If you are thinking of adding a new kitten to the family or have a pregnant cat, you may have some questions. In this article, our Concord vets discuss when newborn kittens' eyes will begin to open, and how you can care for them.
Newborn & Baby Kittens
If you're not familiar with very young kittens, it may shock you to find out how different they look from their adult counterparts! Their eyes are sealed tightly shut, and their ears are usually folded against their heads. They can't stand, and are more or less helpless - but with proper love and care from their mother or caretakers, they can grow up happy and healthy.
When a Newborn Kitten Will Open Their Eyes
Kittens develop at differing rates depending on various factors, but most newborns will start opening their eyes when they are between 2 and 16 days old. Their vision slowly improves during this time, though the two eyes may not fully open at the same rate.
At about 2 weeks of age, both eyes are usually dilated, and by 3 weeks old, many kittens can focus with both eyes. All newborn kittens have blue eyes, and the eye color will change as the kitten ages, usually settling on the true color at about 8 weeks old.
Taking Care of Your Kitten's Eyes
Do your best to keep very young kittens away from bright lights that could potentially hurt or damage their developing eyes. If your kitten doesn't have a mother or if their mother isn't taking good care of them, you need to make sure the newborn kittens are clean and healthy. Keep their faces clean with a warm, damp clean washcloth and, most of all, never try to force a kitten’s eyes open before the lids open naturally on their own. Patience is key!
Problems to Watch for & How to Manage Them
Newborn kittens can develop a crust on their eyes that keeps them from opening. This is a common issue that could be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. This makes it important to keep your kittens' bedding and shared areas clean and hygienic, to prevent infections from reoccurring or spreading between littermates. If kittens develop this matted crust in their eyes, try gently cleaning them with a cotton ball dampened with warm clean water.
Avoid soap entirely! If your kittens' eyes show no improvement or become worse, call your vet immediately to ensure they get the care they need.
Newborn Kitten Care Tips
Similar to newborn human babies, newborn kittens spend a lot 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 approximately 22 hours a day, but more mature kittens and adult cats require less sleep. Your kitten's mobility will start to improve at about the same time their teeth start coming in; at around two weeks they are crawling and by four weeks they can walk, jump, and play more steadily. This is also when their capacity for mischief increases, as they are curious and adventurous – and often eager to practice climbing!
Newborn Kittens need to Stay Warm
Newborn kittens aren't able to regulate their body heat, which is one of the reasons why they usually pile up near or on their mother. If your newborn kitten doesn't have a mother or littermates to keep their body temperature up, you will need to do more to help them stay warm by putting a heating disk or a heating pad on low heat beneath a blanket in their crate.
You should also make a little nest out of blankets for the kitten to lay in for comfort. You must make sure that the heating pad isn't too hot by touching it with your hands and providing a comfortable place in your kitten's cage/crate that does not have a heating item so they can go there if they get 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.
Nutrition for Your Newborn Kitten
If you are caring for a newborn kitten that doesn't have a mother you will have to feed them and make sure they get the proper nutrition they require. You will need to bottle feed your kitten a special kitten formula every 2-4 hours. Since each kitten is different, your veterinarian will be able to tell you which formula is the best to use, as well as how much to feed your kitten and how frequently they need to be fed.
For kittens to grow healthily, they will need to gain approximately ½ ounce (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) a week. Never give your cat cow milk and always make sure you are feeding them the same formula. And, for your kitty to digest food properly they will have to be kept warm.
Kitten Preventive Care
It doesn't matter how old your kitten is, it's essential to bring them for their first veterinary appointment at the recommended time. Your veterinarian will assess your kitten's health and inform you of their dietary needs. This also gives you the chance to ask any questions you might have about caring for your new family member.
It's essential to make sure your kitten receives routine preventive care, including routine vaccinations, wellness exams, and parasite prevention.
Regular wellness exams allow your vet to evaluate your kitten's overall health and well-being, including their dietary needs. OFA exams allow our vets to determine any genetic abnormalities in your kitten's eyes. Your vet will also be able to diagnose any diseases early in their most treatable stages before they become more serious and expensive to treat.
You also need to make sure your kitten gets all of 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. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.