A kitten’s development both physically and behaviourally starts on the day they are born.
On DAY 0 when a kitten is born they are completely deaf and blind. They are relying on their mom for survival 100%. Because kittens under 4 weeks old cannot regulate their own body temperature, they rely on mom to keep them warm. They can also not toilet by themselves so mom has to stimulate them and clean them.
DAYS 9 to 13 is when their eyes start to open, but everything is still fuzzy. Their ears also start to unfold and ear canals open up. It is amazing when the eye and ear fairies arrive.
At around 3 WEEKS when they can see and hear, they start becoming mobile and move around more. They take in much more of their surroundings, but they still stay very close to mom.They still drink from mom all the time and are still 100% dependent on mom.
At 4 to 5 WEEKS old, kittens walk around more with a bit less wobble. They explore more and it is critical for their social development phase. At this age they can right themselves when they fall and they can avoid obstacles a bit better. Their teeth are coming in and they are starting to eat solid food.
The imprinting phase starts at around 3 to 9 WEEKS when kittens should be exposed to a lot of human handling and interaction. The kittens are exposed to different sizes of humans with different looks, who feel differently, etc. Good human imprinting improves the quality of kittens’ experience with humans which is important for them settling in homes later.
This is also the age when kittens are mimicking mom with behaviour and they practice behaviours on their litter mates. This is when hunting behaviour starts getting established through play learning. Play equals prey as toys are the hunted objects. Because kitten claws can extend and retract they learn to inhibit claws scratching and grabbing. This is also the age when they learn to inhibit biting. They learn through playing and teach each other when biting and clawing is too hard. Learning to be like mom and learn to be a full predator is priority at this age. In a single-kitten litter or if the kitten is bottle-raised by itself, the kitten can often very bitey when it goes to its new home because it has not learned through play with mom and siblings that it hurts.
At 6 WEEKS playing is super important as kittens need to learn hunting by playing with toys. Playing with kittens with toys so they learn to hunt toys and not mom and not siblings. They will stalk, pounce, tackle and ‘eat’ the prey (toys) they catch, all in sequence to become ultimate hunters.
10 to 14 WEEKS old kittens are little hunting machines. They start to differentiate and explore away from siblings and mom. They want to know and understand objects and they will fearlessly try everything. Scratching, catching, rolling become the norm and interesting surfaces are getting climbed and tasted. It is very important to provide them with scratch posts so they scratch the right surfaces and not furniture.
At the teenager phase of 16 WEEKS onward, they can become menaces and are super busy and they will try and push boundaries. They should be kept out of trouble and have enough beds, scratching posts, toys, condo’s, etc. to stimulate their curiosity. This wild cat phase is very important and rewarding. You can never play too much with your kitten, so play, interact and enjoy. They also become rather gawky with long legs and tail.
And then you have Jan and Odee’s ‘very scientific’ guide to kitten development, which I have loved for years!
Thank you for sharing this lovely post about kittens. I think it is very important that kittens are never removed from their mom too early. This is when problems with development can occur, of course cats will tend to focus more on healthy kittens so taking time to nurture those “forgotten” little ones becomes important. However, just because you are bottle feeding one out of a litter don’t keep it away from mom and siblings too long.