Cats are the second most popular pets in the U.S.; most parents start caring for them when they're kittens. Today, our veterinarians in Madison give you information on when newborn kittens open their eyes and other tips on their development at a young age.
If you're unfamiliar with very young kittens, you may be surprised at how different they are from their adult parents! Their eyes are tightly closed, and their ears are usually folded back on their heads. They can't stand upright and are more or less helpless, but with their mother's love and care, they'll grow up happy and healthy.
When Do Kittens Start To See?
Kittens develop at differing rates depending on a number of factors, but most newborns begin to open their eyes between the ages of 2-16 days. Their vision slowly improves during this period. However, both eyes don't always open at the same rate. By 2 weeks of age, both eyes are usually dilated, and by 3 weeks, many kittens can focus with both eyes. All newborn kittens have blue eyes, and the eye color will change as the kitten ages, reaching its true color around 8 weeks of age.
Caring for your newborn kitten's eyes
Try to keep young kittens away from bright lights that could potentially injure or damage their developing eyes. If the kitten doesn't have a mother or isn't well cared for by this mother, it's up to you to ensure that the newborn kittens are clean and healthy. Keep their faces clean with a warm, damp, clean washcloth and, above all, never try to force a kitten's eyes open before the eyelids open naturally on their own. Patience is the hey!
Issues to watch for & how to treat them
Newborn kittens can develop a crust on their eyes that prevents them from opening. This is a common problem that can be caused by bacterial or viral infection; all the more reason to ensure that your kittens' litter and shared areas are clean and hygienic to prevent infections from recurring or spreading to their litter mates.
If your kittens' eyes become crusty, gently clean them with a cotton ball soaked in warm water. Absolutely avoid soap! If your kittens' eyes don't improve or get worse, call your vet immediately for treatment.
Other newborn kitten care tips
Like newborn human babies, kittens spend most of their time sleeping and waking up from time to time to be fed and cared for. Kittens can sense warmth and use their sense of smell to move toward their mother's belly. They depend on a source of milk and warmth to aid their development.
Newborn kittens sleep around 22 hours daily, with more mature and adult cats needing less sleep. Your kitten's mobility will start to improve around the same time their teeth begin to grow; by around two weeks, they are crawling, and by four weeks, they can walk, jump, and play more steadily. This is also when her ability to get into mischief increases, as she's curious and adventurous - and often eager to practice climbing!
Warmth is important for newborn kittens
Newborn kittens can't regulate their internal heat, which is one of the reasons why they usually end up close to or on top of their mother. If your newborn kitten doesn't have a mother or littermates to keep their body temperature up, you will have to do more to help keep them warm by using something such as a heating disk in the crate or a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their enclosure.
You should ensure that the heating pad is not too hot by touching it with your hands and providing a comfortable place in your kitten's cage that is not equipped with a heating element so that she can take refuge there if she gets too hot.
You should continue to provide your kitten with a source of heat until they are around six weeks old because if kittens get too cold, they will suffer from hypothermia; for this reason, their area should be kept at 85ºF or 29ºC.
Newborn kittens need proper nutrition
Of course, when you're caring for a newborn kitten without a mother, you'll need to feed them and provide them adequate nutrition. You must bottle feed your kitten a special kitten formula every 2-4 hours. Every kitten is different; your veterinarian will be able to inform you of the best formula to use, how much to feed them, and how frequently you should be feeding your kitten.
For kittens to grow up healthy, they need to take approximately ½ ounces (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) a week. Never give your cat cow's milk; always feed the same formula. For your cat to digest its food properly, it must be kept warm.
Preventive Care for Your Kitten
Whatever your kitten's age is, it's important to take them for their first veterinary appointment. Your veterinarian will assess your kitten's health and inform you of her dietary requirements. This also allows you to ask any questions you may have regarding the care of your new family member.
Ensuring your kitten gets routine preventive care, including wellness exams, routine vaccinations, and parasite prevention, is vital.
Regular wellness exams allow your vet to assess your kitten's general health and well-being, including its dietary needs. Your vet will also be able to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are more accessible and more affordable to treat.
You should also ensure that your kitten receives all her vaccinations and parasite treatments on schedule. Your kitten should receive her first set of vaccinations at 6 to 8 weeks of age, and you should have her spayed or neutered at 5 to 6 months. This helps prevent the onset of serious illnesses and diseases.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.