The kitten’s development

Completely dependent on his mother, a kitten gains his autonomy within a few weeks. This rapid development, which takes place before weaning, is a true performance specific to the feline species.

Blind and deaf, a kitten coming into the world weighs only about one hundred grams. Licked by his mother, he is warmed up and stimulated. This enables him to find the nourishing teats. Unable to regulate his body temperature until 3 weeks of age, he will cuddle against his mother’s belly to suckle colostrum, which contains numerous antibodies. After a few days, he will get milk when he feeds, which takes up one third of his time during the first month. Between 7 and 10 days he will double his weight. Within 5 weeks, he will be able to move and his senses will develop, as he shares his time between play and sleep when he is not feeding.

The five senses

At birth, a kitten has a sense of smell sufficiently developed for him to be able to find his mother. He is also able to differentiate between the three basic flavours; sweet, salty and sour, with little appreciation for the latter two. He is blind and deaf and acquires these two senses almost at the same time. The sense of hearing develops around 5 days of age, but does not enable the kitten to orient himself before 14 days of age. He will gain the adult’s skills at about one month of age and will then recognise his mother’s voice. A kitten opens his eyes between 7 and 15 days after birth but will still need 3 or 4 days to gain the notion of depth. Adapting to this simultaneous acquisition of the senses of sight and hearing takes a few days.

A kitten has a great sense of balance at a very early age. Even though he is still somewhat clumsy, he coordinates his motions with difficulty before 2
weeks of age. He begins to walk on his four legs after 17 days and becomes skilful enough to scratch his ear with his hind leg at around 3 weeks. At 35 days of age, he can scratch and retract his claws.

The major body areas

The major anatomical areas do not all develop at the same rate. A kitten is born with a relatively large head, and then a visible lengthening of his limbs is noticeable. Finally, the rest of his body develops, giving the typical proportions of an adult.

Behaviours

There is an innate component in the grooming, elimination and feeding behaviour and the mother also teaches these very quickly. As early as 15 days of age, a kitten is able to lick his foreleg. At 30 days, he makes his first approaches to the litter box by scratching at the material. From 3 weeks of age, he is able to do his eliminations alone in the box. As early as 4 weeks, he can feed, imitating his mother’s behaviour and, by doing so, acquires her dietary preferences.

Establishing communication behaviour specific to the feline species starts at 3 weeks and ends during 7 or 8 weeks of age. His play activity starts around 3 weeks with contacts and games between the kittens, and interactions with the mother, which make this intra-specific socialisation possible. The kitten learns to inhibit scratching, and to get interested in "prey” such as insects or small objects. The predation behaviour specific to his species begins to set in at the end of the first month.

Learning the social behaviour directed at friendly species (man and dog) also takes place around 3 weeks and ends around 3 months of age. A kitten must be in an environment enriched with visual, sound and other stimuli. Stroked and handled a few minutes a day, placed in the presence of children and of other animals, surrounded with various noises, a kitten will become all the more balanced. His behaviour when he becomes an adult will largely depend on the diversity of his environment at this time of his life.

No experience can replace those few fascinating months during which a kitten blossoms into an adult cat. This evolution should take place in complete serenity and by adhering to a few essential rules when choosing and welcoming him into the home, and by providing him with nutrition and care, you ensure his continued well-being and health.

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