Little Kittens

The first two weeks of life are vital to new-born adorable little kittens. It receives essential life-giving nutrients from the mother’s milk.

These act to fortify the defences, and provide a crucial safeguard against certain illnesses.

In addition, the small kitten is unable to pass stools or urine without the aid of the mother’s tongue.

The mother cat is the best possible caregiver, and young kittens separated from the mother only have a 50:50 chance of survival.

New Born Little Kitten

These Little Adorable Kittens

If you find one or a few alone, it is very likely that the mother is nearby. Do not assume they are abandoned or orphaned, just because the mother is not with them. Wait out of sight, for a full day, and the mother will usually appear.

If these small ones are clean, plump or sleeping, the mother may be hiding, hunting or moving the nest. It is better to leave them alone, until being absolutely certain the mother is not involved. Flour sprinkled around the nest will show paw prints that the mother has visited.

Community cats thrive in their outdoor environment and the mother cat will choose an ideal space to raise her babies, so there is no need to intervene. It is not advisable to bring outdoor cat families into the home as the mother will become stressed in the alien environment. This will affect her ability to raise and care for the kittens.

Never take feral cats to animal shelters. It is better to wait three months, until the kittens are no longer lactating, and sterilise the mother. Spay the kittens as soon as they reach approximately five or six months.

It is possible to help the feral cat family by providing them with the essentials:

  • Supply them with plenty of clean water and food.
  • Build or buy a weather shelter to protect them from the elements and hide them from predators.
  • Leave them alone in peace and quiet.

Never move kittens unless they are in immediate danger, ie. from flooding or fire. If absolutely necessary relocate them as close as possible to their original nest, so the mother can find them.

In extreme conditions such as dangerous weather or a disaster, the cat family can be moved inside to an undisturbed room, until the danger has passed. Provide somewhere dark and quiet for the mother cat and kittens to hide, with food and water. The litter tray should be as far away from the sleeping and eating area as possible.

2 little kittens
little kittens

If a mother has abandoned the kittens, they will cry continuously for food and the nest may be dirty. Mother’s do not usually abandon kittens, unless they are sick or starving, and not able to care for them.

Injured kittens should be taken to the vet, signs include:

  • Limping
  • Visible wounds or sores
  • Crying out in pain

The Kitten Birth

The cat’s gestation period is 63 to 65 days, and the average litter size is three to five kittens. However, it is not unknown for just one to be born, or even ten. When the birth is imminent, the cat will start looking for a quiet dark place for a nest.

A kittening box can be prepared using two cardboard boxes, with one upturned on top of the other. Layer the base with newspaper, then several layers of kitchen towels or pieces of sheet. This enables layers to be peeled off and removed, for easy cleaning. The room should be warm and draught free.

kittens and mum
kittens and mum

Cats have an instinctive knowledge, and it is advisable not to interfere unless absolutely necessary. The Mum-to-be may pant and purr, and there may be discharge with a spot of blood. Contractions last around 10 mins to half an hour, for each kitten. If the contractions last for 90 minutes, without a kitten being born, call the vet immediately.

The mother will open and eat the birth sack, chew off the umbilical cord, then lick the kitten clean. It is beneficial for her to eat a maximum of two birth sacks. If the mother has no interest in cleaning the kitten, gently wipe its mouth and nose to help it breathe. If she does not open the birth sack, gently do it for her. If she has not chewed through the umbilical cord within 10 minutes, cut it about 3.5cm from the navel, having first tied a sterile cord around it.

Ensure that each kitten has found a teat. If the newborn kitten struggles to breathe, hold it in the hands and swing the arms downward, stopping abruptly with the kitten’s face pointing at the floor. Repeat, until the kitten starts to cry and wriggle, and breathing is restored. The newborn kitten will miaow to its mother, and in later life will transmit the same hungry signal to the owner.

Having given birth, the cat may fast for up to two days, or she may be very hungry. Leave a litter tray and food and water, at an easy distance. She will have a little discharge for up to two days. If she seems unwell or there is a lot of discharge, call the vet immediately. Any abnormality during the first day after giving birth requires medical attention.

