Cats are the second most popular pets in the US, and most pet parents start caring for them as kittens. Today, our San Diego vets give you some information about when newborn kittens open their eyes and other tips about their early development.
If you've never seen a young kitten before, you might be surprised at how different it looks from its adult counterpart! Their eyes are typically tightly closed, and their ears are folded against their heads. They are mostly helpless and unable to stand, but with proper love and care from their mother or caregivers, they will grow up healthy and happy.
When do kittens start to see?
Kittens develop at varying rates depending on a variety of factors, but most newborns open their eyes between the ages of 2 and 16 days. Their vision gradually improves during this time, though the two eyes may not fully open at the same rate. By 2 weeks of age, both eyes are usually dilated, and many kittens can focus with both eyes by 3 weeks of age. All newborn kittens have blue eyes, which change color as the kitten grows, usually settling on the true color at about 8 weeks of age.
Caring for Your Newborn Kitten's Eyes
Keep small kittens away from bright lights, which can harm or even kill their developing eyes. If the kitten does not have a mother or if its mother is not caring for it properly, it is your responsibility to keep the newborn kitten clean and healthy. Keep their faces clean with a warm, damp clean washcloth, and never force a kitten's eyes open before their lids open naturally. Patience is required!
Issues to Watch for & How to Treat Them
The eyes of newborn kittens can develop a crust that prevents them from opening. Another reason to keep your kittens' bedding and shared areas clean and sanitary is to prevent infections from recurring or spreading to littermates. If your kitten's eyes become matted, use a cotton ball dampened with warm, clean water to gently clean them. At all costs, avoid soap! If your kittens' eyes do not improve or worsen, contact your veterinarian right away to ensure they receive treatment.
Other Newborn Kitten Care Tips
Much like newborn human babies, newborn kittens spend much of their time sleeping, waking occasionally to be fed and cared for. Kittens are able to sense warmth and use their sense of smell to move towards their mother's belly and are dependent on a source of milk and warmth to aid them in their development.
Newborn kittens sleep about 22 hours per day, while older kittens and adult cats sleep less. Your kitten's mobility will improve around the time their teeth start coming in; by two weeks, they will be crawling, and by four weeks, they will be able to walk, jump, and play more steadily. This is also the time when they are more prone to mischief because they are curious and adventurous - and often eager to practice climbing!
Warmth is Important for Newborn Kittens
Because newborn kittens are unable to regulate their body temperature, they congregate near or on their mother. If your newborn kitten does not have a mother or littermate to keep them warm, you will need to do more to keep them warm, such as using a heating disk in the crate or a heating pad on low heat beneath a blanket in their enclosure. You should also create a small blanket nest for the kitten to sleep in. It is critical that you check the temperature of the heating pad with your hands and provide a comfortable place in your kitten's cage/crate where they can go if they become too warm.
You should continue to provide your kitten with a heating source until they are about 6 weeks old because if kittens get too cold they will catch hypothermia, for this reason, their area should be kept at 85ºF or 29ºC.
Newborn Kittens Need Proper Nutrition
Of course, feeding and nutrition are critical when caring for a newborn kitten without a mother. You will need to bottle feed your kitten a special kitten formula every 2-4 hours. Because every kitten is different, your veterinarian can advise you on the best formula to use, how much to feed them, and how frequently you should feed them. Kittens need to gain about 12 ounces (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) per week to grow properly. Never give your cat cow milk, and always feed them the same formula. Furthermore, your cat will require warmth in order to digest food properly.
Preventive Care for Your Kitten
No matter how old your kitten is, it's important to take them for their first veterinary appointment when appropriate. Your veterinarian will evaluate the health of your kitten as well as inform you of their dietary needs. This also provides you with the opportunity to ask any questions you may have in regards to the care of your new family member.
Ensuring your kitten gets routine preventive care is vital, including wellness exams, routine vaccinations, and parasite prevention.
Regular wellness exams give your vet the opportunity to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten including their dietary requirements. Your vet will also be able to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are easier and more affordable to treat.
You also need to make sure your kitten gets all of its vaccinations and parasite prevention care on schedule. Your kitten should come in for their first round of shots when they are 6 to 8 weeks old, and you should have them spayed or neutered when they are 5 to 6 months old. This prevents any serious diseases or conditions from arising in the first place.
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.