You might be surprised at how different very young kittens look from their adult counterparts if you've never seen them before! They usually close their eyes tightly and fold their ears against their heads. They cannot stand and are mostly helpless, but their mother or caregivers can help them grow up healthy and happy with proper love and care.
When do kittens start to see?
A variety of factors determine the growth rates of kittens, but most newborns typically open their eyes between the ages of 2 and 16 days. During this time, their vision gradually improves, though they may not fully open both eyes at the same rate. The eyes usually dilate by 2 weeks of age, and many kittens can focus with both eyes by 3 weeks of age. Newborn kittens have blue eyes, and the eyes change color as the kitten grows, usually settling on the true color at about 8 weeks of age.
Caring for your newborn kitten's eyes
You should keep very young kittens away from bright lights that could harm or even kill their developing eyes. You have the responsibility to keep the newborn kitten clean and healthy if it does not have a mother or is not being well cared for by its mother. Use a warm, damp washcloth to keep their faces clean and, most importantly, avoid forcing a kitten's eyes open before the lids open naturally. You must have patience!
Issues to watch for & how to treat them
The crust can prevent newborn kittens from opening their eyes. A bacterial or viral infection can cause this common issue. Keeping your kittens' bedding and shared areas clean and sanitary is another reason to prevent infections from recurring or spreading to littermates. Gently clean your kitten's eyes if they develop a matted crust by using a cotton ball dampened with warm, clean water. You should avoid soap at all costs! Contact your veterinarian immediately if your kittens' eyes do not improve or worsen to ensure they receive treatment.
Other newborn kitten care tips
Much like newborn human babies, newborn kittens spend much of their time sleeping, waking occasionally to be fed and cared for. Kittens are able to sense warmth and use their sense of smell to move towards 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 less sleep is required by more mature kittens and adult cats. Around the time their teeth start coming in, your kitten will experience an improvement in mobility. They will start crawling at two weeks and will be able to walk, jump, and play more steadily by four weeks. They are more prone to mischief during this time as they are curious and adventurous - and often eager to practice climbing!
Warmth is important for newborn kittens
Newborn kittens tend to congregate near or on their mother because they can't regulate their body heat. If your newborn kitten lacks a mother or littermate to maintain their body temperature, you need to take additional measures to keep them warm. Use a heating disk in the crate or place a heating pad on low heat beneath a blanket in their enclosure. 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 without a heating item for them to go 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.
Newborn kittens need proper nutrition
Of course, when caring for a newborn kitten without a mother, it is essential to feed and provide proper nutrition. You will need to bottle feed your kitten a special kitten formula every 2-4 hours. Your veterinarian will advise you on the best formula to use, how much to feed each kitten, and how frequently you should feed them, as each kitten is unique. Kittens need to gain approximately 12 ounces (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) per week to grow healthily. You should never give cow milk to your cat, and you should always ensure that they are fed the same formula. Additionally, you should keep your cat warm to ensure proper digestion of food.
Preventive Care for Your 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 in regards to 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 give your vet the opportunity 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 make sure your kitten gets all of its 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.