The First 6 Weeks of Kitten Development

Apr 25, 2022 | Cat Health

One of my kitties (Manna) became part of my family at only 3.5 weeks old after being orphaned. It is amazing to watch kitten development! Kittens are born after a whirlwind 63 to 65-day gestation period (source). What happens in utero is remarkably similar to human development in utero. The next few weeks bring a stunning and beautiful transformation.

Kitten Development: Birth to 2 Weeks

Kittens are so cute! The transformation that they go through is just amazing. We explore kitten development from birth to 6 weeks of age.

At birth kittens are virtually helpless. They are 1.8 – 5.3 ounces (50 – 150 grams) on average (source). Their eyes are shut, their ear canals are closed (ears folded over), and their motor skills are very limited. Two very important bodily functions are not yet under the kitten’s control:

  • Body Temperature Regulation
    Only able to produce a body temperature of 95ºF to 97ºF (35ºC to 36.1ºC) and without the shivering reflex, the newborn kittens must cuddle closely with one another and their mother to stay warm.
  • Eliminating Urine and Feces
    The mother cat will use her tongue to stimulate the kitten’s bodies to eliminate.

Kitten development progresses quickly. After week 1, the kitten has doubled in weight. By week 2 the kittens’ senses, motor skills, and social abilities are already making gains. The kittens will open their big (most likely blue) eyes and see with blurry vision. The ears will begin to unfold and reactions to their mother and other noises can be observed. It may be possible to determine the sex of the kitten at this time (source).

Week 2 marks the beginning of a very critical stage in kitten development (source). Between weeks 2 and 7 a cat will learn all it will ever know about socializing. It is crucial that cats are well socialized during this time so that they will be comfortable living with humans, other cats, and animals of other species.

Weeks 3-4

Kittens are so cute! The transformation that they go through is just amazing. We explore kitten development from birth to 6 weeks of age.

Much of the helplessness seen in the first 2 weeks of kitten development begins to disappear in weeks 3 and 4. The kittens can now regulate their own body temperature, eliminate waste on their own, are getting their baby teeth in, and are beginning to walk on their own. This is a great period of time to begin to introduce a small litter box to the kittens.

The big blue eyes are beginning to change to their permanent color. The kittens’ sight and hearing are almost as good as they will be when the kittens are adults. Depth perception is even beginning to develop.

Now that the kittens have use of their senses, socializing become more prominent. The kittens will begin to dabble in social play with one another and humans. This is where a kitten learns social rules and boundaries. For example, if little Dexter bites little Manna too hard, little Manna will likely let out a little yelp and stop playing with little Dexter. From this little Dexter learns that he can’t bite others that hard if he wants positive attention from them.

Weeks 5-6

Kittens are so cute! The transformation that they go through is just amazing. We explore kitten development from birth to 6 weeks of age.

Weeks 5 and 6 are the true beginnings of kitten mischief. During these weeks of kitten development, the cats are fine tuning their motor skills and engaging in more complicated social interactions. At this point kittens have learned to run! They are capable of all of the same gaits that adults are capable of using. When playing with others, they begin displaying behaviors such as pouncing, rolling over and exposing their bellies, and side stepping. They will get into everything and anything.

This is the stage of kitten development where kitten food should be introduced. The kittens may not be completely weaned from their mother’s milk until week 9, but they will be open to trying the new food. Baby teeth may still be coming in, so softer foods may be preferable.

Another great introduction at this stage would be a scratching post. Those little claws are finally long enough that the kitten will begin stretching and sharpening them. It might not be possible to trim the kittens’ nails quite yet (that usually happens around week 10). Training a kitten to use a scratching post will be much easier at this stage than it will once the cat is an adult. It’s a good idea to begin teaching the kitten not to use their claws on humans (even in play) at this point too.

