By Dr. Tracy McFarland, a veterinarian and writer for Pets Best Pet Insurance, a cat health insurance agency.
It’s really amazing to me how quickly kittens go from helpless newborns who can find their mother’s teat and suckle, but not much else, to fully functional speed racers who can climb, jump, pounce, and use a litter box perfectly in less than 2 months.
Dependent on Mom
When kittens are born, they are completely dependent on their mother for the first few weeks. The mother feeds them, cleans them, and stimulates urination and defecation for her kittens. Moms start weaning their kittens at 4 weeks of age, usually completing the process by 6 to 8 weeks of age.
Kittens are born with their eyes sealed shut. Their eyes open at about 7 to 10 days of age, but their vision develops over several weeks, finally reaching full clarity at about 12 weeks of age. If their eyes aren’t open by 10 days, there is any discharge seeping from their eyes, or their eyes become resealed after opening, quickly seek veterinary attention. Infection trapped within sealed lids can permanently damage delicate corneas.
Kitten hearing isn’t very developed at birth, taking a few weeks to become acutely sensitive. The most developed sense at birth for kittens is their sense of smell, helping them to find their all important source of food, Mom’s teat.
Within 3 to 4 weeks of birth, kittens have developed the ability to initiate their own elimination, and are taking unsteady steps toward a litter pan. The instinct to bury waste is innate, so no training is necessary to prompt litter box usage. Kittens who have a mother to train them will learn how to cover their waste; orphaned kittens don’t always learn that nicety. By 6 weeks of age a kitten should be fully litter box trained. If not, that issue should be addressed at the first well kitten vet visit, as there may be a physical problem.
Walking, Running, and Jumping
Over the first 6 weeks, they progress from not being able to walk to walking, running, hopping, and jumping. By 8 weeks they are able to execute every move we expect from cats, including advanced gymnastic maneuvers.
Kittens should have all 30 adult teeth by 7 months of age. Your veterinarian uses eruption of deciduous (baby) teeth and their replacement by adult teeth to assess your kitten’s age. The first teeth to erupt are deciduous incisors (the small teeth in front) at 2 to 3 weeks of age. The premolars and canines (fangs) follow at 3 to 4 weeks and 3 to 6 weeks respectively. Adult teeth start to replace deciduous teeth at 12 to 16 weeks of age, again starting with incisors and finishing with molars and canines.
When to Socialize
Social learning is critical to a kitten becoming a happy human companion. Their window of socialization is a narrow one, from 2 to 7 weeks of age. At least 1 hour a day is the optimal amount of time to spend handling a young kitten; this will increase friendliness later on.
The last important kitten milestone is puberty and the advent of sexual maturity. This occurs between 5 and 9 months of age, depending on breed and season of year.
If you are considering purchasing pet insurance, I recommend doing so as soon as you acquire your kitten or cat. In my opinion, this is one decision you won’t regret!
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