Kittens are like tiny magic balls of joy. You see one, and your whole day lights up! But when do they start to see you and open their little eyes? Not before about 10 days of age! Moreover, they are born deaf and blind. Here, we bring some more facts about kitten development, their age at each stage, and the age-appropriate to adopt one of these endearing and mischievous little creatures!
The 15 Stages of the Kitten’s Development
From birth to adulthood, the development of the kitten resembles ours. Here are the main stages:
1. The Mother’s Antibodies Protect the Newborn Kitten
At birth, the kitten is immunized by colostrum, a liquid rich in antibodies that the mother cat secretes during the first 3 days after giving birth. This immunity lasts 6–10 weeks. Then, it is replaced by the action of the antibodies that the kitten makes on its own.
2. The Kitten Weighs About 3–4 Ounces at Birth
The kitten, barely out of its mother’s womb (after 2 months of gestation), weighs just over 3 ounces. The weight varies from one breed to another and according to the number of cubs in the litter: the more kittens there are, the lighter they are. He grows about 0.3 ounces per day from the first week, then 0.7 ounces per day and more until the age of 6–7 months, where he averages between 4–8 pounds depending on the breed.
3. The Kitten Is Born Deaf and Blind
The newborn baby has no teeth. It has folded ears, closed eyes, and its claws are not yet retractable. Deaf and blind, he orientates himself through touch and, to a lesser extent, smell, barely functional. Fortunately, he knows how to crawl and find his mother’s breasts, which he can immediately suck thanks to a labial reflex!
4. The Kitten Cannot Regulate Its Temperature
Until the age of 3 weeks, the kitten has very little subcutaneous fat. As a result, he is unable to regulate his body temperature on his own. Thus, its survival depends entirely on external heat sources, which it detects thanks to heat receptors on the skin at the tip of its nose. In practice, he orients himself spontaneously towards hot bodies, that of his mother, his brothers, and sisters, or towards an infrared ray lamp.
5. The Kitten Sleeps 20 Hours a Day
Like all babies, kittens sleep a lot, often curled up against their siblings. This sleep is essential because it participates in the maturation of the kitten’s brain: while he sleeps, the various nervous circuits develop and are put in place. Therefore, kittens need to sleep a lot to grow well.
6. The Kitten First Has Gray or Blue Eyes
Regardless of breed, all kittens have gray or blue eyes until they are 3 to 4 months old. It is only at this age that the pigments give the iris its final color, which can be orange, blue, green, or even gold!
7. The Kitten Doesn’t Purr Right Away
From birth, the kitten cries out to call for its mother every time she walks away. His vocal repertoire is still minimal compared to adults: he does not yet know how to purr! Fifteen days later, his vocal repertoire is enriched. He will gradually learn to purr, hiss or growl.
8. At 3 Weeks, the Kitten’s Senses Are Refined
Around the age of 15 to 21 days, his eyes are open, and his ears unfolded: the kitten enters a transition phase during which he can see and hear. His sense of smell is also refined during this period. A future predator, the kitten can now follow a scent and anticipate the trajectory of a prey.
9. The Kitten Uses the Litter Box Around 4–6 Weeks Old
Until the age of one month, the kitten needs its mother to eliminate urine and stool. As long as he does not know how to walk without staggering, the mother cat, by licking him, stimulates his sphincters and allows him to evacuate his bodily waste. From the moment he begins to walk, around 4–6 weeks old, he can start using the litter box.
10. The Kitten Takes Its First Steps At Around One Month
First, the kitten crawls, then stands, sits, and staggers. He can move around the age of one month. This decisive step opens the way for play, learning to hunt, and exploration. Around 7 weeks old, he runs, jumps, trots, and climbs. The kitten alternates phases of great expenditure of energy and time of deep sleep.
11. The Kitten Loses Its Baby Teeth from 3 Months
His baby teeth grow between 2–6 weeks: first the incisors, then the fangs and premolars. This is when he begins to eat solid foods before his tiny sharp teeth hurt his mother, who pushes him back at around 2 months: this process is called weaning. After that, his teeth fall out and are renewed between 3–5 months with, in addition, the appearance of molars in the back of the mouth. Finally, around 6 months, he has his 30 permanent teeth.
12. The Kitten’s Hair Thickens Slowly
At 3 months, the kitten’s baby coat disappears in favor of a denser and fuller coat. But depending on its breed, the color of its coat may still change for several months, after a few molts. For example, the dark parts of the Siamese do not set until the age of 1 year, while the characteristic spots of the Bengal sometimes do not achieve their final shape until 2 years old.
13. The Kitten Controls All of Its Muscles Between 3–6 Months
Now more autonomous, the kitten is interested in games, such as chases, mock fights, manipulations of objects, etc. He multiplies the experiences because these allow him to improve his predatory skills and strengthen the control of his muscles.
14. The Kitten Puberty Appears Around 6 Months
If the kitten is still with its mother, it detaches itself emotionally. Then, with the appearance of the first heat in the female and urine marking in the male, the kitten enters the phase of adolescence and puberty. He is not yet an adult, but he is physiologically capable of reproducing.
15. The Kitten Becomes Adult Around 18 Months
The kitten’s physical, emotional, and psychological development ends on average around 18 to 24 months, depending on the breed. But there are always exceptions that vary with the cat’s size: a Siamese, relatively small, becomes an adult long before a very large Maine Coon, which does not finish growing until 2 or 3 years old!
What Is the Appropriate Age to Adopt a Kitten?
In the past, there seemed to be a consensus on the age of separation of kittens from their mothers: 8 weeks. So, you could adopt a kitten as young as 2 months old. However, it now appears that the separation age would benefit from being delayed to around 14 weeks, or 3.5 months.
At least, this is the finding of a large study carried out at the Department of Veterinary Biosciences at the University of Helsinki and published in the prestigious magazine Nature. Researchers studied no less than 5,726 domestic cats from 40 different breeds and living in a family environment using a questionnaire sent to owners. Here’s what they found:
The results showed that kittens separated before 8 weeks tend to exhibit more aggressive behavior towards family members in adulthood than those separated later from their mother. On the other hand, they would not necessarily be more fearful. The age of separation from mother and siblings would not influence the tendency to approach a stranger. Still, a kitten separated early would be at a higher risk of attacking this stranger.
Stereotypic Behavior Patterns
According to the study, kittens separated later, after the 14th week, are less likely to develop stereotypic behaviors such as excessive licking and repeated sucking. In addition, these late weaned cats would also tend to be less afraid of new objects in their environment and develop fewer behavioral problems.
Happier Cats and Owners
Behavioral problems in cats are common and are often the source of abandonment or euthanasia. So, how to increase the well-being of cats in general and reduce reported behavioral issues? Perhaps weaning the kittens later would indeed be an easy solution! After all, by observing the behaviors of “wild” kittens, we realize that they tend to stay with their mother and siblings until they are 4 months old, despite being weaned from breast milk earlier. Thus, many behaviorists and breeders believe that late weaning should be part of the new mores with kittens whenever possible.
Now that you know a little more about the development of kittens and, among other things, the age at which they open their eyes, you will be in a better position to take care of one of these furry little treasures!
Featured Image Credit: Joy Baldassarre, Shutterstock