If you are adopting, fostering or raising a kitten, here are some important Kitten milestones to understand.
Important Kitten Milestones
These are some behavioral and growth milestones to expect as your kitten grows toward adulthood.
Newborn and 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.
Gaining Eye Sight and starting to respond to Sound
Kittens are born with their ear canals closed and their eyes sealed shut. Their eyes open at around 7 to 10 days of age, but their vision develops over several weeks. A kittens eyesight reaches full clarity at about 12 weeks of age. If their eyes aren’t open by 10 days, see if there is any discharge seeping from their eyes. If their eyes become resealed after opening, seek veterinary attention. Infection trapped within sealed lids can permanently damage the delicate corneas of kittens. At this stage, Kittens are responsive to touch and temperature changes as well as olfactory cues, but rely heavily on their mothers. They also begin to respond to sounds. The most developed sense at birth for kittens is their sense of smell. This helps them find their all important source of food (Mom’s teat).
Walking, Potty Training and Beginning Social Play
In week 3, a kitten’s motor coordination starts to develop and they will start to walk around and explore their surroundings, Kittens will stick close to mom and littermates. Even at an early age, it is important to start getting a kitten used to being handled by picking up and gently interacting with kittens every day.
Within 3 to 4 weeks of birth, kittens have developed the ability to initiate their own potty sessions, 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 skill. By 6 weeks of age a kitten should be fully litter box trained. If not, that issue should be addressed at the first kitten vet visit, as there may be a physical problem.
During the fourth week of life, kittens become more comfortable with moving around (although they typically still stay close by their mothers). This is the age when they start to differentiate cat vocalizations and start social play. A kitten’s sense of balance will improve during this stage of life. Social learning is critical to kittens becoming happy human companions. Their window of socialization is a narrow one, from 2 to 7 weeks of age. At least 1 hour a day is recommended to spend handling a young kitten. This human interaction time will increase friendliness later on.
Running, Jumping and Advanced Motor Skills
Over the first 6 weeks, kittens 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). Playing with mom and littermates is a favorite activity during this stage.
Losing Teeth and Adult Teeth Development
Kittens should have all 30 adult teeth by 7 months of age. Veterinarians uses eruption of deciduous (baby) teeth and their replacement by adult teeth to assess a 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 (starting with incisors and finishing with molars and canines).
The last important kitten milestone is puberty and reaching sexual maturity. This typically occurs between 5 and 9 months of age, depending on the cat breed and season of the year. Some kittens reach puberty as young as 4 months old.
Kittens Advancing to Adult Cat Play
In the fifth and sixth weeks, kittens will begin to behave more like an adult cat in terms of play. This is when you can really get social with your growing kitten, teaching them how to play safely and discouraging biting. By five weeks of age kittens will start to run, and by six weeks of age they will play with objects. This is a great time to introduce kittens to things like brushes and nail clippers. As you hold your kitten, be sure to touch their ears and each foot. This will prepare kitties for later ear cleanings and nail trims.
Kittens Continue to Mature
In weeks 7 to 16, kittens continue to grow bigger and heavier as they reaches maturity. Their desire to play increases at this point and continues through adulthood. As you continue to play with and socialize your kitten, now is the best time to establish a comfortable grooming routine. Begin clipping your kitten’s newly long nails and combing or brushing their coat. Note that different breeds finish maturing at different ages. For example, Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cats typically take 3-5 years to reach their full size.
Staking out their territory
During months 4 – 6, kittens start to recognize the hierarchy in their household. Kittens will assess all members of their family (feline, fellow pets, and humans) to form a household pecking order. Or course, many kittens become their own “head of the household”.
Teenage stage to young adult
During months 6 – 18, kittens are in the teenager phase and they will increase exploration and start experimenting with dominance (including challenging members of their human family). Be prepared to set some boundaries, and to parent with love. As your kitten grows into and through the different phases of their childhood, remember that most kitten behaviors have a purpose and many are driven by cat instincts.
Other Kitten Behaviors to Expect
Sleeping – Kitten sleep up to 16 hours a day, so it’s important to create a comfy spots for them to slumber. Designate a quiet corner of your house as the “kitten corner” that is warm, quiet, and away from high-traffic areas of your home. The comfy zone should include her bed, a scratching post for stretching when they wake up and some favorite toys. Remember that cats can be very independent and particular creatures and don’t be disappointed if your kitten doesn’t take to the chosen comfy spot right away.Keeping to a Kitten’s Schedule – Cats are nocturnal animals and they like to keep to established routines. Don’t be surprised to hear your kitten scampering around at night. You can alter this behavior somewhat by playing with them in the early evening to use up some excess energy. Feeding them supper early helps too. If your kitten still wakes you up at night, resist the urge to feed or play with them, as this only rewards and reinforces such behavior.
Playing and Exercise – Your kitten is curious, frisky, and full of life. Sometimes it may be hard to tell whether they are being playful or aggressive. Kittens will pounce and stalk unsuspecting toys or scraps of paper. They are just exercising natural predatory instincts. Provide kittens with appropriate toys so they can act out these instincts on objects versus humans. Wads of paper, ping-pong balls, plastic bottle caps, paper bags, boxes, and kitten fishing toys will all enhance playtime. Avoid toys that can be shredded, shattered, or swallowed. Try not to offer up your hands, fingers, feet, or clothing as playthings as this encourages aggressive behavior toward humans.
Introducing Kittens to Children – Meeting a brand new kitten is extra exciting for children. For young children and toddlers, kitten interaction time should be supervised. Introduce your kitten to children gradually and for short periods of time. Frequent handling and gentle playing are important. Children should understand that kittens are sensitive, living creatures that like to be handled on their terms. Teach kids how to pick her up and hold her kittens in the right way. Slip one hand under their chest (holding the front legs gently but firmly with your fingers) and at the same time, cup the other hand under your kitten’s hindquarters. Never pick kittens up by the scruff of the neck or by their legs. Most toddlers need to learn not to pull the kitten’s tail or ears, squeeze or poke them, and to avoid making loud or threatening noises. A good way for everyone to play with a kitten is to get down on the floor at their level. This will make them feel more secure. Even a gentle kitten may resort to scratching or biting to protect themselves when they are frightened.Getting the Proper check-ups – Make a vet appointment within a few days of the kitten’s arrival and let the vet know the kitten is new to your home when you call. It is often helpful to make a list of any questions you want to have answered during the Vet visit. Talk to your vet about spaying and neutering, which can help prevent health issues and overpopulation. Typically, kittens can be spayed or neutered at 8 weeks of age and you should consult with your vet should to decide what is best for your specific cat breed.
Providing comfort while you’re away – It is best to secure a kitten in one cat-safe room before you leave. The room should include a bed, litterbox, scratching post, toys, food and water and ideally has a window to the outdoors. Consider adding a nightlight or leaving a light on if you’ll be gone all evening. You may want to try playing relaxing music, talking books, or talk radio as these sounds can be soothing to a kitten that is alone.We hope that understanding these kitten milestones and tips helps you adjust to your life at home with your new kitten.
Remember to “share” these Kitten Milestones with other cat fans and “subscribe” to our CatFancast Channel on YouTube.