Kittens – what to expect 0-12 weeks
It is important not to be intrusive around the birthing box since a new queen may find that stressful. Handling of the kittens is unacceptable to some queens; she may become aggressive, move her kittens around or abandon them if really stressed. Remember that the first few days are essential for good bonding with offspring, so apart from making sure that the queen and kittens are healthy, and ensuring that the nest is clear of birthing fluids, resist the urge to get in the way until a routine is established.
The first milk contains important protection against disease and must be taken in by newborn kitten as soon as possible after birth (within the first few hours). Kittens should gain weight at a steady 8-10g per day. Weighing each kitten daily with some kitten scales should work perfectly. Healthy newborns grow at a rapid rate!
Queens are generally excellent mothers and you need not help her. She is going to be kept busy with nursing, grooming and training her kittens how to be cats. A queen will help her kittens understand where the litter tray is and how to use it. An outdoor queen may teach her kittens hunting skills. Kittens will help each other learn how to interact socially. Play and play fights both help them practice body language and appropriate behaviours; they will need to communicate with other cats.
The queen may start the weaning process as early as 4-5 weeks by moving away/not allowing the kittens to suckle for as long and often. At this point solid foods can be offered as well, such as Royal Canin Kitten Weaning diet (available from vet practices only). This diet can be fed from 4 weeks of age and can be soaked with water to soften if required to help the transition to a dry kibble. All kittens should be eating solid food by 8-12 weeks. It is desirable to leave the kittens together with the mother until 12-16 weeks so that they effectively learn life’s lessons about normal behaviour etc and are stronger and larger before the stress of separation.
Veterinary health care starts before weaning, with routine worming of kittens. Here at Pool House Veterinary Hospital we recommend Panacur 2.5% liquid and should be started at 3 weeks and repeated every 2 weeks until 3 months (12 weeks) then monthly until 6 months.
ACTIVITY TO EXPECT
Week 1: Queen will be nursing every few hours, everyone sleeps a lot, kittens will stay close to queen and she will wash their bottoms to encourage urination and faecal passage to keep the kitten and nest clean.
Week 2: Kittens eyes will open, all newborn kittens eyes are blue and will change as they age if they are not meant to have blue eyes as adults. If eyes are not open by day 14 contact the hospital for advice. Kittens should also be starting to stand and move about the nest.
Week 3: Kittens start to explore their immediate environment and leave the nesting box. First worming treatment should be given at this point.
Week 4: Kittens may start to eat kitten food, they are quite mobile and active by this point!
Week 5,6: Much less frequent nursing, kittens much more independent and will be enjoying exploring their surroundings. All kittens should be eating well on their own as well as being nursed by the queen but with longer intervals between feeds. A lot of kittens will be able to use a litter tray at this point. Second worming treatment due at week 5.
Week 7,8,9: Third worming treatment due week 8. First visit to the vet and possible first vaccine at 9 weeks. Vaccine scheduling may vary so discuss this with the vet to ensure that vaccines are given appropriately.
Remember to check the queen regularly for the appearance of her teats if any unusual swelling or discolouration or pain is present contact the Veterinary Hospital immediately.
Queens should be eating vigorously, remember that her requirements still remain much higher than normal and she should still be eating a growth formula diet such at Royal Canin kitten growth to give her the extra proteins and essential vitamins and minerals that she needs to continue to provide for her young. If either queen or kittens are appearing unwell, don’t wait! Delaying care will only worsen things. The kittens should be observed whilst being weighed daily, if they appear weak, feel cool to touch or are not gaining weight as expected contact the hospital for advice and/or an appointment to see a vet. The newborn kitten does not have much capacity to spring back from stress or infection so any problem can progress very quickly if advice or veterinary attention is not sought.