When your cat has kittens it’s hard to not be tempted to touch and handle them. Evidently, as soon as they have been born, you should not hold them at all, but there will come and time when it is ok to hold newborn kittens, but when is that?
How soon can you touch newborn kittens? The age you can hold a newborn kitten and touch them is around 2 weeks of age, or 14 days. This will have given the mother time to bond with them, and she should not be as protective as she was immediately after the birth.
At what age can you hold a newborn kitten
Whether or not you can hold, or even touch a newborn kitten, will depend in large measure on the relationship you have with the mother cat. If she is a stray or a feral cat, the chances are slim that she will let you near her kittens.
If you do manage to get past her defences, she will not abandon them if she can smell your scent on them. Her mothering instincts are far stronger than that.
However, if this is your own cat, and she knows you, feels at ease, and is in your home, she’s likely going to trust you to touch her newborn kittens much earlier.
It comes down to having a strong bond with you cat. The mother cat will most likely let you hold her newborn kittens if you have that trust. If she is an affectionate, domesticated cat, that spends a great deal of time with you, she may even bring them close for you to see.
Why can’t you touch newborn kittens?
But that doesn’t mean it’s ok to hold newborn kittens straight after they have been born. I would not do this, and would still wait for 2 weeks before handling them.
This 14-day period will give the mother time to get used to parenthood, take care of her litter, groom them, wash them, and start teaching them the way of the cat world.
They are very fragile too before this point – and you might have germs or toxins on your skin you don’t want to pass to the newborn kittens.
So, you can hold a newborn kitten from around 2 weeks but take it slowly. As part of the socialisation with humans, you should start handling kittens daily, from 3 weeks of age onwards, for a few minutes at a time.
Should children hold newborn kittens?
Do not let children handle newborn kittens unsupervised. If they do touch them, they need to be extremely gentle.
If a kitten is to be removed from the mother’s care, an adult should do this. This is to ensure that the mother cat does not attack the child, and that the child does not drop the kitten.
If you can, remove only one kitten at a time from the litter. The kitten should be placed on the child’s lap for a minute or two, at the most, with little handling. Do not let the kitten get cold.
After the age of two weeks, a kitten has the ability to wriggle and squirm, so care needs to be taken that the kitten is confined to some extent and does not fall off the child’s lap when being handled.
If a kitten starts squealing, the mother will be along within seconds. It is best then to return the kitten to the whelping box immediately, so that the child does not become the target of the mother’s wrath.
A mother’s protective instincts are unpredictable.
Care of newborn kittens
Newborn kittens should only be handled and touched to ensure that they are healthy, for example, to check that there is no infection around the eyes or umbilical cord.
Do not assist with the growth of a newborn kitten, for example, to help its eyes to open or to remove the umbilical cord. A healthy kitten will develop well on its own, with the help of its mother.
Work with the kitten for a few minutes at a time, and then only if the mother is comfortable with the situation.
Getting kittens used to humans touching them
If your intention is to get your kittens used to human interaction, you need to start handling and touching them at about the age of three weeks, for short periods, at regular intervals throughout the day.
At this age, they are more fun to be with. Their eyes are beginning to focus and adjust to light levels. The kittens will seem to be looking back at you. They will respond to sounds and are able to choose the direction in which they intend to walk or crawl.
After three weeks, a kitten will eat less often and no longer be driven by the hunger instinct alone. It will still need to be kept relatively warm.
At about four weeks of age, the mother cat will start teaching her kittens socialisation skills, and the siblings will start exhibiting playful behaviour. The kittens will show an interest in grooming themselves and will start having wee accidents and the odd small poop.
Soon, their fastidious natures will drive them to start wanting to bury their own waste. Now would be an appropriate time to introduce them to a litter tray.
The kittens will need less sleep and will lie awake, looking for mischief or company. They will appreciate your attention more, in the form of affection or entertainment.
This would also be an appropriate time to start introducing them to other animals in the house. Always be mindful of the stealth of its ever-vigilant mother. Proceed only if you have her permission.
At five weeks old, a kitten’s digestive system has developed sufficiently for it to be weaned off its mother’s milk. Ensure that there is a steady supply of clean drinking water to replace the liquid that it was getting from its mother. It should have all the teeth it needs to start eating meat.
At six weeks old, your kittens’ rough play will need to be reined in. They will not understand boundaries and will bite and scratch just for the sheer joy of living. They need to be trained not to attack human flesh, or furniture or drapery. When playing with a kitten, let it treat a toy as prey and never your limbs.
Ideally, kittens should remain with their feline family until 9 to 10 weeks.
By then they will be fully weaned, litter trained, and able to fend for themselves. They will be socialised and know how to behave around cats outside of their immediate family, humans, and other animals.
Handy Hint: Kittens love to lick and bite the ears of their human owners, and there are some fascinating reasons for this behavior!
Characteristics of a newborn kitten
Some of the reasons why it’s sometimes not ok to hold newborn kittens is due to their physical attributes and needs.
Kittens are literally and figuratively senseless up until the age of about 10 days. Their eyes are closed, and not even their eyelines are fully developed yet. Their ears are flat against their heads, and their ear canals are closed.
They are effectively blind and deaf.
For the first few days, their umbilical cords are still attached to their bodies. These will dry out and fall off on about day 5. The mother will do a great job of keeping the wounds sanitised on her own.
Newborn kittens are immobile with no sense of direction. It is the mother’s grooming that manoeuvres them into position to feed. The only reflex they have is to suckle, and even then they have no gag reflexes. They have no sign of teeth yet.
Such small kittens have underdeveloped digestive systems. Their bladders and bowel movements need to be stimulated by their mother who also cleans up after them by licking them clean.
Except for the urge to eat, a newborn kitten will spend all of its time sleeping. Its vocal cords work from day one, however. It uses them to good effect, to communicate with its mother, that it is hungry or annoyed with her persistent grooming.
Kittens have no way of regulating their body temperature and need to be kept in an environment that is close to their internal core temperature, which is around 100 degrees, Fahrenheit. The ideal environment is close to mom and their siblings.
Around two weeks of age, a kitten’s eyes and ears will be fully opened. However, its pupils are not able to focus or adjust to light levels. Bright, or rapidly changing light levels may be detrimental to its vision in the future.
Likewise, the kitten will not be used to sounds and may become startled or alarmed at sudden or loud noises.
Kittens are feisty little creatures but, as with most animals, newborns are extremely vulnerable. They will not break if you hold them gently, but they are fragile. For the first ten days of their lives, they cannot see or hear and have zero coordination.
Because of this, you should really resist the temptation to pick up hold newborn kittens until they are at least 2 weeks of age.
You might also like…
- Here’s why your 8 week old kitten has started throwing up
- Why kittens like to take a bite on your chin and nose
- The right age at which to let kittens roam the house at night
Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/kitten-animal-baby-cat-domestic-71514/