Published on May 25th, 2015 | by Debbie Martin0
Birth to Weaning: Your Kitten and What to Expect
Birth to Weaning: Your Kitten and What to Expect. The arrival of a new kitten is a very exciting event but it could also be a big step into the unknown for you and your family. How will you help them to grow safely and get them prepared for life after weaning?
The period between the kitten being born and weaning is relatively short but it is an incredibly interesting and important time. You will want to know how to take good care of both the mother and her kittens during this period, so it pays to know what to expect from your kitten’s first few weeks.
The First Milk
It is an amazing feeling to see newborn kittens lying there but these first few hours are also vital for their health. Part of the reason for this is that the mother’s first milk contains important nutrients to protect her new-born babies. This is called colostrum and it is vital that the kittens drink it as soon as possible. 12 hours after being born the kitten’s intestine starts to close and by 24 hours it will no longer allow them to fully absorb the nutrients in this first milk.
Mother and Kitten Bonding
The first few days are also when the mother cat and her kittens need to bond. One of the reasons why some kittens suffer problems early in life is that they may suffer from poor mothering or even neglect. In general terms, you will want to keep your distance and avoid stressing out the mother while the bonding process takes place. Some mother cats get agitated or aggressive if they feel that they or their new-born kittens are being threatened. In extreme cases the mother may even abandon her kittens if she gets too stressed about the whole thing. However, you will want to keep an eye on the situation and make sure that the bonding process seems to be going well. Among other things, you should see that the mother licks the rear end of the kittens, which is to clean them and help them to learn how to go to the toilet.
Looking After the Mother
You should also keep an eye on the mother cat after the birth. One sign that everything is going well is that she has a good appetite. You should also notice that the discharge from her birth canal starts to reduce. If she has a poor appetite or there is a large amount of discharge then either of these things could be a sign of big problems. The appearance of her mammary glands is also important, as these shouldn’t be swollen, discoloured or painful looking. If something doesn’t appear to be right with the mother then you should contact your vet immediately.
Time to Grow
New kittens grow quickly and cats are usually excellent mothers who don’t need any help in raising their offspring. Kittens generally grow at a rate of around 8 to 10 grams a day. By weighing the little one regularly on a kitchen scale you can check their progress and make sure that they are growing at the rate they should be. If there are several kittens in the litter and one doesn’t grow as quickly as the others then it should be clear that something is wrong. Any kitten that doesn’t grow as quickly as he should will need to be checked out, so let your vet know about this if it happens.
Learning About the World
Kittens will generally start to move about and investigate in their third week of life and by the fourth week they are likely to be very lively and maybe even eating their mother’s food! The mother cat will take charge of showing her babies all about the world and how it works. She will show them how to get food, where to go to the toilet and all of the other skills they need to learn. At this stage they will also learn how to play and interact with other cats. Once they open their eyes and start moving about it is good to handle kittens daily, so that they get used to human company early on. You should look to handle young kittens briefly but regularly. Of course, you will also want to be very gentle with them. By the time they reach 5 or 6 weeks of age they are likely to be independently exploring the home for spells before returning to spend time with their mother.
Resolving Possible Problems
You should always remember that new-born kittens don’t find it easy to bounce back if they get sick or weak. If you think that one looks weak or is cool to the touch then you will want to get their health checked by a vet a soon as possible. Kittens will generally open their open their eyes in their second week of life. If they have done this by the end of the second week you will want to speak to the vet.
There are certain health issues to get resolved even before a kitten is weaned. For example, it is important that they are wormed regularly in the early days of life. You should check with a vet but expect worming treatment to be given every couple of weeks, for perhaps a minimum of 3 treatments. You will also want your vet to let you know about when the little ones should be vaccinated.
It is possible to wean a kitten once they are able to eat solid food, which is normally between 7 and 8 weeks after birth. However, it is regarded as being far better to wait until the kitten has reached the age of 12 to 16 weeks. This is because at this stage a young cat is more likely to be in a position to have learned how to survive life on their own. They are also going to get bigger and stronger with every passing day at this age, so an extra few weeks can make all the difference!