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!