Kitten Development from Newborn to One Week

Germany, Newborn kittens sleeping on blanket, close up
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Newborn kittens may be born fully furred but they aren't done growing once they leave their mother's womb. The first week of a kitten's life is full of major changes and growth. If you have a litter of kittens it's a good idea to know what to watch for as well as know what you can do to help your kitten get off to a good start in life.

Physical Development of a Newborn Kitten

When a kitten is born it should fit in the palm of your hand. It will look just like a miniature version of an adult cat with its fur, four legs, two ears, and all its other body parts, but not everything works like an adult cat just yet.

The normal, healthy birth weight of a kitten is about 3.5 ounces which is just a little bit more than a deck of playing cards weighs. By the end of the first week, a kitten typically doubles its body weight putting it at about 7 ounces so these are good weights to record in order to monitor a kitten's growth. If a kitten isn't gaining enough weight it may mean there is something wrong that needs to be addressed.

After two or three days a kitten's umbilical cord will dry up and fall off but its eyes and ears will remain closed for a little while yet. At this point, the kitten is dependent entirely upon its mother (or foster human) for warmth, food, and hygiene. It will crawl around on its belly, cry if it is hungry, sleep, and urinate and defecate when its mother stimulates it by licking it.

Behavior Changes of Newborn Kittens

You probably won't notice much of a difference between a newborn kitten and a one-week-old kitten but it will start to be more active as the week goes on. Kittens won't be playing with littermates just yet and the only social interaction between each other will be battling for a nipple to nurse from.

Health and Care of a Newborn Kitten

Since a newborn kitten is completely dependent upon its mother for the first few weeks of life, you'll need to play the role of mom if your kitten is an orphan or has been neglected by its mother. If the mother is taking care of the kittens then there is little you need to do but some things you should still look for.

  • Kittens are unable to regulate their body temperatures when they're only a few days old so blankets, a heat lamp, heating pad, and other elements may be necessary to ensure a kitten stays warm. If a kitten gets too cold it can be detrimental to its health.
  • Watch the kittens for a lack of weight gain or weight loss. These things could indicate the kitten is not eating enough or there is something else wrong.
  • Look for bubbles or liquid coming out of the noses. This could indicate aspiration or a hole in the roof of the mouth.
  • Watch for bloated bellies. This may mean that a kitten isn't urinating or defecating and might need some assistance from you.
  • Make sure the mother cat is licking the kittens to stimulate them to urinate and defecate regularly.
  • Routinely check the color of the tongue and gums of the kittens to ensure that they are bright pink.
  • Make sure each kitten is moving around to sleep and nurse. A normal kitten crawls on its belly to find a nipple.
  • Check the mother's nipples to make sure milk is being produced to feed the kittens. A gentle squeeze of the nipple should result in some milk oozing out.
  • Watch the mother cat to make sure she is giving the kittens ample time to regularly nurse or the kittens will need to be bottle-fed. Some mother cats do not nurse their kittens.

Food and Nutrition for a Newborn Kitten

Newborn kittens do not have any teeth and get all of their food and nutrition from cat milk. The first few days after giving birth, the mother cat will produce a very special kind of milk for the kittens called colostrum. This milk contains special ingredients called maternal antibodies which help protect the kittens from illnesses until their own immune systems are working. It is very important that kittens start nursing shortly after birth to ensure these antibodies are consumed from the colostrum.

If a kitten is orphaned and needs to be bottle-fed, a special cat milk replacement formula should be used to provide proper nutrition. A homemade kitten formula can be used temporarily. A newborn kitten should consume about seven teaspoons in a day and will eat small amounts every two hours.

Training Newborn Kittens

At this young of an age there is no effective training that you can do with a kitten. Litter box training will come naturally for a kitten but should not begin until the mother cat is not needed to stimulate it to urinate and defecate.

Caring for the Mother Cat

If the mother cat is present, it is just as important to ensure it stays healthy as it is to monitor the kittens. Kittens need their mother to feed them, clean them, stimulate them, and keep them warm.

  • Kitten food should be fed to the mother cat while it is pregnant and it should be continued until the kittens are no longer nursing. This will help provide extra nutrients to the kittens through the mother's milk after they are born.
  • The mother cat should be properly vaccinated prior to becoming pregnant so that it can pass on the maternal antibodies to its kittens.
  • Make sure the mother cat is able to rest and nurse in a quiet, stress-free room. It is extremely taxing on a body to nurse and care for kittens so extra stress should be avoided.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.