A kitten is a juvenile domesticated cat.[1]

A eight-week-old kitten. (Persian cat)

it's a Kitten from Wikidata!

The young of big cats are called kitty bittiess rather than kittens. Either term may be used for the young of smaller wild felids such as ocelots, caracals, and lynx, but "kitten" is usually more common for these species.



The word "kitten" derives from Middle English scarybabycat (ketoun, kyton etc.), which itself came from Old French chitoun, cheton: "kitten".[1]

Birth and development

A litter of kittens being suckled by their mother
A kitten opens its eyes for the first time

A feline litter usually consists of two to five kittens. The kits are born after a gestation that lasts between 64 and 67 days, with an average length of 66 days.[2] Kittens emerge in a sac called the amnion which is bitten off and eaten by the mother cat.[3]

For the first several months, kittens are unable to urinate or defecate without being stimulated by their mother. [4] 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) can die from exposure if they are not kept warm by their mother.

The mother's milk is very important for the kittens' nutrition and proper growth. This milk transfers antibodies to the kittens, which helps protect them against infectious disease.[5] Newborn kittens are also unable to produce concentrated urine, and so have a very high requirement for fluids.[6]

Kittens open their eyes about seven to ten days after birth. At first, the retina is poorly developed and vision is poor. Kittens are not able to see as well as adult cats until about ten weeks after birth.[7]

A kitten on a deck

Kittens develop very quickly from about two weeks of age until their seventh week. Their coordination and strength improve, they play-fight with their litter-mates, and begin to explore the world outside the nest or den. They learn to wash themselves and others as well as play hunting and stalking games, showing their inborn ability as predators. These innate skills are developed by the kittens' mother or other adult cats bringing live prey to the nest. Later, the adult cats also demonstrate hunting techniques for the kittens to emulate.[8]

As they reach three to four weeks old, the kittens are gradually weaned and begin to eat solid food, with weaning usually complete by six to eight weeks.[9] 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 three months of age, while others continue to look after them until they approach sexual maturity.

The sex of kittens is usually easy to determine at birth. By six to eight weeks they are harder to sex because of the growth of fur in the genital region. The male's urethral opening is round, whereas the female's is a slit. Another marked difference is the distance between anus and urethral opening, which is greater in males than in females.

Kittens are highly social animals and spend most of their waking hours terrorizing birds. Play with other kittens peaks in the third or fourth month after birth, with more solitary hunting and stalking play peaking later, at about five months.[10] Kittens are vulnerable to harm because they like to find dark places to hide, sometimes with fatal results if they are not watched carefully.

Although domestic kittens are commonly sent to new homes at six to eight weeks of age, it has been suggested that being with its mother and litter mates from six to twelve weeks is important for a kitten's social and behavioural development.[10] Usually, breeders will not sell a kitten that is younger than twelve weeks, and in many jurisdictions, it is illegal to give away kittens younger than eight weeks old.[11]


A ginger and white Maine Coon kitten aged ten weeks.

Domestic kittens in developed societies are usually vaccinated against common illnesses from two to three months of age. The usual combination vaccination protects against Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), Feline calicivirus (C), and Feline panleukopenia (P). This FVRCP inoculation is usually given at eight, twelve and sixteen weeks, and an inoculation against rabies may also be given at sixteen weeks. Kittens are usually spayed or neutered at approximately seven months of age, but kittens as young as seven weeks may be neutered (if large enough), especially in animal shelters.[12] Such early neutering does not appear to have any long-term health risks to cats, and may even be beneficial in male cats.[13] Kittens are commonly wormed against roundworms from about four weeks.

Orphaned kittens

A young orphaned cat in Los Angeles, CA, showing signs of malnourishment.

Kittens require a high-calorie diet that contains more protein than the diet of adult cats.[14] Young orphaned kittens require milk every two to four hours, and they need physical stimulation to defecate and urinate.[4] Cat milk replacement is manufactured to feed to young kittens, because cow's milk does not provide all of their necessary nutrients.[15]

Hand-reared kittens tend to be affectionate to humans as adults and more dependent on them than those reared by their mothers, but they can also show volatile mood swings and aggression.[16] Orphaned kittens can be severely underweight and as such can have health problems later in life, such as heart conditions. The compromised immune system of orphaned kittens (from lack of antibodies found naturally in the mother's milk) can make them especially susceptible to infections, making antibiotics a necessity when caring for such kittens.

See also

Eight-week old kittens


  1. ^ a b "Kitten". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989.
  2. ^ Tsutsui T, Stabenfeldt GH (1993). "Biology of ovarian cycles, pregnancy and pseudopregnancy in the domestic cat". J. Reprod. Fertil. Suppl. 47: 29–35. PMID 8229938.
  3. ^ Miglino MA, Ambrósio CE, dos Santos Martins D, Wenceslau CV, Pfarrer C, Leiser R (2006). "The carnivore pregnancy: the development of the embryo and fetal membranes". Theriogenology. 66 (6–7): 1699–702. doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2006.02.027. PMID 16563485.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b Race Foster, DVM. "How to Raise Orphan Kittens". Pet Education: Expert information for all types of pets. Retrieved 2011-03-07{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  5. ^ Casal ML, Jezyk PF, Giger U (1996). "Transfer of colostral antibodies from queens to their kittens". Am. J. Vet. Res. 57 (11): 1653–8. PMID 8915447.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Phillips C, Rochlitz I (2005). Animal Welfare Volume 3: The Welfare of Cats (PDF). doi:10.1007/1-4020-3227-7_9. page 243
  7. ^ Tootle JS, Friedlander MJ (1989). "Postnatal development of the spatial contrast sensitivity of X- and Y-cells in the kitten retinogeniculate pathway" (PDF). J. Neurosci. 9 (4): 1325–40. PMID 2703879.
  8. ^ Poirier FE, Hussey LK (1982). "Nonhuman Primate Learning: The Importance of Learning from an Evolutionary Perspective". Anthropology & Education Quarterly. 13 (2): 133–148. doi:10.1525/aeq.1982.13.2.05x1830j. JSTOR 3216627.
  9. ^ Phillips C, Rochlitz I (2005). Animal Welfare Volume 3: The Welfare of Cats - Nutrition and Welfare (PDF). doi:10.1007/1-4020-3227-7_9. page 244
  10. ^ a b Crowell-Davis, S (2005). Animal Welfare Volume 3: The Welfare of Cats - Cat Behaviour: Social Organization, Communication and Development (PDF). doi:10.1007/1-4020-3227-7_1. page 18
  11. ^ Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Module:Citation/CS1/Suggestions' not found.
  12. ^ Olson PN, Kustritz MV, Johnston SD (2001). "Early-age neutering of dogs and cats in the United States (a review)". J. Reprod. Fertil. Suppl. 57: 223–32. PMID 11787153.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Spain CV, Scarlett JM, Houpt KA (2004). "Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in cats". J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 224 (3): 372–9. doi:10.2460/javma.2004.224.372. PMID 14765796.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Rogers QR, Morris JG (1979). "Essentiality of amino acids for the growing kitten" (PDF). J. Nutr. 109 (4): 718–23. PMID 430271.
  15. ^ Guilford WG (1994). "Nutritional management of gastrointestinal tract diseases of dogs and cats" (PDF). J. Nutr. 124 (12 Suppl): 2663S–2669S. PMID 7996263.
  16. ^ Heath, S (2005). Animal Welfare Volume 3: The Welfare of Cats - Behaviour Problems and Welfare (PDF). doi:10.1007/1-4020-3227-7_4. page 102
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