How to save & take care of a kitten and feral cats - an advocacy tool kit

How Old Is That Kitten? Kitten Guide: Three Weeks

Guide/How-to| Kittens / "Leave Them Be"

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

When kittens are three weeks old, their ears are finally fully upright and their blue eyes are open (their adult eye color does not set in until they are older—and might not happen until they’re two months old!). While the kittens’ movements are still uncoordinated, they are playing more and you can begin to socialize them through toys and games. They still can’t control claw retraction.

Care

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

Feeding

At three weeks old, you can start introducing wet food to kittens. Mix the wet food with kitten formula to get the ball rolling. Either let the kittens eat the mixture themselves from a dish or feed it to them with kitten-specific bottles.

If feeding with a bottle, 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 of this age 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 threats to kittens, along with chilling. Signs of dehydration include limpness, unresponsiveness, sunken eyes, and lethargy. You can also check by pulling up the skin at the scruff of the neck when the kitten is in a standing position. If the skin 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 or a heated rice sock or water bottle. Make sure that kittens have room to move away from the heat if they want.

Bathroom habits:

At this age, kittens can start to eliminate waste on their own. It’s time to introduce a small, shallow litter box with a layer of non-clumping litter. Show kittens the litter box and they should quickly start using it out of instinct. To help them out, stimulate a kitten to go to the bathroom like before and put the soiled cotton ball into the litter.

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

Socialization

Handle the kittens often at this age to encourage their social development. This helps them connect positive experiences with people, which will help to adopt them into new homes. Kittens of this age show interest in their surroundings and interact with their littermates, people, and toys. Now you can socialize them through:

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 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 lots of time playing with them! Playing is an important part of kitten socialization because it helps kittens 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.