What happens during the first eight weeks of a kitten's life?

Traditionally, kitten season usually runs from April to September each year, with female cats coming into heat (fertile) every few weeks and a gestation period of approximately sixty-three days. The number of kittens born to one cat can be high.

The first eight weeks of a kitten’s life are essential for future development. During this time, they rely heavily on their Mum (queen) for disease prevention and healthy growth.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum contains antibodies that protect newborns from disease. When the Mum produces milk for the first time it will contain colostrum which is then ingested by the kitten at the first feed. The kittens will need to absorb the colostrum within the first sixteen hours of birth, after this time the gut will not absorb the colostrum effectively.

Colostrum is of great importance to a kitten’s health. A kitten may miss the ingestion of colostrum due to the Mum being unwell, recovering from a caesarean or being rejected by the Mum.
In this instance, you may need to add a supplement such as Kittystim. Kittystim contains colostrum and can be administered to a kitten immediately after birth as a replacement or given alongside their first feed.

Kitten Growth

For the first three to four weeks the kitten will rely solely on the Mums’ milk for nutrition, which provides energy for growth and is essential for gut health. Without this milk, the kitten will become weak, lose weight and fade. If a kitten isn’t feeding well from the Mum or has been orphaned or rejected, we can intervene and hand-rear that kitten.

Hand-reared kittens must be fed a kitten milk replacer as cows’ milk or goats’ milk does not contain the nutrients required. While feeding with kitten milk you can use Kittystim alongside the kitten milk as it contains a probiotic to prevent bad bacteria building up in the gut which helps maintain a healthy immune system.

Kittens require a lot of energy to develop and in their first two weeks, they will feed from their Mum every two hours! In addition to the Mum's milk, we'd suggest using Kittystim. Here you can ensure the kitten is receiving a boost of energy with easily absorbed triglycerides (fat) and glucose in a small volume. A newborn kitten will weigh approximately 90-110 grams and should gain between 70-100 grams per week.

newborn kitten

Worms

An intestinal worm burden can also prevent a kitten from developing, as well as causing them to develop diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss, and a swollen and uncomfortable abdomen. You often won’t see any signs of intestinal worms in the kitten's faeces so this isn’t an accurate way to diagnose intestinal worms.

The most common intestinal worm that a kitten is likely to have is roundworm, as it can be transmitted from the Mum to the kitten via the milk. Adult cats are also at risk of catching roundworm as it can be transmitted through ingestion of eggs from the environment, infected faeces or by eating infected meat when hunting. There is a chance of humans catching roundworm so always practice good hand hygiene and ensure litter trays are kept clean.

Tapeworm is also a common intestinal worm for adult cats to be infected with, usually from ingesting a flea via grooming. The flea acts as an intermediate host for the tapeworm which then infects the cat when ingested. Because of this it is important to ensure your cat's flea prevention treatment is up to date as a kitten exposed to fleas will also be at risk. A kitten with fleas is also at risk of anaemia because the fleas feed on blood. Eating prey that is infected with a tapeworm is another common way that adult cats can ingest tapeworm and cats that hunt are at higher risk.

Your vet will be able to advise you on the most effective product to treat intestinal worms. Treatment usually starts from about three weeks of age and is repeated every two weeks until eight weeks of age then monthly until six months old. An adult cat can be treated every one to six months dependent on their lifestyle and if they hunt. Your vet will advise you on which product to use to treat your pregnant cat.

Life stages

1-2 weeks

  • Kittens are born with their eyes closed, they will be fully open at approximately two weeks of age. Did you know that kittens have blue eyes until about six weeks of age?
  • For the first two weeks, a kitten will need to feed every two hours, during these early weeks the Mum will spend most of her time with the kitten. However, a hand-reared kitten will need feeding twelve times a day, including through the night.
  • Up to 90% of the kitten’s time is spent eating and sleeping and they will rely on the Mum for warmth and food.
  • Young kittens are unable to toilet for themselves so the Mum will stimulate them by grooming. If hand-rearing you will need to gently stimulate the kitten’s anogenital area with damp cotton wool before and after feeding.

2-4 weeks

  • At two weeks old a kitten’s socialisation period starts and lasts until eight weeks. Positive experiences are incredibly important during these weeks. Ensuring your kitten has been exposed to handling, household noises, people, and other animals mean you are giving them the best start in life to deal with new environments. All socialisations should be done gradually and spread out over six weeks, also, remember only to handle the kittens when the Mum is relaxed and wash your hands before and after.
  • Kittens will start trying to walk at two weeks, the Mum will keep them with her for safety. It is also a good idea to have a birthing box, with raised sides, ready for your cat if you know she is pregnant, this way the kittens won’t go too far when they are becoming mobile. Mums will often choose warm, hidden areas to give birth so place the box in a wardrobe, under a bed or somewhere quiet.
  • Kittens baby teeth start to erupt from 2 weeks, there will be 26 teeth in total.
  • By two weeks the kitten will feed about every three hours which is eight times a day.
  • At three weeks, the kitten will start to have control of toileting, so when stimulating them to toilet, do this over a litter tray so they get used to the feel of litter under their paws.
  • At three to four weeks weaning will start and soft kitten food can be offered, mixed with a kitten milk substitute.

4-6 weeks

  • From four weeks a kitten will start toileting for itself, most kittens will learn to use a litter tray from watching the Mum, hand-reared kittens can be trained from three weeks.
  • You will see the kitten start to interact with their littermates at four weeks and by five weeks they will start to play and pounce.
  • Eyes change from blue to their permanent colour at about six weeks
  • The kitten will spend some time away from Mum from six weeks old. At this stage, the Mum will be leaving her kittens for longer periods of time.

6-8 weeks

  • Kittens are fully weaned by eight weeks of age.
  • The kittens should not leave the Mum before eight weeks of age as it can lead to behaviour and health problems.
  • Vaccinations can be given by a vet from eight weeks old.

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