Other Important Notes On Kitten Development

  • Kittens watch Mommy very closely.
    One of the ways kittens learn about humans is by the way their mother interacts with humans. If the mother is afraid or anxious around humans, the kittens will likely feel the same way. Try to always have pleasant interactions with the mother cat.
  • Human touch is good for kittens.
    Kittens that are regularly handled between kitten development weeks 2 and 7 developed more quickly and are more friendly to humans.
  • Orphaned kittens are at a huge disadvantage.
    Orphaned cats often lack social skills, parenting skills, and are poor learners. If you have an orphaned kitty, the best thing you can do is try to get another cat mom to foster the kitten. However, this can be a difficult, if not impossible, task. As a human, you can raise a kitten, but be careful to foster independence rather than reliance on you. Having another cat in the home can be very helpful too.
  • Socialization should include everyone.
    It is helpful to introduce kittens that are in kitten development weeks 2-7 to as many different people and animals as possible; adults, children, men with beards, people in hats, tall people, short people, dogs, other cats, etc. The kitten will be uncomfortable at first but will learn to enjoy the interaction. As a result, the kitten will grow to be more comfortable around different types of people and animals that they may encounter.

Sources & Continued Reading

Kittens are so cute! The transformation that they go through is just amazing. We explore kitten development from birth to 6 weeks of age.

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14 Comments

  1. Eastside Cats Blog

    We adopted Celestial Angel and Chuck at 6 weeks, which we know now was too young.
    Chuck was a woolsucker, which is a direct result of he being taken from his mom too early.
    What we’ve learned since our first kittens in 2004!

    Reply
  2. Ellen Pilch

    Nice post. I have never had a kitten so young other than the ones that one of my feral lost last year.

    Reply
  3. Brian Frum

    Most interesting, we’ve got 4 kittens in our feral family now so we’ll be TNRing before too long.

    Reply
  4. Summer

    My human has never helped raise kittens from birth. But it is on her bucket list.

    Reply
  5. databbiesotrouttowne

    mackerull was trapped at 7 weeks; his mom was feral. he is now 4
    and doesn’t like “people” ~~~~~ { though he still acts like he is in his
    “5-6 weeks kitten stage” !! 😉 just ask the loveseat cloth 🙂

    Reply
  6. Cathy Armato

    It’s so interesting how kittens and puppies develop the first few weeks of life. Great overview of kitten development! I had no idea Manna was so young when you got him – what an absolute cutie pie!

    Reply
  7. Michelle & The Paw Pack

    Baby animals are the cutest. They grow SO quickly, it’s crazy. It’s so amazing how much of a difference just a few weeks can make.

    Reply
  8. Kamira Gayle

    Aww reading this post brings back good memories of raising my first cat Precious. I took note about the “watching mommy” aspect. That’s so true. When my cat Precious was 6-7 weeks she’s always be watching with her eyes glued on me. If I moved out of sight, she’s “meow” and cry until she could see me in her direct view again. I’d have to reassure her ” See, mommy is right here. I’m not going anywhere.” Then she’d calm down. They absorb all our habits and are so smart. Kittens catch on pretty quickly. I miss those days.

    Reply
  9. Terri

    Really fun read. I wasn’t aware of how exactly kittens developed or their needs. Although, I have seen them go from birth to adulthood and pass on my lap. The details of each stage are really interesting. If Henry talks me into a cat in our next home, I’m coming back to this page to refresh my mind. For now, I’m sharing it with all my animal friends.

    Reply
  10. Beth

    My sister found two young kittens in her basement just over a year ago. By the time she let them inside, one was pregnant. I visited them at my sister’s house when they were just two weeks old. After that, my sister brought the kittens to my house several times to help them socialize. It was fun to see how much they changed!

    We considered taking one of the kittens, but she really hated our dogs. At four weeks, all the kittens were scared of the dogs, but this one kept hissing and growling at them when she was seven weeks. Although I know she would have adjusted to them, we decided to take the kitten that didn’t mind the dogs. The kitten’s “favorite person” is our dog, Theo.

    Reply
  11. jana rade

    Excellent information to help people understand kitten development and needs.

    Reply
  12. Ruth Epstein

    Great post as we all need to know the beginning stages of cats if we are planning to get one.

    Reply
  13. Dorothy "FiveSibesMom"

    Oh, my, goodness…those kittens are so sweet! Love that little gray one! If only they could stay little just a little longer! (I say that about puppies, too!) Great info here, Robin!

    Reply
  14. Marjorie Dawson

    This is the post to read if you need to know what kittens are like and what they need when they are very small. Well done.

    Reply

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