Kitten Development: Birth to One Week

The Newborn Kitten's First Week

Germany, Newborn kittens sleeping on blanket, close up
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Kittens are adorable creatures, with the ability to entrance and entertain even when they are tiny and helpless. They are so cute when they are tiny that we often forget the remarkable process they are going through. Kittens develop rapidly, going from wobbly newborns to agile cats in a very short time. Understanding the developmental milestones cats go through can help you appreciate your kitten at various stages and help provide for his needs.

One of the biggest and most substantial developments occurs during the time period between birth and reaching one week of age.

Blind, Deaf and Dependent

The newborn kitten weighs just ounces and easily fits into the palm of your hand. Her umbilical cord will fall off within two or three days, but her eyes and ear canals will not be open yet.

Kittens are very helpless at this age, but the mother cat instinctively knows their needs. She feeds them, keeps them close by for warmth, bathes them with her rough tongue, which also stimulates their digestion and helps them urinate and defecate. Mother cats are very protective of their little ones and will move them to another location if humans intrude too much into the nest.

Provided the mother has been vaccinated or has natural immunity, the kittens will receive this same immunity for the first 24 to 48 hours through her colostrum, and it will last until they are old enough to get their "kitten shots."

During this stage, it can be tempting to dote on the little ones, but this is an essential developmental period, and their mother can be easily stressed by too much human interference. Give them space and time to bond and for the mom to tend to her brood; it will help them in the long run. 

Tiny Food Processing Factories

Newborns will weigh an average of 3.5 ounces at birth and may double their weight by the end of the first week.

They are simply little food processing factories at this point, and their only activities are nursing, sleeping, and passing waste. There is very little social interaction at this age, other than competing for their favorite nipple, where they will suckle while kneading with their tiny paws. Although their ear canals are not completely open the first week, kittens may have a reflex action to sudden noise.

The body temperature of a newborn is only 95° F, and their shivering reflex is not yet developed, so it is extremely important to keep them warm during this time, especially if they are orphans or rescues without a mother cat.In some cases, you may need to provide a hot water bottle, heat lamp or blankets for extra warmth and insulation to keep the kittens healthy. 

Although kittens can lift their heads at birth, they haven't yet developed full limb support, so they will do a lot of "flopping" over as they learn to manage their bodies. However, within just a few weeks, they will develop rapidly and will become agile and nimble.