Cats are the second most popular pet in the United States, and the majority of pet parents begin caring for them as kittens. Today, our Los Angeles veterinarians discuss when newborn kittens open their eyes and other early development tips.
If you've never seen a very young kitten before, you might be surprised at how different they look from their adult counterparts! Their eyes are usually closed tightly, and their ears are folded against their heads. They can't stand and are mostly helpless, but with proper love and care from their mother or caregivers, they'll grow up healthy and happy.
When do kittens start to see?
Kittens grow at different rates depending on a variety of factors, but most newborns open their eyes between the ages of 2 and 16 days. During this time, their vision gradually improves, though the two eyes may not fully open at the same rate. Both eyes are usually dilated by 2 weeks of age, and by 3 weeks of age, many kittens can focus with both eyes. All newborn kittens have blue eyes, and the color of the eyes will change as the kitten grows, usually settling on the true color at about 8 weeks of age.
Caring for your newborn kitten's eyes
Keep very young kittens away from bright lights that could harm or even kill their developing eyes. If the kitten does not have a mother or is not being well cared for by their mother, it is your responsibility to keep the newborn kitten clean and healthy. Keep their faces clean with a warm, damp clean washcloth and, most importantly, never force a kitten's eyes open before the lids open naturally. Patience is essential!
Issues to watch for & how to treat them
Newborn kittens' eyes can develop a crust that prevents them from opening. This is a common issue that can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, yet 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 develop a matted crust, gently clean them with a cotton ball dampened with warm, clean water. Avoid soap at all costs! If your kittens' eyes do not improve or worsen, contact your veterinarian immediately to ensure that they receive treatment.
Other newborn kitten care tips
Newborn kittens, like newborn human babies, spend the majority of their time sleeping, waking only to be fed and cared for. Kittens can sense warmth and use their sense of smell to move toward their mother's belly, and they rely on a source of milk and warmth to help them develop.
Newborn kittens sleep about 22 hours per day, while more mature 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, as they are curious and adventurous – and often eager to practice climbing!
Warmth is important for newborn kittens
Because newborn kittens can't regulate their body heat, they tend to congregate near or on their mother. If your newborn kitten does not have a mother or littermates to keep their body temperature up, you will need to do more to keep them warm by using a heating disk in the crate or a heating pad on low heat beneath a blanket in their enclosure. You should also make a small nest of blankets 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 that does not have a heating item for them to go if they become too warm.
You should continue to provide a heating source for your kitten until they are about 6 weeks old because if they get too cold, they will catch hypothermia; therefore, their area should be kept at 85oF or 29oC.
Newborn kittens need proper nutrition
Of course, feeding and providing proper nutrition are essential when caring for a newborn kitten without a mother. Every 2-4 hours, you will need to bottle feed your kitten a special kitten formula. Because each kitten is unique, your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the best formula to use, how much to feed them, and how frequently you should feed them. Kittens must gain approximately 12 ounces (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) per week in order to grow healthily. Never give your cat cow milk, and always make sure they are fed the same formula. In addition, your cat will need to be kept warm 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.