Newborn kittens are very small and helpless, but they grow quickly. During the first 6 weeks, they spend almost all of their time with their mother and their littermates growing and learning how to be a cat. Their mother teaches them good manners, how to eat and how to play.
Kittens grow so quickly, you can see something new almost every day. Here are some of the things you might see.
The first week of a kitten's life is very important. Newborn kittens weigh only about 3 1/2 ounces at birth. That's about as much as a quarter-pounder without cheese. They are so small they can fit in the palm of your hand. But they grow fast and by the end of the week, they double their weight. They gain about 3 to 5 ounces a week.
Newborn kittens need to keep warm because a chill can kill them. They spend most of their time huddled together next to their mother for warmth and sleeping. They also spend a lot of time nursing, and their mother licks their tummies and genitals with her sandpaper tongue to help them go to the bathroom.
Kittens are born blind and deaf. They use their sense of smell to find their mother to nurse. Besides sleeping, this is about all they do at first.
You should not handle kittens at this age unless it is really necessary. The mother cat is very protective of her babies and if she thinks they are getting too much attention from you, she might start moving them around the house. If she moves them, do not move them back to the box. The mom might think her kittens are missing and may get upset.
The mother cat licks her kittens right after birth to help start their breathing. She also does this after they eat to help stimulate digestion.
The mother cat also protects her kittens by keeping them safe from disease. When the kittens nurse, they get protection by drinking colostrum, which is the very first milk. This keeps them safe until they are old enough to get their "shots." If you watch the kittens as they nurse, you will see them pushing against the mother with their paws, or "kneading." Some cats continue to knead their favorite owner when they get older and want to be cuddled.
Kittens grow very quickly and during the second week you may see some changes. Their eyes begin to open and they can see a little bit. All cats are born with blue eyes, and the adult eye color begins to appear after 3 weeks. Kitten's ears open between the fifth and eighth day, and are generally up straight by 3 weeks. Their sense of smell may be developing, and if they smell something they don't recognize, they will hiss, just like full grown cats.
Kittens are still getting everything they need from their mother, so you should continue to let them alone.
When kittens open their eyes and see their new world, they want to investigate. They may wander around their box, although they are not very good at walking yet and may look clumsy. This is normal. They'll get better with practice. They will begin playing with each other, too. If the mother doesn't mind, you might be able to start picking the kittens up to cuddle and let them get used to you. But if Mom gets angry, make sure you stop.
Your kittens are now ready to start using the litter box. You will have to provide a separate low, easy-to-enter litter box that you can keep close to the nesting box. Mom will teach the kittens how to use the box, so there is nothing for you to do – except keep it very clean. Don't expect their aim to be perfect; they'll learn with practice.
By now your kittens will have started getting their teeth. You may notice that the mom doesn't let them nurse for very long, and this is because their sharp little teeth may hurt her. You can start giving the kittens food and water in small bowls nearby. The food should be a high quality kitten food, which may be a combination of wet and dry food. But just because they can eat from a bowl, this does not mean they are ready to be on their own. Kittens will continue to nurse and need to stay with their mother until they are about 12 weeks old.