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Kitten Development

     Kittens develop very quickly and are grown up cats before you know it. The maturation that occurs during a kittenís first six months of life correlates to the first 15 years of a humanís life. From birth to six months, a kitten changes from a newborn to a sexually mature animal. Kittens seem to work at two speeds: full power and full stop. They seem to have unending energy, and then they crash and sleep very soundly. Starting off with a new kitten is a lot of fun, but if you are a first time cat owner, you may have questions about what normal behavior is. Knowing what to expect with regard to kitten development is helpful so you can work on training your kitten properly and be able to intervene if behaviors get out of hand. You have the best chance of molding your kitten into the perfect pet when he is young.

Birth to 1 month

     During this period a kitten develops from being totally dependent on his mother for food, warmth and elimination, to being able to handle these things on his own. Newborn kittens can neither see nor hear, but they can smell, and they have touch receptors on their faces that enable them to home in on their motherís body heat. If you find a newborn orphaned kitten, you will have to perform the duties that the mother cat would have performed. These duties include keeping him warm and safe, feeding him with proper cat milk replace through a bottle and ďpottyingĒ the kitten. Kittens are unable to eliminate on their own until they are about four weeks old, and their mothers stimulate them to eliminate by licking their genitalia. You can replicate this action using a cotton ball or tissue soaked in warm water and gently wiping the kittenís genitalia. Make sure you use a feline milk replace, and not any other kind of milk. Although they love the taste of cowís milk, cats are fairly lactose intolerant. They lack the enzyme needed to properly digest the sugar found in cowís milk, so more than a taste or two will usually cause diarrhea.
     The mouth is a very important organ for a kitten. A newborn kitten will start using his mouth within an hour of birth, when he starts nursing. Kittens nurse every few hours around the clock for the first couple of weeks of life. Kittensí ears open around five days of age. They can orient to sounds at about 10 days, but they donít recognize sounds until they are three weeks old. Eyes open between 5 and 14 days after birth, but kittens cannot visually orient until their eyes have been open a few days. Newborn kittens can feel with both their front and rear limbs. They can walk with uncoordinated motions at two weeks and can visually place their front legs and climb by three weeks. Immunity is passed to newborns when they receive colostrum, their motherís first milk, during their first 24 hours of life. They are protected from most diseases during their first month if they ingest colostrum, continue to nurse normally and are kept warm and clean by their mothers.

minute old kittens

4 to 6 weeks

     Most kittens begin to eat some solid food at four weeks of age and can be fully weaned by six weeks. It is normal for kittens to eat dirt or kitty litter during the weaning process, but they learn quickly that these substances donít taste very good. Kittens have all of their baby teeth by six weeks of age. Kittens who go outdoors and are trained by their mothers can learn some rudimentary hunting behavior during this time.  This is a very important period in the socialization process. Kittens who are not exposed to humans and other animals (including other cats) at this stage can have a harder time adjusting to them later on in life. Coordinated social play behavior develops during this time. The kittensí eyes change from blue to their permanent color, they regulate their own body temperature and start to control their urination and defecation during this time. Protection against disease is still mainly conferred through maternal immunity the antibodies derived from their mothers.

6 to 8 weeks

     This is the earliest time for a kitten to be taken from his mother and littermates and introduced into a new home although itís best wait until they are at least eight weeks old. A kitten of this age should be able to care for his own basic needs. In a new home, a kitten may be scared and lonely at first, but he should be able to adapt. Maternal immunity wanes, and kittens need to begin their vaccination series to stimulate further protection against certain diseases. Natural exposure to viruses and bacteria causes disease, but it also stimulates antibody production and increases future immunity. Kittens need the increased protein, vitamin and mineral content of specially formulated kitten foods to support their growth and development. They are able to consume both dry and canned kitten foods.

8 to 16 weeks

     During this period kittens adjust to their independence and become stronger and more curious. They grow rapidly and usually gain about one pound per month. They begin to jump, climb and scratch. Owners can make a big impact on their kittenís behavior by training him during this time.
     Vaccinations and natural exposure continue to contribute to the kittenís immune system. If not vaccinated, kittens are very susceptible to viruses such as panleukopenia and feline leukemia if they are exposed to other cats who have these diseases. The need for a special kitten diet also continues, and the kitten will be eating more and more.

16 to 28 weeks

     From four to seven months of age a kitten loses his baby teeth and gets his permanent adult teeth. Biting and chewing behaviors increase. During this period it is common for kittens to chew on everything in sight, including your hands and feet. They are able to continue eating both dry and canned kitten foods.
    The animalís coat fills out and there is more interest in grooming and scratching behaviors. Most kittens do not reach behavioral sexual maturity until after six months of age, but they can be physically mature before then. Kittens allowed outside at this age will roam farther and for longer periods of time.




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