Patients often have questions about kittens when their cat is expecting. Today, our Meadow Vista vets discuss when newborn kittens will open their eyes and how you can care for them.
When Newborn Kittens Open Their Eyes
If you're not familiar with newborn kittens, it might surprise you to see how different they look from their adult counterparts. Their eyes are sealed tightly shut, and their ears are usually folded against their heads.
Kittens develop at differing rates depending on several factors, but most newborns will begin opening their eyes between the ages of 2-16 days. Their vision slowly improves during this time, though the two eyes may not fully open at the same rate. At about 2 weeks of age, both eyes are usually dilated, and by 3 weeks old, many kittens can focus with both eyes. All newborn kittens start with blue eyes, the eye color will normally change as the kitten ages, usually settling on the true color at about 8 weeks old.
Caring for a Newborn Kitten's Eyes
Try to keep very young kittens away from bright lights that could potentially hurt or even damage their developing eyes. If the kitten doesn't have a mother or isn't being well cared for by their mother, it's up to you to ensure that the newborn kittens are clean and healthy. Keep their faces clean with a warm, damp clean washcloth. Never try to force a kitten’s eyes open before the lids open naturally on their own.
Newborn kittens can develop a crust on their eyes that prevent them from opening. This is a common problem that can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. To help avoid this, ensure that your kittens' bedding and shared areas are clean and hygienic to stop infections from reoccurring or spreading to littermates.
If your kitten's eyes develop this matted crust, try gently cleaning their eyes with a cotton ball dampened with warm clean water. Don't use soap. If your kittens' eyes show no improvement or worsen, call your vet right away.
Caring for Newborn Kittens
Much like newborn human babies, newborn kittens spend much of their time sleeping, waking occasionally to be fed and cared for. Kittens can sense warmth and use their sense of smell to move toward their mother's belly and are dependent on a source of milk and warmth to aid them in their development.
Newborn kittens sleep around 22 hours a day, with more mature kittens and adult cats requiring less sleep. Your kitten's mobility will improve at about the same time their teeth start coming in; at around two weeks they are crawling and by four weeks they start walking, jumping, and playing more steadily.
This is also when their capacity for mischief increases, as they are curious, adventurous, and often eager to practice climbing! We recommend kitten-proofing your home before they reach 4 weeks, that means securing and hiding electrical cords and secure breakables.
Keep Your Kitten Warm
Newborn kittens can't regulate their body heat, which is part of the reason that they usually pile up near or on their mother. If your newborn kitten doesn't have a mother or littermates to keep their body temperature up, you will have to help keep them warm by using a heating disk in the crate or a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their enclosure.
You should also make a little nest out of blankets for the kitten to lay in for comfort. You must make sure that the heating pad isn't too hot by touching it with your hands. Also, provide a comfortable place in your kitten's cage/crate that does not have a heating item so they can go there if they get too warm.
Continue to provide your kitten with a heating source until they are about 6 weeks old because if kittens get too cold they will catch hypothermia, for this reason, their area should be kept at 85ºF or 29ºC.
Preventive Care for Your Kitten
Ensuring your kitten gets routine preventive care including wellness exams, routine vaccinations, and parasite prevention is vital
Regular wellness exams allow your vet to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten including their dietary requirements. Your vet will also be able to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are easier and more affordable to treat.
Make sure your kitten gets all of their vaccinations and parasite prevention care on schedule. Your kitten should come in for their first round of shots when they are 6 to 8 weeks old, and you should have them spayed or neutered when they are 5 to 6 months old. This prevents any serious diseases or conditions from arising in the first place.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. If you are concerned about your pet's health, contact your veterinarian right away for diagnosis and treatment.