Cats are one of the most common family pets and many families choose to raise their new cat from when it is a kitten. Today, our Sharpsburg vets talk about caring for a newborn kitten and when you can expect them to open their eyes.
Caring for and raising kittens is a thrilling experience. You'll notice that their eyes haven't opened yet, and their ears are possibly still closed against their head. They won't be able to stand or walk, and will be helpless - but with proper love and care from their mother or caregivers, they'll grow up healthy and happy.
When Can You Expect Your Kitten to Open Their Eyes?
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.
How to properly care for the eyes of your newborn kitten
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 its 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!
When you should be concerned about your newborn kitten's eyes
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.
How to Care For Your Newborn Kitten
Much like newborn human babies, newborn kittens spend much of their time sleeping, waking occasionally to be fed and cared for. Kittens can sense warmth and use their sense of smell to move toward their mother's belly and are dependent on a source of milk and warmth to aid them in their development.
Newborn kittens sleep about 22 hours per day, while 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!
It is Crucial to Keep Your Kitten Warm
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. You must 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 to if they become too warm.
You should continue to provide your kitten with a heating source until they are about 6 weeks old because if kittens get too cold they will catch hypothermia, for this reason, their area should be kept at 85ºF or 29ºC.
Your Newborn Kitten Will need Essential Nutrients
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 to grow healthily. Never give your cat cow milk, and always make sure they are fed the same formula. For your cat to digest food properly, it must be kept warm.
The Importance of Preventive Care for Your New 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 regarding 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 allow your vet 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 ensure your kitten gets all their 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.