Guide/How-to|

At about seven days old, kittens’ ears will unfold and their eyes may start to open, though their eyesight is still unfocused. They have doubled their birth weight to around eight ounces. They become more aware of their surroundings.

Want a side-by-side comparison of kittens as they grow? Visit our Kitten Progression: At-a-Glance guide or download the poster.

Characteristics

Weight: 210-240 grams/7.4-8.5 ounces
Teeth: No teeth
Eyes: May start to open
Ears: May start to unfold
Other: Smaller than your hand

 

Behavior

Kittens are becoming increasingly aware of their surroundings, but they will huddle together for warmth and comfort and rarely venture far from their mother, their nest, or each other. They still sleep most of the time.

Care

Neonatal—newborn to four-week-old—kittens require round-the-clock care.

Feeding:

Use specific kitten bottles to feed them kitten formula. Make sure you never feed them “Cat Milk,” which is designed for adult cats, or cow’s or goat’s milk, which could give the kittens life-threatening diarrhea.  Stick to kitten formula, such as kitten milk replacer (KMR), which can be purchased at most pet supply stores. Use specific kitten bottles to feed them kitten formula. Feed kittens on their stomachs—not their backs like human babies—and tilt the bottle. After they’re done eating, you’ll need to burp them. Put them on your shoulder or on their stomachs and pat them gently until they burp. For more information on what to feed kittens, visit Caring for Neonatal Kittens.

Feeding frequency:

Until they are 10 days old, they should be fed every two hours, round-the-clock. Once kittens are older than 10 days, they can eat every three to four hours.

Dehydration:

Dehydration is one of the biggest killers of kittens, along with chilling. Some signs of dehydration include limpness, unresponsiveness, sunken eyes, and lethargy. You can also check by pulling up the skin at the scruff when the kitten is in a standing position. If it does not return to resting position quickly, the kitten is dehydrated.

Bedding (keep neonatal kittens warm):

Neonatal kittens can’t control their own body temperature until they are at least three weeks old and get cold easily, which can be life-threatening. From the moment you find them, keep the kittens warm and watch out for signs of chilling (i.e., listlessness and cool to the touch) and hold off on bottle feeding until the kittens have completely warmed up. If you have nothing else on hand, use your own body heat to warm up a cold kitten, and rub her gently to aid circulation. Keep kittens warm by building a soft nest, like a box with a blanket and Snuggle Safe, a rice sock, or a water bottle. Make sure that kittens have room to move away from the heat if they want.

Cleaning:

Clean kittens using a warm, damp washcloth after they’re done eating. A kitten can chill if wet, so never submerge kittens in water. If a kitten needs to be cleaned up, wash only certain parts of her body with a washcloth. Be sure to always fully dry kittens with a hair dryer (on low) and towel.

Bathroom habits:

Kittens younger than four weeks old must be stimulated to go to the bathroom after each feeding. A mother cat uses her tongue to do this, but you can use a warm and damp cotton ball, tissue, or washcloth to gently rub the kitten’s anal area. Completely solid feces usually will not form while kittens are drinking formula. If you notice the kittens are having trouble urinating or defecating, consult a veterinarian.

A healthy kitten will urinate almost every time you stimulate them and have a bowel movement once or twice a day.

For more on caring for kittens younger than four weeks old, including health concerns, go to Caring for Neonatal Kittens.

Socialization

Handle the kittens early and often to encourage their social development. This helps them connect positive experiences with people, which will help them to be adopted. Once kittens are about three or four weeks old, they will start to play and playing will become an important part of socialization. For more about socializing kittens, go to alleycat.org/Socialization.

 

 

Want a side-by-side comparison of kittens as they grow? Visit our Kitten Progression: At-a-Glance guide or download the poster.