their eyes shut, and their eyes stay closed for about a week, unlike human babies. That's because kittens are blind when they're born. They're mostly deaf and just as vulnerable as their canine counterparts. Baby cats and dogs have this initial helplessness in common as a result of evolution, and it's only when weeks two and three arrive that kittens can see and hear better.
Every kitten is born with a pair of blue eyes. Kittens only develop pigment in their eyes when they're six weeks old and start producing melanin. Cat eyes often turn amber, brown, yellow, or green. If your kitten's eyes are still blue when they reach two months, the color will likely stick around.
Newborn kittens cannot regulate their body temperature, and they rely on their mothers for warmth. So, if it's cold and you're fostering a kitten, prioritize keeping it cozy without the potential for overheating. Heating pads work well as long as there's room for a kitten to crawl away if it needs to cool down. It's only around the one-month milestone that kittens develop the ability to maintain their body heat and adapt to ambient temperatures.
Kittens also can't pee or poop by themselves until they're about three or four weeks old. Mama cats intervene by licking them after feeding and stimulating digestion and elimination. Foster parents can mimic this movement by holding the kitten and rubbing its rear end in circles with a tissue or moist cotton ball. The process should be over within a minute of your ministrations. Be sure to wash your hands before and after, as kittens are susceptible to infection and disease. When your kitten is about a month old, you can introduce it to its litterbox. Potty training doesn't get much simpler than it does with a kitten because of its strong instincts to cover up its excrement.
When they're about ten days old, kittens start to stand on tottering feet. Something heart-melting happens around the three-week mark—kittens take their first tentative steps. By the time four weeks are up, your kitten will be walking around confidently or even running and playing. Buckle up for the ride—there will be mishaps and marvels galore in your household!
Kittens need to eat every couple of hours. And the queen cat has to eat well to keep up with the relentless requests for food from her litter. If the family doesn't have a home, sometimes you'll see a bunch of kittens by themselves because their mother is off hunting. When kittens are clean and don't appear to be starving, it's best to leave them alone—their attentive parent can do a better job of rearing them than you can. If you've committed to a foster kitten, prepare to wake up throughout the night for bottle feedings. Kittens start to eat solids at around four weeks old, and their moms wean them off by eight weeks.
If you've ever interacted with more than one kitten from the same litter, and it's occurred to you that they look nothing alike, you've stumbled upon heteropaternal superfecundation. When a female cat is in heat, she may mate with multiple male cats around the same time. Sperm from various males can be successful, and so a litter of eight kittens may have different dads.
Kittens get their baby teeth when they're three weeks old, and these teeth allow them to start eating solids. They lose their central incisors around two and half months and look a bit like human children with tooth gaps. At six months of age, kittens should be equipped with their complete set of permanent teeth.
Kittens can get flea anemia, which can be life-threatening because it means fleas are drinking too much blood. Fleas also make kittens more prone to acquiring other diseases when their immune systems are still developing. Topical flea meds aren't safe for kittens younger than two months, so your best defense against these parasites is to bathe the kitten with gentle dishwashing soap.
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