Kitten: Wikis


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A six-week-old kitten

A kitten (Old English diminutive of cat) is a juvenile domesticated cat (Felis catus) that is not yet fully-grown.[1]

The young of big cats are called cubs rather than kittens. Either term may be used for the young of smaller wild felids such as ocelots, caracals, and lynx, but "kitten" is usually more common for these species.


Birth and development

A kitten opens its eyes for the first time.

A litter of kittens usually consists of two to five kittens. They are born after a gestation that lasts between 64–67 days, with an average length of 66 days.[2] Kittens emerge in a sac called the amnion which is bitten off and eaten by the mother cat.[3]

For the first several weeks, kittens are unable to urinate or defecate without being stimulated by their mother. They are also unable to regulate their body temperature for the first three weeks, so kittens born in temperatures less than 27°C (80 °F) can die from exposure if they are not kept warm by their mother.

The mother's milk is very important for the kittens' nutrition and proper growth. This milk transfers antibodies to the kittens, which helps protect them against infectious disease.[4] Newborn kittens are also unable to produce concentrated urine, and so have a very high requirement for fluids.[5]

Kittens open their eyes about seven to ten days following birth. At first, the retina is poorly-developed and vision is poor. Kittens are not able to see as well as adult cats until about ten weeks after birth.[6]

Kittens are inquisitive and playful.

Kittens develop very quickly from about two weeks of age until their seventh week. Their coordination and strength improve, they play-fight with their litter-mates, and begin to explore the world outside the nest. They learn to wash themselves and others as well as play hunting and stalking games, showing their inborn ability as predators. These innate skills are developed by the kittens' mother or other adult cats bringing live prey to the nest. Later, the adult cats also demonstrate hunting techniques for the kittens to emulate.[7]

As they reach three to four weeks old, the kittens are gradually weaned and begin to eat solid food, with weaning usually complete by six to eight weeks.[8] Kittens live primarily on solid food after weaning, but usually continue to suckle from time to time until separated from their mothers. Some mother cats will scatter their kittens as early as three months of age, while others continue to look after them until they approach sexual maturity.

A litter of kittens nursing from their mother

The sex of kittens is usually easy to determine by six to eight weeks. The male's urethral opening is round, whereas the female's is a slit. Another marked difference is the distance between anus and urethral opening, which is greater in males than in females.

Kittens are highly social animals and spend most of their waking hours interacting with available animals and playing. Play with other kittens peaks in the third or fourth month after birth, with more solitary hunting and stalking play peaking later, at about five months.[9] Kittens are vulnerable to harm because they like to find dark places to hide; with sometimes fatal results if they are not watched carefully.

Although domestic kittens are commonly sent to new homes at six to eight weeks of age, it has been suggested that being with its mother and litter mates from six to twelve weeks is important for a kitten's social and behavioural development.[9] Usually, breeders will not sell a kitten that is younger than twelve weeks, and in many jurisdictions, it is illegal to give away kittens younger than eight weeks old.[10]

A curious kitten

Caring for domestic kittens

Most veterinarians recommend that kittens be vaccinated against common illnesses beginning at two–three months of age. The combination vaccination protects against Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), Feline calicivirus (C), and Feline panleukopenia (P) and is therefore called FVRCP. This inoculation is given at eight weeks and twelve weeks with a third FVRCP and a rabies inoculation at sixteen weeks. Cats can be spayed or neutered at approximately seven months of age.[11] Many veterinarians will spay or neuter kittens as young as seven weeks and weighing at least two pounds (approx. 1 kg); the practice is particularly common in animal shelters.[11] Such early spaying does not appear to have any long-term health risks to cats, and may even be beneficial in male cats.[12] Kittens should also be wormed against roundworms at about four weeks.

A red tabby Maine Coon kitten aged ten weeks

Kittens require a high-calorie diet that contains more protein than the diet of adult cats.[13] From weaning until about one year of age they should be fed a diet specifically formulated for kittens. Orphaned kittens too young to eat solid food may be fed a cat milk replacement formula every two to four hours. Kittens should not be fed cow's milk because it does not provide all of the necessary nutrients.[14] Cats are generally intolerant of sugars in their diets and both sucrose (table sugar) and lactose are not digested and cause soft stools or diarrhea.[15] Orphaned kittens that are not urinating or defecating must be stimulated to do so after each meal by rubbing with a warm, damp washcloth at the base of their spine where the tail begins.[16] This is vital to the kitten's survival.

