The first six weeks of a kitten's life mark the most rapid time of growth and development. This week-by-week rundown highlights the changes you can expect to see. Remember, all kittens are a little different; some may develop slightly slower while others develop quickly. There is no need to worry unless the rate of development is significantly different from what is mentioned.
A newborn kitten is tiny and weighs only a few ounces. Eyes and ear canals have not opened up yet, and the umbilical cord stump is still attached to her tummy. She will not be able to move much, and any small sounds she makes will be weak mews as she hunts for her mother's nipple. If you look closely, you will note the kitten does not have teeth.
Kittens will share their mother's immunity to a variety of diseases. They receive it through the colostrum the mother produces for 24 to 48 hours before producing milk. This immunity will usually keep them healthy until it is time for their first vaccinations.
Undeveloped Digestive System
The mother cat stays close to her newborn kittens during this week. She keeps them warm with her body, bathes them and massages their bellies with her tongue to help them urinate and defecate. This gentle massage is important to the kitten whose digestive system is not running at full speed yet.
A kitten will most likely come close to doubling that weight by the end of the week. During the latter part of the first week or early part of the second week, the kitten's umbilical cord stub will fall off completely.
Handle Your Kitten
The Humane Society says kittens who have been handled 15 to 40 minutes per day over the first seven weeks of their lives develop larger brains, so be sure to handle your kitten regularly.
You will notice the kitten slowly becomes aware of her littermates. Although she is still too weak for play, she will compete for her favorite teat when it is time to nurse.
Vision and Eye Development
During week two, the kitten's eyes will begin to open and will be completely open by the end of this week. VetStreet states kittens' eyes will start out blue and may remain blue for several weeks before turning to their permanent color. Although her eyes are open, your kitten does not see very well. Her vision is blurry, and she should be kept out of bright lights to protect her new eyes.
PetEducation suggests the first round of deworming should begin in week three.
The mother cat's job is getting easier by the day, and she probably is not spending as much time with her kittens. Mom no longer needs to massage the kitten's belly to help her eliminate. However, your kitten's mother will still do most of the grooming.
Vision and Teeth
The kitten may attempt to walk, and her vision is getting better and better by the day. Also, the kitten's baby teeth have started to come in, and this prepares her to eat solid food.
Begin Litter Training
They also state this week or next, you should introduce your kitten to its litter box. You should use an all natural litter, not clumping clay litters. A natural litter is much safer for your kitten. Use a shallow box lid and a few inches of litter until the kitten is accustomed to using the box.
By week four, you can expect her to explore her environment and interact with her littermates. By the end of the week, she will romp and play in between naps and nursing. You can expect to see a big growth spurt.
Fully Developed Sense
At this stage, VetInfo notes all of a kitten's senses have been developed. Her ear canals will be completely open by the end of this week, and her vision will be as good as an adult cat's vision.
Weaning and Solid Food
PetMD suggests at this stage you start the weaning process with canned food. Ensure the food is formulated specifically for kittens and be patient. The kitten still needs to nurse to supplement the canned food.
At this point, it will be almost impossible to contain the energetic ball of fur. She will spend time running and playing with her littermates and learning more about her surroundings. She should be completely litter box trained by this time.
Your kitten should also have her second round of deworming.
PetEducation recommends your kitty receives her first set of vaccines. Your kitten will enjoy having toys to bat around and play with as her motor skills and hearing improve. She continues to become more independent from her mother.
Week Seven Through Ten
During the next few weeks, your kitten will continue to develop, albeit at a much slower pace.
Per PetMD, the weaning process should be complete around this time. This is a good time to introduce a scratching post to allow her to get used to the idea of using a post rather than the furniture. Also, it is time for the third round of deworming treatment.
The kitten's teeth are fully in place, and they are as sharp as needles. The ASPCA notes at this age, kittens are old enough to be safely spayed or neutered.
She will need her final round of deworming, followed by a monthly heartworm preventative.
Her booster shot is due from her first set of vaccines. After she has been fully weaned and is up to date on shots, she may begin life away from her mother if she is going to be adopted by a new family.
Developments Over the Next Year
During the rest of the first 18 months of their lives, the stages of kitten development will not be so dramatic. The kitten will continue to grow and learn to socialize. According to VetInfo, she will hone her hunting skills, sneaking up on unsuspecting pieces of paper and socks while establishing some aggressive play with littermates.
Raising a Kitten
Raising kittens is a fun experience, but it can be a lot of work. If you're unsure if your kitten is developing properly, contact your veterinarian. Your kitten will grow leaps and bounds her first year, and she will learn to be part of your family - and that is the most important development of all.