The term kitten (Old English diminutive of cat) most commonly refers to a young cat. It may also refer to a young rabbit, rat, hedgehog, or squirrel. This article discusses kittens of the domestic cat.

Birth and development Edit

A litter of kittens usually consists of three to six kittens. Born after approximately 63 days of gestation, kittens emerge in an amnion which is bitten off and eaten by the mother cat. For the first several weeks, kittens are unable to urinate or defecate without being stimulated by their mother. They are also unable to regulate their body temperature for the first three weeks, so kittens born in temperatures less than 27 °C (80 °F) are at risk for death from exposure if they are not kept warm by their mother.

Kittens open their eyes about seven to ten days following birth. At first, the retina is poorly developed and their vision is poor. Kittens are not able to see as well as adult cats for about three months after birth.

Kittens develop very quickly between the two- and seven-week period. Their coordination and strength improve, they spar with their litter-mates, and begin to explore the world outside the nest. They learn to wash themselves and others as well as play hunting and stalking games. If they are outdoor cats, their mother or other adult cats may demonstrate hunting techniques for them to emulate.

As they reach one month of age, the kittens are gradually weaned and begin to eat solid food. Kittens live primarily on solid food after weaning but usually continue to suckle from time to time until separated from their mothers. Some mother cats will scatter their kittens as early as three months of age, while others continue to look after them until they approach sexual maturity.

The sex of kittens is usually easy to determine within the age of approximately six to eight weeks, although it is possible to do so sooner. The male's urethral opening is round, whereas the female's is a slit. Also the distance between anus and urethral opening is greater in males than in females.

Kittens are highly social animals and spend most of their waking hours interacting with available animals. Although domestic kittens are commonly sent to new homes at six to eight weeks of age, some experts believe that being with its mother and litter mates from six to twelve weeks is important for a kitten's behavioral development. Usually, breeders will not sell a kitten that is younger than twelve weeks, and in many jurisdictions, it is illegal to give away kittens younger than a certain age (usually between eight and twelve weeks).

Caring for domestic kittensEdit

Kittens require a diet higher in protein and fat than adult cats do.[1] From weaning until about one year of age they should be fed a diet specifically formulated for kittens. Kittens can be touched or held when a lot of fur is visible and kitten(s) are walking. Most veterinarians recommend that kittens be vaccinated against common illnesses beginning at 2-3 months of age (FVRCP 8 weeks; FVRCP 12 weeks; FVRCP, rabies and sterilization at 16 weeks) and spayed or neutered at 4-8 months of age. Some veterinarians will spay or neuter kittens as young as 6-8 weeks and weighing at least 2 pounds; the practice is particularly common in animal shelters so that kittens can get into the adoption area sooner. Kittens should also be wormed against roundworms at about 4 weeks.

Orphaned kittens too young to eat solid food may be fed a cat milk replacement formula every two to four hours. Kittens should not be fed cow's milk because it does not provide all of the necessary nutrients and they are unable to digest lactose, and it may cause diarrhea.[1] Orphaned kittens not urinating or defecating must be stimulated to do so by rubbing with a warm, damp washcloth after each meal, at the base of their spine where the tail begins.[2] This is vital to the kitten's survival. It is best to leave a kitten with its mother if at all possible. Kittens fed bottled milk, especially single kittens, tend to have behavioral issues (no bite inhibition) when they get older. If a kitten develops diarrhea, the best treatment is to seek advice from a veterinarian. The kitten may need to be de-wormed with a de-wormer at 6-8 weeks old and then again 2 weeks later


  1. 1.0 1.1 West Oxfordshire Cats Protection website on Diet Advice for kittens [1]
  2. Feline How-to Manual from Pawprints and Purrs, Inc, on feeding newborn cats [2]

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