Hand-reared kittens tend to be very affectionate and more dependent on humans as adults, but can also show volatile mood swings and aggression.[17] If a kitten develops diarrhea, it is best to seek advice from a veterinarian. The kitten may need to be de-wormed with a de-wormer at six–eight weeks old and then again two weeks later.

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 1989)
  2. ^ Tsutsui T, Stabenfeldt GH (1993). "Biology of ovarian cycles, pregnancy and pseudopregnancy in the domestic cat". J. Reprod. Fertil. Suppl. 47: 29–35. PMID 8229938.  
  3. ^ Miglino MA, Ambrósio CE, dos Santos Martins D, Wenceslau CV, Pfarrer C, Leiser R (2006). "The carnivore pregnancy: the development of the embryo and fetal membranes". Theriogenology 66 (6–7): 1699–702. doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2006.02.027. PMID 16563485.  
  4. ^ Casal ML, Jezyk PF, Giger U (1996). "Transfer of colostral antibodies from queens to their kittens". Am. J. Vet. Res. 57 (11): 1653–8. PMID 8915447.  
  5. ^ Phillips C, Rochlitz I (2005). Animal Welfare Volume 3: The Welfare of Cats. doi:10.1007/1-4020-3227-7_9.   page 243
  6. ^ Tootle JS, Friedlander MJ (1989). "Postnatal development of the spatial contrast sensitivity of X- and Y-cells in the kitten retinogeniculate pathway". J. Neurosci. 9 (4): 1325–40. PMID 2703879.  
  7. ^ Poirier FE, Hussey LK (1982). "Nonhuman Primate Learning: The Importance of Learning from an Evolutionary Perspective". Anthropology & Education Quarterly 13 (2): 133–148. doi:10.1525/aeq.1982.13.2.05x1830j.  
  8. ^ Phillips C, Rochlitz I (2005). Animal Welfare Volume 3: The Welfare of Cats - Nutrition and Welfare. doi:10.1007/1-4020-3227-7_9.   page 244
  9. ^ a b Crowell-Davis, S (2005). Animal Welfare Volume 3: The Welfare of Cats - Cat Behaviour: Social Organization, Communication and Development. doi:10.1007/1-4020-3227-7_1.   page 18
  10. ^ Sunquist, Mel; Fiona Sunquist (2002). Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-77999-8.  
  11. ^ a b Olson PN, Kustritz MV, Johnston SD (2001). "Early-age neutering of dogs and cats in the United States (a review)". J. Reprod. Fertil. Suppl. 57: 223–32. PMID 11787153.  
  12. ^ Spain CV, Scarlett JM, Houpt KA (2004). "Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in cats". J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 224 (3): 372–9. doi:10.2460/javma.2004.224.372. PMID 14765796.  
  13. ^ Rogers QR, Morris JG (1979). "Essentiality of amino acids for the growing kitten". J. Nutr. 109 (4): 718–23. PMID 430271.  
  14. ^ Guilford WG (1994). "Nutritional management of gastrointestinal tract diseases of dogs and cats". J. Nutr. 124 (12 Suppl): 2663S–2669S. PMID 7996263.  
  15. ^ Kienzle E (1994). "Blood sugar levels and renal sugar excretion after the intake of high carbohydrate diets in cats". J. Nutr. 124 (12 Suppl): 2563S–2567S. PMID 7996238.  
  16. ^ Feline How-to Manual from Pawprints and Purrs, Inc, on feeding newborn cats Feline How-To Manual: Feeding the Cat - Including Newborn Kitten Feeding ~ Pawprints and Purrs, Inc. at
  17. ^ Heath, S (2005). Animal Welfare Volume 3: The Welfare of Cats - Behaviour Problems and Welfare. doi:10.1007/1-4020-3227-7_4.   page 102

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