Guide/How-to|

When kittens are three weeks old, their ears are fully upright and they’ll have blue eyes until their adult color becomes apparent—which might not be until they’re two months old! They start to play more, and you can begin to socialize them through toys and games, so they’ll eventually be ready for adoption.

Characteristics

Weight: 365-400 grams/12.8-14.1 ounces
Teeth: Canines and incisors coming in
Eyes: Fully open and blue
Ears: Fully upright
Other: Can determine gender of kittens; fur starting to fill out

 

Behavior

Kittens’ movements are still uncoordinated, but they’ll play more and become more mobile throughout the week. They still can’t control claw retraction.

Care

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

Feeding

At this age, you can start introducing wet food. Mix it with kitten formula, and either let the kittens eat it themselves from a dish or feed them the mixture with the bottle.

Continue to use specific kitten bottles to feed them. Feed kittens on their stomachs—not their backs—and tilt the bottle. After they’re done eating, you need to burp them. Put them on your shoulder or on their stomachs and pat them gently until they burp. Clean kittens using a warm, damp washcloth after you feed them.

Kittens will eat much more at each feeding, but you’ll feed them less frequently.

Feeding frequency:

Every five to six 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.

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.

At this age, kittens can start to eliminate waste on their own and may start to look for a litter box. Provide them with a small, shallow litter pan with non-clumping litter. Show kittens the litter box, and they should quickly start using it out of instinct. To help them out, put in one of the cotton balls that you used to help them urinate.

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

Socialization

Once kittens show interest in their surroundings and interact with their littermates, people, and toys, you can start socializing them.

Food:

Food is a great tool to socialize kittens. When you feed the kittens wet food, stay in the room so they associate you with food and start to trust you. Over time, move the food plate closer to your body while you sit in the room, until the plate is in your lap and the kittens are comfortable crawling on you to get to it.

Pet the kittens for the first time while they’re eating so they stay put, and build up to holding the kittens, rewarding them with some canned cat food. Don’t allow the kittens to play with your hand, or bite or scratch you—it will teach kittens that biting is okay.

Playing:

Kittens at this age are extremely playful, so plan to spend time playing with them! Playing is an important part of kitten socialization because it helps them bond with each other and build confidence around people. Play with kittens for at least two hours a day (all together or broken up). Take time to socialize each of the kittens in a litter individually. At this age kittens will love to play with toys, and you should encourage that!

For more about socializing kittens, visit alleycat.org/Socialization.