There's nothing cuter than a tiny kitten's face when their eyes first start to open. Nothing cuter, except maybe their sweet little mews, soft ears, and tiny mouth! Their little round eyes, and swishy, short tail that from head to toe fits in the palm of your hand. It all makes us want to cuddle them to within an inch of their lives!
While kittens do grow quickly, they stay small for several weeks. You can tell how old a kitten by some of the stages of growth that they go through in the first weeks of their lives. Among the many changes are the fact that kittens are born with their eyes sealed shut. When newborn kittens first open their eyes, they are blue, and then they will gradually change color for kittens that will have a different color of eyes than blue.
It can be hard to know if your cat is expecting kittens. Many cats, especially young ones, will remain small. Cats reach sexual maturity at only four months of age, so even a small, very young cat can become pregnant. For cats of any age, there is very little outward sign of pregnancy until a few weeks go by.
Cats are pregnant for about 63 days. For the first couple of weeks, there won't be any obvious signs of pregnancy. After that, you may notice that your cat's belly gets a little bigger and rounder. If you are able to look closely at a cat you suspect might be pregnant, you may start to see larger, pinker nipples after about three weeks. You may notice an increased appetite, increased affection, and even vomiting, which is similar to a human woman's morning sickness.
Stages of kitten development
Kitten development happens rapidly during their first month. It is obvious when you see newborn kittens. They are tiny and helpless. Kittens' eyes are sealed shut when they are first born, and do not open until after a week or slightly longer. When their eyes do open, they will not open all at once right away. Their eyes open initially as slits, then slowly open more fully.
Newborn kittens can not move on their own for the first few days. Newborn kittens spend 90 percent of their time sleeping and the other 10 percent eating. They snuggle and pile on each other and are never very far from each other or from mom.
After about a week, kittens will start to wiggle around on their own. At this stage, their eyes open slightly for the first time, although they still can not see. At about seven days old, a kitten's ears will unfold.
At two weeks of age they grow rapidly and they begin to crawl, although they are not very coordinated. Once kittens' eyes open, they are blue. If they will be a color other than blue, they won't change until they are about eight weeks of age. Kittens at this age cannot yet retract their claws.
By three weeks of age, you can tell if the kittens are boys or girls. Their teeth are developing. Prior to this stage, momma cat had to lick them to stimulate urination and feces, but now they are starting to do it on their own. After a month, they start grooming each other. After two months, they can be separated from their mother and given to new homes.
What should you do if you find a newborn kitten with its eyes closed?
A kitten with its eyes still closed is very young. At less than two weeks old, the kittens are essentially helpless and should be left with their mother if at all possible. Kittens' eyes being closed helps protect them from dirt getting into their eyes, as well as protecting them from bright lights. Never try to open a kitten's eyes! This could permanently damage their eyesight for life.
Since newborn kittens stay close together and can't move on their own, it is unlikely that one will wander off. If you find a single kitten, it could be safe to assume that it has been abandoned. A newborn kitten with its eyes still closed needs immediate, around-the-clock care. If you can rescue it, keep it warm, and discuss the situation with a veterinarian or a local animal shelter to acquire things you will need, like kitten milk replacer and tiny bottles for feeding.
If you find a litter of kittens together in a nest, it is safe to assume that the momma cat is nearby and will come back. Avoid hovering over the nest, because she likely won't return if she sees you nearby. Stand guard from a distance to be sure that she returns. Care4Cats suggests scattering flour around the nest, which will reveal paw prints if she does return.
If she hasn't returned after a few hours, the kittens will need your intervention. If the kittens are in an unsafe spot, try to put a shelter nearby. It is possible that momma cat will move them into it if it is deemed to be a good spot.
Is it safe to touch a newborn kitten?
If you are providing foster care to a motherless kitten, your touch will mean the difference between life and death for the kitten. Your kitten will need round-the-clock feeding and handling to encourage elimination. There is a different, though, between handling a kitten that needs care because it has no mother, and handling a kitten just because you can't resist!
Hard as it might be to not touch the little bundles of fur, it is best to let mother do her job without interfering for the first few weeks. There is a lot of conflicting advice about when to touch kittens, or even if you should touch them at all. Most reputable sources, like the Animal Humane Society, encourage socialization of kittens and handling them after the first month of life. Before that, they say, the cats might not be comfortable with human handling.
American Veterinarian says the kitten socialization period can begin as early as two weeks of age. Experts agree that gentle touching and handling by multiple people is important for development of healthy cats. Kittens need to get used to people, noises, different smells, and other animals that may be in the home. The important time period for socialization and handling are between two to four weeks, and eight weeks of age.
If you begin to handle the kittens at about two weeks of age, and the mother cat becomes disturbed by it, consider refraining from touching them for another week, or until she is more used to the human activity.
Kittens start to open their eyes at around one week old, but their eyesight is still not developed. Their newly opened eyes are blue, until about two months of age, when they start to change color (unless they will remain blue). Kittens' eyes do not open all at once. At about three weeks of age, the cat's eyes open fully. Their ears are fully unfolded and stand up, and their teeth are coming in.
- International Cat Care: Cat Pregnancy
- Alley Cat Allies: How Old Is That Kitten? Kitten Progression: At-a-Glance
- Michelson Found Animals: Hello, World! All About When Kittens Open Their Eyes
- Care4Cats: What To Do If (And Not to Do) If You Find An Abandoned Kitten Or Litter
- Animal Humane Society: Caring For Young Kittens and Their Moms
- American Veterinarian: The Keys to Kitten Socialization
- The Humane Society of Broward County, Florida: Found Kittens, Now What?