Sometimes the mother will not feed the kittens, and it is necessary to find a foster mother with lactating kittens. The mother’s milk is very important for the kittens’ nutrition and proper growth. This milk transfers antibodies to the kittens, which helps protect them against infectious diseases.

If a foster mother cannot be found, kitten milk formula is available from pharmacies, vets or pet stores.

This can be fed by syringe, a drop at a time, at a tepid temperature, with feeds every two hours. For the first several weeks, the kitten cannot defecate without being stimulated by the mother. Rub the stomach gently downwards, and wipe the bottom with a wet tissue. Without the mother’s body heat, the kitten is at risk of hypothermia and must be kept warm.

At one day old, kittens are deaf and cannot stand. Their eyes are closed and their ears are folded. Kittens, this young require round-the-clock care. Newborn kittens sleep almost all the time, even when suckling. At three days old, the kitten starts to develop a sense of smell, hearing, and taste, as well as using the whiskers to orientate.

After one week, kittens are more aware of their surroundings. Their birth weight will have doubled to around eight ounces. The kittens start to open their eyes. Kittens have very poor vision, and will not

fully develop vision until ten weeks old. All kittens have blue eyes and will develop their true eye colour at two months.

kitten being cleaned
kitten being cleaned

Kittens start to interact with one another at two weeks old and will hiss at unfamiliar scents and sounds. They learn to knead, to stimulate the milk flow.

At three to four weeks, kittens begin to eat mushy soft food. They can be given wet or dry food specially formulated for kittens, with any dry food soaked in water to make it soggy. Growing kittens eat more than adult cats, and need five small meals per day. Reduce the amount if the stomachs start to bulge, or they have diarrhoea. A litter tray should be provided.

Until they reach a month of age, kittens rely on their smelling acuity to find the mother, because their sense of sight and hearing are not yet fully developed. By five weeks, kittens are using their tails for stability and balance. The kitten uses play to develop motor skills, stalking, hiding, pouncing, and digging.

The kittens’ milk teeth have appeared at six weeks and will be replaced by permanent teeth at three to seven months. The milk teeth drop out or are swallowed. Kittens now clean themselves and groom each other. This was learned from the mother and reinforces the bond between siblings. Now is a good time to gently brush the kitten with a baby brush.

Development is very rapid from the point that kittens first start to explore, at a fortnight old, until seven weeks old. This is an intensive growth stage, and kittens learn to play fight by chasing the mother’s tail and pouncing on the littermates. Play fights prepare the kitten to hunt and defend its territory in later life.

In the wild, the predatorial instinct is developed when the kittens’ mother or other adult cats, bring live prey to the nest. The kittens watch and emulate the hunting technique of the mother. The kittens may only lick the prey at first, eventually eating when they come to understand it as food.

The social and behavioural development stage for domestic kittens is most important from six to twelve weeks. They learn respect toward adult cats from their mothers and how to get along with their peers from their littermates. Hierarchy is established, and the kittens learn to respect other cats’ territory. If possible, it is better to wait until the twelfth week to rehome the kitten.

The kittens’ growth rate begins to slow at two months old. Sleeping and eating become more scheduled. The kittens eat mostly solid food, and the weaning is almost finished. Older kittens continue to grow muscle mass, increase stealth, eventually behaving as adult cats. The kittens will leave the nest permanently at three to six months of age.

As nocturnal hunters, cats distinguish movement and perceive depth better than humans. They can only see limited colours. Cats have among the best hearing of all land animals and can hear 65,000 cycles per second (or hertz).

Kittens are attracted to dark places to hide and are vulnerable outside the home. They are tiny enough to crawl into car motors, on top of car tyres, and become trapped in inaccessible places. Sadly, many young kittens are injured and killed by cars and dogs.

Feeding Kittens

Feeding kittens start at 4 weeks of age, in addition to the mother’s milk, kittens should start to be fed a commercial cat food designed specifically for kittens. Kittens require high amounts of protein and specific nutrients to enable the growth of tissues and muscles. Never give the kitten cow’s milk as this can cause allergies and diarrhoea.

When the kitten is three months old, it can be fed three times a day. Upon reaching six months, it can be reduced to twice a day.

