Baby Care

When Do Kittens Open Their Eyes? – Forbes Advisor

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Raising a kitten can be a fulfilling experience. You get to see your fur baby transform from fitting in the palm of your hand to becoming a full-grown feline.

Raising a newborn kitten involves a few unexpected challenges—including them being born blind and deaf.  Most kittens will open their eyes within a week, but each kitten is different—some take two to three weeks. It’s always a good idea to have the best pet insurance in case you run into any health problems with your newborn kitten.

When Do Kittens Open Their Eyes?

Kittens typically open their eyes around seven to 10 days after being born.

“In the beginning, kittens are doing everything via smell…they’re still developing once they’re outside of the womb, which is partially why their eyes are still closed,” says Kristiina Wilson, a certified cat behavior clinician and owner of Cattitude Adjustment, an online cat behavior practice.

Tips for Caring for Your Newborn Kitten

Just like raising human babies, caring for a newborn kitten requires extensive work. It can be even more difficult if you’re caring for the kitten on your own.

“If you have a mom cat who’s given birth, the mom is really good at doing her job and doesn’t need a lot of human intervention,” Wilson says.

Here are some of Wilson’s top tips for making sure your newborn kitten is receiving the best care possible.

Keep Them Warm

Kittens can’t create their own body heat. To keep them warm, Wilson recommends a heating pad or disc set to low and covered with a towel. Heating pads made specifically for animals are best, as ones made for humans can become too hot and potentially burn the kitten.

Staying Clean

When a mom cat isn’t around to groom its kittens, you’ll have to help keep them clean. “Kittens are still developing their immune systems and are susceptible to bacteria and viruses…Keep a warm, damp washcloth handy to keep the kittens clean [and] make sure to always wash your hands before and after handling them,” Wilson says.

If the kittens are particularly dirty, you can use a small amount of baby shampoo and warm water to give them a quick bath in a sink.

Becoming Socialized

Socializing and habituating are important parts of kitten development. These two practices ensure that a kitten will be receptive to people, other pets, noises and environments. For example, you may want to introduce your kitten to a portable crate early so they can be comfortable with it as adults. This will make vet visits and air travel easier later on.

Unsocialized kittens can exhibit aggressive or fearful tendencies. This may make them unable to get along with other pets or children. They may swat at you or hiss when you try to coerce them into a portable crate.

Kittens should be socialized between 2 to 7 weeks of age. You should be hands-on with the kitten and spend at least 15 minutes per day handling it—but the longer the better. After 5 weeks of age is when they should be meeting as many new people as possible. According to the Anti-Cruelty Society, behaviorists recommend they should meet about 100 people during this period.

It’s important that any babies, toddlers, dogs or cats that are introduced to the kitten are on their best behavior. If they are too rough with the kitten or injure it, the kitten could develop an irreversible fear and be reactive to them in every future situation. Similarly, any noises or objects you introduce the kitty to should be done with care, such as muffling harsh noises or making them when the kitten is in another room.

Consider Pet Insurance

One of the most important things you can do for your kitten is to get pet insurance. Many pet insurance companies don’t cover pre-existing conditions so the earlier you select a plan, the better.

“Young kittens are generally healthy and tend to qualify for cheap insurance rates—this is a great time to get insurance for your cat,” Wilson says.

Raising a Kitten: Essential Tips

When you take on the role of mama cat for a newborn kitten, there are certain steps you need to take to ensure it’s in good health. Here are some of the things you should be doing when your kitten is in the early stages of life.

0 to 4 Weeks Old Kitten

From 0 to 4 weeks, a kitten is delicate and unable to do much for itself. You’ll have to provide it with warmth, food and more.

First, start off by creating a quiet resting area. You can use a box or a crate lined with warm, soft and clean towels for the kitten to lie down. You’ll also want to have the heating pad nearby.

Kittens at this stage can’t yet eat solid food and will need to be fed kitten milk replacer, which can be bought at any pet store. You should bottle-feed the kitten every three hours while it’s lying flat on its stomach to prevent the kitten from accidentally inhaling fluid into the lungs. After, Wilson advises to burp the kitten by placing one hand under the kitten’s abdomen and gently patting its upper back with the other.

Kittens under 3 weeks old can’t urinate or defecate by themselves and will need to be stimulated to do so. After feeding the kitten, get a clean cloth and softly rub the kitten’s belly, genital and anal areas in a circular motion. After about a minute, the kitten will urinate or defecate. Lightly bathe the kitten after with a clean, damp cloth.

During this stage, it’s also critical to keep an eye out for key indicators of good kitten health. The kitten should be gaining weight each day, regularly eating and going to the bathroom. However, concerning health symptoms to look for include weight loss, lethargy, coughing, sneezing, diarrhea, crust forming in or around the eyes, bleeding, dehydration, constant crying and pale gums. If you notice any of these signs, take the kitten to the vet.

5 to 11 Weeks Old Kitten

At the 6- to 8-week mark, dry or wet food can be gradually introduced into a kitten’s diet. The food should be specifically for kittens, as it will include many of the vital nutrients it needs to continue developing.

During this time, you can also start to litter-train them with a kitten-sized litter box. You will have to manually place your kitten inside the litter box a few times before it understands how to use it.

Between 6 and 8 weeks old, your kitten will be eligible for a series of vaccinations, which will continue until it’s 16 weeks old. You won’t have to vaccinate it again until every year or so, so it can receive its boosters.

Common Mistakes to Avoid with Kittens

There are common mistakes to avoid when raising kittens. Paying careful attention to them will help you raise your kitten in good health.

Not Spaying/Neutering Them

By spaying and neutering your kittens, you’re ensuring that they won’t produce a litter. This helps control the population of cats in shelters and reduces the number of annual euthanizations.

Not Getting Proper Vaccinations

Vaccinating your kitten is key to providing it with a happy and healthy life. There are many vaccinations a kitten should get, and vaccine series can begin once they’re 6- to 8-weeks old.

Not Kitten-Proofing the Home

Kittens are curious, playful and energetic. For this reason, you’ll want to kitten-proof your home.

“They’re going to be like babies or toddlers—looking to explore and put anything in their mouth. So you have to be careful and look around your space to make sure it’s safe for them,” Wilson says.

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Bottom Line

If you’ve stumbled upon a kitten without its mother or recently adopted one, you’ll have to take on the role of mama cat. It’s a lot of work that includes feeding it, keeping it warm and providing socialization—but it’s not without reward.  “This kitten is going to be super bonded to you,” Wilson says. That alone will make it all worth it.

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