I remember being in veterinary school and being amazed at what I learned in a reproduction class about developmental milestones in kittens. I’d been around kittens my whole life (you saw many litters when you lived on a family farm in the 1950s-1970s when spay/neuter wasn’t common), but knew very few specifics. Here’s what I learned:
- Kittens are born blind with their eyes sealed shut. They open their eyes about 7-10 days after birth. At first, the retina is poorly developed and vision is poor. Kittens are not able to see as well as adult cats until about ten weeks after birth. Kittens can see color once they get full vision, but not nearly as well as humans can. All kittens have blue eyes when born, shifting to their permanent color at about two months of age.
- Kittens are also born deaf, with sealed ear canals. At about 2-and-a-half weeks of age, the ear canals open and kittens can start to hear. At about 3-and-a-half weeks of age, kittens can respond to both sight and sound.
- Kittens wiggle! From almost day one, kittens wiggle, squirm and swim across the floor (think of toddlers rolling and crawling). At about 18 days of age, they start their first steps.
- Kittens have claws. Kittens are unable to retract their claws at birth but just before four weeks of age, they can sheath them at will. Cats need their claws to fully stretch, balance, exhibit normal behavior for the species, and develop normally. Don’t declaw your kittens! Bonus fact: Cats are right- or left-pawed. No, they won’t eat with one paw or pick up a pencil with one claw, but you can watch what front paw they use to bat toys or reach for string and you’ll know.
- Kittens have no teeth at birth. Their 26 baby teeth start erupting at 4-6 weeks, and they start losing the so called “milk teeth”— starting with the incisors—at between three and four months. Eventually they’ll have 30 permanent teeth.
- Kittens pee and poo! Kittens are incapable of voluntary elimination of urine and feces. The mother must lick the area to stimulate elimination. Why? Probably so that the mother can have the kittens eliminate in a place that won’t be as easily found by predators. At just over three weeks of age, kittens can go the bathroom on their own.
- Kittens are adorable, and many shelters are overloaded with them. Adopt a shelter kitten today!
We’ve promised our granddaughter, Reagan, that she can adopt a kitten in the spring. The events of that day will certainly be captured on smartphones and seared into our consciousness, but we also want to make sure, before we let the kinetic kitten down and he takes off in turbo mode, to protect him against household dangers — and the house against kitten problems.
Here are my top kitten-proofing tips:
1. Sew there’s a problem. If you sew, knit, or do any kind of needlework you must have all of the thread, yarn, twine, ribbon, and needles put away and not left out.
2. Waste management. Either use covered wastebaskets or have them inside a cabinet.
3. Paper hanger. How many photos have you seen of kittens unspooling toilet paper? To prevent that Kodak moment, have the toilet paper unwind from underneath or use a dispenser with a cover.
4. Keep the lid down. Believe it or not, kittens can be attracted to the sound of running water in the toilet, fall in, and drown. I had this happen to a client’s kitten early in my career. Keep the lid down.
5. Remove all poisonous plants. My number one plant species to remove is lilies. Visit the ASPCA Pet Poison Control website for more.
6. Take breakables off the mantle. Kittens love to climb, leap and clear mantles and shelves of decorative items. Either move them, or use a product like QuakeHold (I buy at Amazon) to secure.
I love it when people reach out for help with their puppies and kittens before problems develop! That’s the case with one reader — here’s how I answered her question about training her new kitten not to scratch.
Q: I just got a kitten, and I want to make sure she doesn’t ruin my furniture or carpet by scratching it. Do you have advice on how to trim her nails and keep her from scratching?
A: You are so smart to be thinking about this early in your kitten’s life. Now is the best time to help her learn how to accept grooming with a minimum of fuss and teach her where it’s OK to scratch.
One of the ways cats communicate is by scratching. They have special glands in their paws (and elsewhere on the body) that release scent when the cat scratches or rubs against objects or people. Encouraging your cat to scratch a post or other acceptable items will help her to feel secure in her surroundings and reduce the likelihood that she will mark with urine. Scratching is also an important way that cats stretch their muscles.
Experts recommend providing a tall scratching post in a prominent area so your cat can get attention for her scratching skills. Put it somewhere the family spends a lot of time. Choose a post that’s at least three feet high so your cat can stretch out to her full length. It can be vertical or horizontal as long as it’s sturdy and not wobbly. Most cats like a post covered in sisal, a ropelike material.
In combination with scratching, trimming nails reduces damage to your furniture, clothing and skin. Trim nails every week or two, ideally when your cat is feeling relaxed or sleepy. Put a little pressure on the toe to pop the claw out, and trim above the curve. If your cat is resistant, clip one or two claws a day and give a treat afterward. Your cat will soon welcome the attention.
Read more, including what to do if your dog is stung by a bee, in this week’s Pet Connection!