Kitten Development and Growth Stages

Kitten development seems to happen right before your eyes! Make sure you're prepared for each milestone your kitten reaches so you can know what to expect as he grows.

As fun as it is to watch their tiny wobbly bodies become fluffy little pouncing machines within a matter of weeks, you need to be involved at key stages of kitten development to turn these little furballs into good pets.

Here you will be introduced to important milestones reached during each of these stages, and what you need to know in order to care for them at each growth stage.   

Kitten Development from Birth to One Month

DAY 1: Newborn kittens weight only about 4 ounces when born and are completely helpless--blind, deaf, and unable to regulate their own body temperature.

Mama cat is completely responsible for taking care of her newborn kittens' needs for warmth, milk, and helping them eliminate their waste.

These tiny little kittens have a lower survival rate if they have been abandoned or orphaned but with a dedicated human mom to help them, they still have a chance to make it.

newborn kitten

DAY 5 Development : Kittens will already be a third bigger than their birth weight, since they gain half an ounce daily in the first several days.

Their ears will begin to open, but they are still flat against their heads and are still unresponsive to sound.

 During this stage of kitten development, they only have a sense of feel, vibration, and temperature sensors and can root (scoot) in the direction of mom's body heat as she arrives back to her litter.

They also have a developed sense of smell, and will even hiss if an unrecognized scent enters their nest...I can't imagine that this would be scary enough to frighten something away though!

You may also see some of the kittens' eyes begin to open. It looks kind of funny, since they open on the inside corners first!

Once fully opened, they will begin to focus a few days later. The kitten age range for this is from day 5 to 14.

DAY 10 Development: The kittens will begin to orient towards sound, however they will not recognize what they hear for almost another couple of weeks.

They are also getting stronger and still gaining weight rapidly during this development stage.

DAY 14: The kittens are growing in leg strength but they are not yet able to support their body weight and they are still wobbly and uncoordinated.

Most of them during this stage of kitten development should have their eyes open, but it may take a couple days for some of them to be able to focus.

cute 2 week old kitten

It is a good idea to get little kittens used to human handling even this early in kitten development.

Kittens have a sensitive period of socialization, which means that between 2 and 7 weeks, they need to be exposed and handled by humans if they are going to trust people and become good pets.

Handling of kittens at this kitten growth stage should be nothing more than just holding them and very gently petting them with your thumb or finger.

It is a myth that the mother will abandon her litter after her kittens are touched, but if you do it too much she may hide them from you in another location. So just about a minute per kitten each day will be sufficient.

DAY 21 At the 3-week-old mark during kitten development, the kittens' ears are erect and they are beginning to recognize sound.

cute kitten illustration 3 weeks old

Their baby teeth are starting to come in and they are beginning to learn how to purr.

And yes--it is very, very adorable.

DAY 25: At this development stage, they are able to walk using their legs, but are still uncoordinated and falling over a lot.

They have the ability to crawl over the sides of the nest box if the walls aren't high enough, so be prepared for little escape artists!

They still have a stubby, stiff tail with no flexibility, but it will develop more at the 4- or 5-week-old kitten growth stage.

Kitten Development 4 Weeks to 6 Weeks

1 MONTH Development: Many mother cats will have their litters fully weaned by this this stage of kitten development, and will be able to eat solid (but soft) kitten food.

Mom may choose to occasionally let her kittens nurse, so let mom do what she thinks is best for her kittens!

They are able to control their body temperatures by this phase of kitten development without mom's help. They also no longer have to be "pottied" by mom and can control their own urination and defecation.

They will become acquainted with the litter box, but it will take some time for them to catch on to its purpose--they will just think it's a new place to play!

The little kittens may even eat some litter to see how tasty it is, but should soon catch on. A safe alternative to clay litter is a pellet litter like Yesterday's News.

Keeping their critical socialization period in mind, make sure to be around the kittens and hold them often. Get them used to being picked up and having their ears, teeth and paws looked at.

6 WEEKS: Let the party begin! Between 5 and 6 weeks old is when all the kittens' cuteness and zaniness just explodes all over the living room!

Kitten proofing is now a must during this development stage to protect them from dangerous objects, and also to protect your treasured possessions!

At this kitten development stage, they will have all of their baby teeth in and will begin to learn social play with their siblings. As fun as it is to watch, play is also very important during kitten development.

They are learning to hunt by stalking and pouncing on each other, and they are learning that their little teeth and claws hurt when their playing turns into tiny little yowls of pain!

cute black kitten meowing

Kittens "play nice" with their siblings when they learn how to prevent exposing their claws or biting too hard when wrestling.

6 Weeks is also when their big blue eyes will begin to change color--or not!

At this kitten development stage, they should be fairly consistently using the litter box.

Be patient if you have some slow learners, and NEVER rub their noses in accidents!

Just place them gently in the litter box after every meal, and you can even hold their leg and scratch the litter with it to help them with their litter box training.

Kitten Development 6 Weeks to 8 Weeks

By now, the kittens are testing the limits of their balance, coordination, speed, and climbing abilities.

If you haven't been doing so already, get the little kittens used to the hustle, bustle, and noises of the human household.

While physical handling is key in making a kitten human-friendly, kittens will be much more confident adults if they are not so easily frightened by strange sounds.

So let them hear, see and smell the vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, garbage disposer, cat-friendly dogs, supervised children and toddlers, guests, television, music, and laughter.

The more exposure they get, the more easily the kittens will transition into their new homes with confidence and curiosity instead of anxiousness and fright.

The immunity the kittens received from their mother's milk in the first crucial days of life begins to wane during this stage of kitten development, and it is time to schedule their first veterinary visit for vaccinations and parasite testing.

This is also a good time to consider getting the kittens spayed and neutered.

The kittens now are completely weaned, but not yet ready to go to new homes. While a 6 to 8 week old kitten can be separated from his mother and siblings, 10 to 12 weeks is recommended.

Although nutritionally independent, there is still a lot of learning-how-to-be-a-cat that goes on during this stage of kitten development.

Kitten Development 8 Weeks to 6 Months

The kittens are adjusting to their independence, but if they have been socialized properly then they will still be enjoying friendly chats and plenty of cuddles with their owners frequently!

cute black kitten standing

Between 2 and 4 months, the kittens should be gaining about a pound per month.

By 10 to 12 weeks they should be in their forever homes and adjusting to life without their litter mates.

They are still learning the ropes when it comes to testing their physical limits, and accidents can happen at this kitten age due to misjudgments when jumping or climbing.

At 14 weeks they will have their adult teeth in, but they should remain on kitten food until they are a year old.

Kitten Development 6 Months to 1 Year and Beyond

At 6 months, a kitten's immune system matures.

Also, he is or soon will be developing sexual maturity.

People tend to forget that their kittens are growing up, and think that motherhood and fatherhood cannot even be possible for such a young cat!

cute picture of a big kitten and a little kitten

That is why spaying and neutering before this age is so important.

When they reach a year old, a kitten should be slowly transitioned to eating adult cat food, which has more fiber and less fat than kitten food.

Although technically speaking no longer a kitten, a 1-year-old cat still has some growing and development ahead of him.

It will take 18 months to 2 years for him to "grow up" and develop into his adult personality, and another couple of years to reach his full weight--Even longer for some breeds, like Maine Coons.

And if you did a good job raising this kitten, then you set the stage for him to become a wonderfully happy cat and loving family member in his new home!

Want to know more about caring for kittens during each development stage? My new ebook Raising Kittens: A Care Guide for the New Kitten Owner will give you the guidance you need!

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