The term kitten (Old English genitive of Cat) most commonly refers to a pre-adolescent
cat. It may also
refer to a young rabbit, rat, hedgehog or squirrel. This article discusses kittens of the domestic cat.
Birth and development
A litter of kittens usually consists of three to six kittens. Born after
approximately 63 days of
gestation, kittens emerge in an amnion which is bitten off and eaten by the
mother cat. For the first several weeks, kittens are unable to urinate or
defecate without being stimulated by their mother. They are also unable to
regulate their body temperature for the first three weeks, so kittens born in
temperatures less than 27°C / 80°F
are at risk for death from exposure if they are not kept warm by their mother.
Kittens open their eyes about seven to ten days following birth. At first,
the retina is
poorly developed and the vision is poor. Kittens are not able to see as well as
adult cats for about three months. Cats cannot see in total darkness, but what
seems dark to humans may just be an extremely low light level, sufficient for
feline vision. This dim light vision is somewhat fuzzy and they cannot
distinguish detail. During daylight, their vision is far more acute.
Between two and seven weeks kittens develop very quickly. Their coordination
and strength improve and they spar with their litter-mates and begin to explore
the world outside the nest. They learn to wash themselves and others and play
hunting and stalking games. If they are outdoor cats their mother or other adult
cats may demonstrate hunting techniques for them to emulate.
Gradually, as they reach one month of age, the kittens are
begin to eat solid food. Kittens live primarily on solid food after weaning but
usually continue to suckle from time to time until separated from their mothers.
Some mother cats will scatter their kittens as early as at three months of age
while others continue to look after them until they approach sexual maturity.
Between two and six months, kittens grow quickly, going through a "leggy" and
energetic phase. By the end of its first year, the kitten has become a cat,
although some larger
breeds such as the
may take a few more months to attain full adult size. The breed
requires a full five years before becoming fully grown. Kittens usually become
sexually mature at six to eight months, but females in particular can mature
earlier. Kittens' gender can be determined relatively easy around the age of six
to eight weeks, although it is also possible at earlier stages of development.
Males' urinal opening is round, whereas females' is a slit. Also the distance
between anus and urinal
opening is greater in males than in females.
Kittens are highly social animals and spend most of their waking hours
interacting with their mother and littermates. Although domestic kittens are
commonly sent to new homes at six to eight weeks of age, some experts believe
that being with its mother and littermates from six to twelve weeks is important
for a kitten's behavioral development. Most cat breeders will not sell a kitten
that is younger than twelve weeks.
The young of species in the genus Panthera, and of some other big cats, are
called cubs rather than kittens. Either term may be used for the young of
smaller wild felids such as ocelots, caracals, and lynxes, but
"kitten" is usually more common for these species.
Caring for domestic kittens
A litter of kittens
Kittens require a diet higher in protein and fat than adult cats do. From
weaning until about one year of age they should be fed a diet specifically
formulated for kittens. Most veterinarians recommend that kittens be vaccinated
against common illnesses beginning at 2-3 months of age and
spayed or neutered at 5-8 months of age. Some veterinarians will spay or
neuter kittens who are as young as 6-8 weeks. This practice is particularly
common in animal shelters. Kittens should also be wormed against roundworms from
Orphaned kittens who are too young to eat solid food should be fed a
commercial cat milk replacement formula every two to four hours. Kittens should
not be fed cow's milk because it does not provide all of the necessary nutrients
and may cause diarrhea. Orphaned kittens who are too young to urinate and
defecate at will should be stimulated to do so by rubbing with a damp washcloth
after each meal.
If your kitten develops diarrhea, the best treatment is removal of food for
12 hours (provide access to water only). Slowly reintroduce small amounts of
bland food such as boiled chicken and rice. Slowly reintroduce their usual food,
avoiding 'strong' varieties, such as beef and liver-based food. Your kitten may
also need to be dewormed, as parasitic infestation may be to blame.
Perceptions of cuteness
Feline kittens have a "cute" stereotype
Feline kittens are
stereotypically (and typically) very cute to human perception.
Entire websites such as
Kittenwar.com are devoted to the
and behavior of kittens.
There are good
reasons to expect humans to find juvenile humans, and perhaps juvenile animals
in general, cute. This is related to the novelty of the exaggerated size of the
head that is common to juvenile mammals and many other species. Why humans find
cats in general cuter
than most other species remains a topic of speculation. It may be the retention
of some aspects of the scheme of childlike characteristics: the relative lack of
a distinct snout( in favor of something approaching a snub nose) and the
relatively round face and big eyes, all characteristic of human young.
As a result of these perceptions, kittens are sometimes referred to
figuratively as something pleasant to view, or as something that will induce
affectionate or protective behaviour in humans. The enormously popular (and
Kitty franchise, among other phenomena, plays on this perception.