Cats and kittens are very popular pets and there are estimated to be around eight million in the UK alone! Cats are available in hundreds of different breeds, colours, coat types, sizes and shapes — and every cat has a very individual personality!
Typically, cats live for around 14 years but they have been known to live for up to 20 years, and sometimes even longer! Therefore getting a kitten is a huge, long-term commitment, so make sure you are fully prepared for kitten ownership!
Most cat owners will not have the privilege of witnessing their kitten’s birth or the immediate, instinctive bond between a mother cat and her babies as they snuggle up together for the very first time. It’s a sight that even professional breeders still experience with a sense of awe.
Kittens are usually born head first, although breech deliveries, when the kitten is delivered tail first, are also considered normal. Kittens are born blind, deaf and helpless. Newborn kittens are totally reliant on mum and must stay warm in order to survive.
As soon as a kitten is born, mum will begin cleaning him up. Licking with her rough tongue helps to remove the protective sac each kitten is born in. It also exposes the kitten’s nose and mouth and stimulates his body’s circulation. In the beginning kittens are totally dependent on mum for all their needs. The first milk she produces is known as colostrum and contains vital nutrients and antibodies to provide temporary immunity against disease. If mum is unable to produce milk or enough to nourish all her brood, the kittens may be bottle fed with a specialist milk formula, with regular feeds throughout the day and night.
Healthy kittens should gain around 15g in weight daily and by the end of the first week should have doubled their birth weight. Kittens sleep for nearly three-quarters of their time and this is important for healthy growth and development. In addition to nursing, mum will also be busy keeping her kittens clean and licking them to help encourage urination and bowel movements. As the kittens grow older they will copy mum, learning how to clean themselves and use a litter tray.
BIRTH TO TEN DAYS: kittens are born deaf and blind. Their primary need is to eat, sleep, grow and keep warm. They are completely dependent on their mum.
DAY TEN TO 14: the eyes open and sight develops. This is when the earflaps also begin to unfold and stand upright so that they can hear. Kittens now begin to respond to the outside world, new sounds and gentle handling. They start to stand, take their first steps and baby teeth appear.
DAY 14 TO WEEK 14: the important socialisation period when kittens learn how to bond with humans and be happy in their environment. They should be given lots of short handling sessions, involving different people and children, and should start meeting other pets.
WEEKS THREE TO FIVE: kittens can excrete without mum’s help and weaning begins (this is complete by around eight weeks of age). Kittens become much livelier and start to copy mum by pawing at cat litter. The first signs of predatory behaviour appear in play.
WEEKS SIX TO EIGHT: kittens will be almost entirely eating solid kitten food, while still suckling occasionally. At around eight weeks they should be totally weaned onto a kitten food.
WEEK 14: growth continues but at a slower rate. Kittens are still in their most active play period and also become more skilled at running, jumping and climbing as their balance and physical co-ordination improves.
SIX TO SEVEN MONTHS: kittens reach sexual maturity so adolescents should be kept away from unneutered cats of the opposite sex until they have been spayed or castrated. Speak to a vet or charity about early neutering (before six months).