Kitten Development Stages
The sensory world of a kitten in the first 2 weeks of life is dominated by temperature, touch, hearing, and smell. Sense of smell plays a central role in suckling. Kittens will sleep 90% of the time and eat the other 10%. They should nurse vigorously and compete for nipples; newborns can nurse up to 45 minutes at a time. Make sure to monitor their eating, ensuring they nurse at least once a day and there isn’t a lot of jockeying for positions. Baby kitties should be content and mostly quiet the first couple weeks; healthy kittens seldom cry. When un-weaned kittens are crying and wandering away from the mother, this is a sign of distress. Wandering away is a problem because kittens aren’t able to control their body temperatures and chilling is a major cause of kitten mortality. Perhaps the kitten isn’t getting enough milk because Mom isn’t healthy enough to provide enough. Until the kitten is able to eat on his/her own, you may need to supplement with syringe feeding KMR to the kitten and some NutriCal. As soon as they can eat on their own, or close to, you can mix all meat baby food (feed only high quality baby food) with the KMR for a very soupy gruel. If you have a kitten exhibiting this and you are supplement feeding, be sure to weigh the kitten daily; it is the only sure way to know if the kitten is growing and thriving.
Weight — A steady daily weight gain is the best indicator that a kitten is doing well. At 5 days, a kitten should weigh 3-7 oz; by 10 days 4 ½ – 9 ¾ oz; by 15 days 6- 11 ¾ oz; and so forth
Eyes— A kitten’s eyes start to open at 7-10 days after birth and are fully opened by the 16th day. When the eyes open, the iris is blue-gray and will change to normal adult color by 4-6 weeks. The visual system isn’t fully developed until 3-4 weeks.
Ears — Ear canals open between 5-8 days and ears become erect by 15 days.
Teeth — Teeth start to erupt shortly before 2 weeks and change from milk teeth to adult teeth around 3 1/2 months.
Other — Kittens should be able to stand by the day 21. By 4 weeks old kittens will start to clean themselves and can begin to eat from a bowl and use their litter box. Females are sexually mature between 4-12 months; males around 7-10 months. A healthy cat’s temperature is around 101.5 degrees.
Fading Kitten — Once in a while, one or more kittens in a litter will begin to “fade” after a week or two of life. They will stop growing, begin to lose weight, stop nursing, and stop crawling. They may cry continuously and lose the ability to stay upright. The mother cat may push them out of the nest, where they often chill and starve to death. Kittens fade very quickly and probably will not recover even with intensive care. There is no clear cause of reason for this condition; it has been linked to birth defects, environmental stress, and infectious disease. Early veterinary treatment is imperative, but even with tube feeding, rehydration, and monitoring, many, if not most, fading kittens will die.
Successful rearing of orphaned kittens requires providing them with a suitable environment, the correct quantities of nutrients for different stages of growth, and a regular schedule of feeding, sleeping, grooming, and exercise. You must also provide the stimulus for urination and defecation during the first 18-21 days of life. Do this by massaging the abdomen and perianal area after each feeding with a cotton ball or very soft wash cloth (you don’t want to irritate the area) dampened with warm water. You can also use mineral oil on a cotton ball to stimulate the bowel. Kittens, after 4 weeks, can usually eliminate on their own.
You must also maintain their body warmth for them as kittens don’t have the ability to regulate and control their body temperature. Keep them out of drafts and if necessary, use a 250-watt infrared heat bulb suspended above their crate.
Never put a heating pad in their sleeping area as it can be too hot and can burn them. If you need to use the heating pad, place it in front of their sleeping area, at the opening of the crate and cover it with several thicknesses of towels. Kitten bedding must be changed daily, and sometimes more often. Wash dirty bedding with a little bleach to disinfect.
Kittens need exercise to promote muscular and circulatory development. Play with and handle them prior to each feeding.
At least twice a week, and more often, the baby needs to be groomed with a soft, warm, and moist cloth wiped gently, imitating the mother’s grooming licks. Cow’s milk is not nutritious enough for kittens; they will slowly starve to death on it.
If you can’t get to a veterinary clinic or pet store to purchase KMR or Just Born for kittens, check the emergency recipe section for temporary substitutes. Test temperature before feeding. It should be warm without burning – around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (which is a kitten’s body temperature). Never boil the food to warm it up, it will destroy the nutritional value. Placing the bottle in hot water for a few minutes or putting in the microwave for no more than 10 seconds can also accomplish warming. If constipation occurs, add 1 drop of vegetable oil to each kitty’s formula no more than once daily until the problem is eased. Overfeeding can cause diarrhea and a host of other problems. Hand feeding can be challenging and yet, very rewarding. Every one who has done this has developed a method that works bests for them; you will too! Whether you use a baby animal bottle or a syringe, it’s best to keep the kitten in a position similar to what they’d experience, if mama were there. In other words, don’t turn the baby on his/her back. Keep the bottle at a 45-degree angle to reduce the amount of air getting into the kitten’s stomach.
Feedings should occur every 2 hours until the 3rd week, at which time, every 4 hours at night (for your sanity). Below is a
general guideline for how much to feed and when in their lifespan:
Week of life Amount to feed
1st week 3.7 cc’s per ounce of body weight
2nd week 4.9 cc’s per ounce of body weight
3rd week 5.7 cc’s per ounce of body weight
4th week 6.3 cc’s per ounce of body weight
After each feeding session, you should give them a full-body once-over with a barely damp washcloth, using short strokes like mom would use. This keeps their fur clean, teaches them how to groom, and gives them the attention and “mothering” they crave.
Emergency feeding formulas
Remember these are to be used only for emergency feeding because they are not nutritionally complete for the long-term health of the kitten. Mix the ingredients well and keep in tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator.
Formula Ingredients and instructions
Kitten Formula 1:
• 1 can Evaporated milk
• 1 egg yolk
• 2 Tbsp Karo syrup
At feeding time, mix ½ of the estimated feeding amount with an equal amount of boiling water.
Once a day mix 1 drop of human infant liquid vitamins in each kitty’s formula.
Kitten Formula 2: 8 oz. homogenized whole milk
• 2 egg yolks
• 1 tsp salad oil
• 1 drop liquid pediatric vitamins (optional)
Kitten Formula 3:
• 1 part boiled water
• 5 parts evaporated milk
• ½ tsp bone meal per 16 oz. fluid
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