Cat Feeding Chart

AgeApproximate WeightAmount per FeedingSchedule
0-1 week50-150 grams / 1.7 – 5.2 ounces2-6 ml kitten formulaEvery 1 to 2 hours
1-2 weeks150-250 grams / 5.2 – 8.8 ounces6-10 ml kitten formulaEvery 1 to 2 hours
2-3 weeks250-350- grams / 8.8 – 12.4 ounces10-14 ml kitten formulaEvery 2 to 3 hours
3-4 weeks350-450 grams / 12.4 – 15.9 ounces14-18 ml kitten formulaEvery 3 to 4 hours
4-5 weeks450-550 grams / 15.9 ounces – 1.1 pounds18-20 ml kitten formula/mushy wet kitten food Begin to wean
5-8 weeks550-850 grams / 1.1 – 1.5 pounds18-22 ml mushy wet kitten food5 times per day
8-9 weeks1.5 – 2.6 pounds250-360 calories per dayEvery 6 to 8 hours
9-10 weeks1.6 – 2.9 pounds250-360 calories per dayEvery 6 to 8 hours
10-11 weeks1.8 – 3.1 pounds250-360 calories per dayEvery 6 to 8 hours
11-12 weeks2 – 3.3 pounds250-360 calories per dayEvery 6 to 8 hours
12-13 weeks2.2 – 4 pounds250-360 calories per dayEvery 6 to 8 hours
13-14 weeks 3 – 4.5 pounds250-360 calories per dayEvery 6 to 8 hours
14-15 weeks3.5 – 5 pounds250-360 calories per dayEvery 6 to 8 hours
15-16 weeks4 – 5.5 pounds250-360 calories per dayEvery 6 to 8 hours
4 months4 – 5.5 pounds30 calories per pound of bodyweightEvery 8 hours
5 months5.1 – 6 pounds30 calories per pound of bodyweightEvery 8 hours
6 months5.5 – 6.5 pounds30 calories per pound of bodyweightEvery 8 – 12 hours
7 months6 – 7 pounds20-30 calories per pound of bodyweightEvery 8 – 12 hours
8 months6.5 – 7.5 pounds20-30 calories per pound of bodyweightEvery 8 – 12 hours
9 months7 – 8 pounds20-30 calories per pound of bodyweightEvery 8 – 12 hours
10 months7.5 – 8.5 pounds20 calories per pound of bodyweightEvery 8 – 12 hours
11 months8 – 9 pounds20 calories per pound of bodyweightEvery 8 – 12 hours
12 months 8 – 9.5 pounds20 calories per pound of bodyweightEvery 8 – 12 hours

The First Vet Visit

The first appointment with the vet should be made as soon as possible. The vet can test for health issues like birth defects, parasites, and feline leukaemia.

Points to cover with the vet are:

  • Diet recommendations, how often and how much to feed.
  • External and internal parasite control.
  • How to recognise any signs of illness during the first months.
  • Preventative health care and a vaccination programme.

A New Kitten in the Home

Kittens are highly social and love human interaction. Play with your kitten at least daily, to form an emotional bond and provide mental and physical stimulation. Kittens have endless energy, running around, playing and often fall asleep in an instant right where they are.

It is not advisable to have kittens in a household with very young children. Older children can be taught that the kitten is a living creature and not a toy. The kitten should be allowed quiet time to rest and sleep, and young children should be supervised when with the kitten.

When to Call the Vet

Kittens are more vulnerable to illness, the following are danger signals :

  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor weight gain
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Swollen or painful abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pale gums
  • Swollen, red eyes or eye discharge
  • Nasal congestion
  • Problems urinating or defecating

The Kittens’ Bed

Kittens should not be allowed to sleep on their owner’s bed until they attain six months. By allowing the kitten to sleep alone, it develops independence. A small kitten in the bed could be crushed, or injured by jumping or falling off the bed. There is also a risk of toilet accidents during the night, and the owner’s sleep being interrupted.

A cat carrier (transporter) makes a perfect kitten bed, and it will familiarise the kitten in preparation for visits to the vet. Place the bed somewhere peaceful and away from draughts.

Once the kitten is old enough to go on the bed, choose a suitable spot, and make it attractive by folding a soft blanket.

They Need Your Help!

Owning cats is great and good fun and we would love you to have your own cats too.

Fostering cats is a wonderful alternative until they are ready for their furever home.

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