There's nothing quite as cute as a baby kitten...except maybe a puppy, if you're a dog person! Either way, baby animals have a pull on us that few other creatures do. Young kittens are vulnerable, timid little balls of fur that are totally dependent on either their mother or a foster cat parent to take care of them for the first few weeks of their lives.
If you find young kittens, or are fostering one, knowing their age will make a huge difference in the type of care they receive. Knowing their kitten age will allow you to feed them the right food for their stage of growth, and begin introducing them to other humans and animals when the time is right.
Kittens are healthiest when they can be kept with their mother for a period of at least six weeks, according to the Humane Society, so if you know their kitten age, you can give them the best care. The Humane Society also says that orphaned kittens, or those weaned too soon, are more likely to exhibit inappropriate suckling behaviors later in life, such as sucking on blankets, pillows, or your arm. Kittens develop in the most healthy way when they can stay with their mother and litter mates for at least three months.
It can be difficult to determine the age of young kittens unless you happen to be able to see them being born. They develop quickly, and even if you find them shortly after their birth, it can still be difficult to tell if they are a couple of days old or a week old. There are some telltale signs of kitten age, however.
At one day old, kittens have very short hair, their eyes are tightly closed, and their ears are folded over. According to Alley Cat, newborn kittens weigh only three to five ounces. And according to Best Friends Animal Society, kittens that are under one week old will have pink skin under their hair. If you find them very early on after birth, a partial umbilical cord may still be visible.
Kittens' eyes start to open
According to Michelson, at three days of age their ears will start to open, meaning that they will unfold and start to stand up straight. At around six days old, their eyes will begin to slowly open. They won't open all at once, but will be slits. Their eyes will be fully opened by 10 to 15 days old. The kittens are developing their senses and their strength, but they will still not be able to see, hear, or do more physically other than wobble.
Kittens get their baby teeth
Kittens aren't born with a full set of teeth. According to the ASPCA Pro, kitten baby teeth begin to emerge at around three weeks of age. These first kitten teeth are not their permanent teeth. Kittens get their permanent teeth at three to four months of age.
Kitten teeth are tiny. ASPCA says it can be hard to tell the difference between baby teeth and permanent teeth. But by the time the permanent teeth come in, it is easier to tell a kitten at three months of age from a newborn. According to Ask The Cat Doctor, a kitten at three months of age weighs between two and four pounds.
Kitten baby teeth are a little smaller than permanent teeth, with pointed tips. Permanent teeth are a little wider, with flat edges. The middle incisors are the first teeth to come in, at around 14 weeks (three and a half months), with the second and third incisors following over the next two weeks.
When kittens are weaned
Purina says when kittens are weaned by their mothers, it happens quite naturally. At just a few weeks of age, the kittens will become interested in momma's food bowl, and may try to start eating her food. Even though the kittens are becoming more independent, they should still stay with their mothers as long as possible. She helps teach them important things they need to know about being a full-grown cat!
To help wean kittens, take them into a separate area away from their mom for a few hours at a time. Give them a litter box and food and water bowls. Start them out with moistened kitten kibble or add warm water to canned kitten food. Provide food with a consistency like oatmeal. Avoid giving kittens milk or other dairy products.
According to the ASPCA, it is generally considered safe to spay or neuter kittens at two months of age (eight weeks). this means they may be taken to be spayed while they are still spending time with their mother, but it would be best for them to be weaned first, since they will need to be away from her for the operation and recovery. The ASPCA recommends spaying or neutering before five months of age, which is the time that an un-fixed cat will begin to exhibit the signs of sexual maturity.
Kittens develop and change rapidly over their first two months of life. Although it is easy to tell the difference between a newborn kitten and a two month-old kitten, for instance, it is not always easy to differentiate between a newborn kitten and a one week- or two week-old kitten.
Kitten age can help you determine the best course of care and socialization for your kitten based on their stage of development. Use some key guidelines, such as when young kittens' ears and eyes open, when their teeth come in, and when they can be fully weaned to help you determine your kitten age.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- Humane Society: Kitten Behavior Basics
- Michelson Found Animals: How Old is My Adopted Cat?
- Alley Cat: How Old Is That Kitten? Kitten Progression At-a-Glance
- Best Friends Animal Society: Determining the age of orphaned kittens
- ASPCA Pro: Telling a Kitten’s Age in Four Steps
- Ask The Cat Doctor: Kitten Weight Chart
- Purina: Weaning Kittens
- ASPCA: Spay/Neuter Your Pet