Cats are among the most common family pets, and many families choose to raise their new cat from when it is a kitten. Understanding a kitten's early development milestones is crucial for providing the best care possible. This post will explore what to expect in the first few weeks of a kitten's life, particularly when newborn kittens open their eyes and start walking.

The First Week: Adjusting to Life Outside the Womb

Newborn kittens are born with closed eyes and rely heavily on their mother for warmth and nutrition. During this period, their primary activities include nursing and sleeping. Ensuring the kittens are in a warm, safe environment is essential, as they cannot regulate their body temperature yet.

The Importance of Patience and Gentle Care

It's important to handle the kittens gently and with care during this critical development period. Avoid forcing their eyes open, as this can cause damage. If you notice any issues, such as swelling or discharge, or if the eyes remain closed beyond three weeks, it's best to consult a veterinarian.

Key Milestones in a Kitten's Early Life

To summarize, here are the key developmental milestones to observe during the first few weeks of a kitten's life, from the time they open their eyes to when they begin walking:

  • 0-7 days: Kittens are born with closed eyes and depend entirely on their mother.
  • 7-14 days: Kittens begin to open their eyes. This process can take a few days to complete.
  • Three weeks: Kittens' eyes are fully open, and they start to become more active, beginning to learn how to walk.
  • Four weeks: Kittens walk more confidently and start to play, developing their coordination and strength.

How to Care For Your Newborn Kitten

Newborn kittens are similar to human babies in that they spend most of their time sleeping and waking up for feeding and care. They can sense warmth and use their sense of smell to find their mother's belly. Newborn kittens are dependent on milk and warmth for their development.

During the first few weeks, kittens sleep for about 22 hours a day. As they grow, they require less sleep. Their mobility improves when their teeth start coming in, usually at about two weeks of age, when they start crawling. They can walk, jump, and play more confidently in four weeks. This is also when they become more mischievous, as they are curious and adventurous and often eager to practice climbing.

How to properly care for the eyes of your newborn kitten

Try to keep young kittens away from bright lights that could hurt or even damage their developing eyes. If the kitten doesn't have a mother or isn't being well cared for by their mother, it's up to you to ensure that the newborn kittens are clean and healthy. Keep their faces clean with a warm, damp washcloth and, most of all, never force a kitten’s eyes open before the lids open naturally on their own.  

When you should be concerned about your newborn kitten's eyes

Newborn kittens can get crusty eyes that make it hard to open them. A bacterial or viral infection often causes this. Keeping the kittens' bedding and living areas clean can help prevent these infections from happening or spreading to other kittens. If you notice this crust on your kittens' eyes, you can clean their eyes gently with a cotton ball soaked in warm water. Do not use soap. If the eyes don’t get better or worse, contact your vet for help immediately.

It is Crucial to Keep Your Kitten Warm

Newborn kittens can't regulate their body heat, which is part of the reason that they usually pile up near or on their mother. If your newborn kitten doesn't have a mother or littermates to keep their body temperature up, you will have to do more to help keep them warm by using something such as a heating disk in the crate or a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their enclosure.

It would be best to make a little nest out of blankets for the kitten to lay in for comfort. You must ensure that the heating pad isn't too hot by touching it with your hands and providing a comfortable place in your kitten's cage/crate that does not have a heating item so they can go there if they get too warm.

You should continue to provide your kitten with a heating source until they are about six weeks old. If kittens get too cold, they will catch hypothermia, so their area should be kept at 85ºF or 29ºC.

Your Newborn Kitten Will need Essential Nutrients

When caring for a newborn kitten without a mother, feeding them and providing proper nutrition is important. You'll need to bottle-feed your kitten a special kitten formula every 2-4 hours. Since each kitten is different, your veterinarian can advise you on the best formula to use, how much to feed, and how frequently to feed your kitten. For healthy growth, kittens need to gain about ½ ounces (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) per week. Avoid giving your kitten cow's milk, and always use the same formula for feeding. Keeping the kitten warm for proper food digestion."

The Importance of Preventive Care for Your New Kitten

Scheduling their first veterinary appointment is important regardless of your kitten's age. During this visit, the vet will assess your kitten's health and discuss their dietary needs. It's also an opportunity to ask any questions about caring for your new pet. Routine preventive care, including wellness exams, vaccinations, and parasite prevention, is crucial for your kitten's well-being.

Regular wellness exams allow the vet to evaluate your kitten's overall health and dietary requirements. Early detection of any disease is key for effective and affordable treatment. It's also important to ensure your kitten receives all their vaccinations and parasite prevention on schedule. The first round of shots should be given when they are 6 to 8 weeks old, and spaying or neutering should be done when they are five to six months old to prevent potential diseases or conditions.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Did your cat have kittens, or are you currently caring for a newborn kitten without a mother? Call our experienced vets in O’Fallon to schedule an examination.