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. more...
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 unable to be warmed 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. What may seem dark to us offers some glimmer of light to enable a cat to see. 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 weaned and 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 Maine Coon may take a few more months to attain full adult size. The breed Manx 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.
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