Can You Touch Newborn Kittens?
The Humane Society of the United States defines kittenhood as the first 18 months of a cat’s life, with the last 12 months being analogous to a human’s teenage years.
Those 18 months are crucial to a cat’s physical, mental, and social development. If everything goes right, the kitten will grow into a confident and friendly cat.
What are the stages in a kitten’s development?
A kitten’s development has several stages, and each stage is accompanied by certain physical or behavioral milestones.
For example, the first two weeks of a kitten’s life are sometimes called the neonatal stage. The kitten is utterly helpless; it is blind, deaf, and can barely move.
The mother cat will thus spend the bulk of her time feeding and otherwise looking after them. During those first two weeks, the kitten’s senses will start to develop. For instance, its eyes will open sometime during the second week.
The second to seventh weeks encompass the socialization window, the prime time for getting kittens used to humans and new experiences.
The kitten’s senses continue developing and it gradually masters such physical skills as walking, running, pouncing, and grooming. Most kittens start to eat solid food around the sixth week.
From the seventh to fourteenth weeks, kittens are at their most playful. Play helps a kitten become stronger and more agile, and it helps them develop their social skills.
The kittens also learn various behaviors from their mother and each other. Kittens can be adopted out after they are 12 weeks old.
Can you touch newborn kittens?
Yes – but you have to be very careful. Newborn kittens weigh only a few ounces and are extremely fragile. You, therefore, need to be very gentle.
The writer for WikiHow advises considering the reactions of the mother cat. If she has just given birth, she is going to be extremely protective of her kittens and won’t let anybody near them. It’s best to wait at least a couple of hours before approaching the mother cat and her litter.
If the mother cat is grooming her kittens and doesn’t hiss at your approach, that means she may be willing to let you handle them.
Newborn kittens don’t have strong immune systems. You should, therefore, wash your hands before touching them.
If you have small children and/or other pets, you may even want to consider wearing gloves to protect the kittens from any germs you might have picked up from the children or other animals.
Pet the kittens before trying to pick any up. Kittens do have some sense of smell, so let it smell your hand to get to know your scent. If the mother hisses, leave the kittens be. Do keep coming back so she and her kittens get used to you.
Once the mother cat accepts you, you can start handling the kittens. Spend at least 30 minutes a day with the cat family so they learn to trust you.
How do you pick up a newborn kitten?
Once the mother accepts you, touch the kittens to see if any feel cold or skinny. If any do, you need to get them to a vet.
Only pick up a kitten that seems willing. If it squirms or tries to move away, leave it be and try your luck with a littermate.
Sit down before picking up a kitten. If you drop it, it will have a shorter distance to fall.
There are actually several different ways to pick up a newborn kitten, but the main rule for all is to support the kitten. Cats of any age generally don’t like being dangled while being held, and you can hurt a kitten if you don’t hold it properly.
The veterinarian Dr. Robert Sidorsky made a video for eHow in which he describes the way to hold a newborn kitten. Kittens that age are typically small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
You thus slip your hand under the kitten so you’re supporting all four legs. Keep your hand still for a few minutes to let the kitten get used to it. Don’t force it to stay if it wants to leave.
What is scruffing?
According to the writer for the PetMeds website, the scruff is the loose skin at the back of the cat’s neck. Mother cats will pick up their kittens by the scruff when they move them to a new nest. The kitten will immediately relax when their mother picks them up in this fashion.
Scruffing is thus picking up a kitten or cat by the scruff of their neck. Veterinarians will sometimes scruff a recalcitrant feline in order to gain control over it so they can examine it or administer medication.
Dr. Sidorsky calls scruffing a “restraint technique” and doesn’t recommend using it for normal handling.
What if the kittens seem to be abandoned?
The first step is to make sure they really are abandoned. Mom could have left them to go hunting or take a bathroom break. She may have also fled from a strange human or animal – and she won’t come back if you’re too near her litter.
Valerie Sicignano, a writer for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, recommends maintaining a distance of at least 35 feet from the kittens while watching for the mother cat.
If you can’t stay, consider whether the kittens are in any immediate danger. For example, is it snowing or raining? Are there animals or people in the area that might hurt them?
Newborn kittens are more vulnerable to hypothermia than to starvation; the former will kill them a lot more quickly. Thus, if the weather is cold, bring them inside.
You should also check the kittens’ condition. If they are clean and look healthy, their mother has been caring for them.
If the weather is decent and there are no immediate threats, leave the kittens where they are. Keep an eye on them to see if their mother returns.
One trick worth trying is put a ring of sawdust or similar material around the kittens. Check for pawprints the next time you visit the litter.
If you find just a single kitten, it probably does need your help. Take it home and call the vet.
What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a potentially deadly condition in which the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. It thus causes an abnormally low body temperature.
The National Kitten Coalition describes it as a leading cause of death in newborn kittens. Neonatal kittens are essentially cold-blooded: Their bodies can’t regulate their own temperature until they are about a month old. They are thus far more vulnerable to temperature extremes than are older kittens or adult cats.
If a kitten develops hypothermia, their body starts to shut down, so they can’t metabolize food or medications. Feeding a kitten with hypothermia is thus worse than pointless; you need to warm it up first.
Touch the kitten’s ears and/or paw pads. If they feel cold, the kitten is cold. Check for hypothermia by feeling inside the kitten’s mouth. If that feels cold, the kitten’s body temperature has become dangerously low.
A kitten’s body temperature should be between 100° and 102° F. Wrap the kitten in a towel or baby blanket and put it on a heating pad, warm water bottle or some other source of warmth. Holding the kitten against your own body helps only a little, for a human’s normal body temperature is lower than a cat’s.
After the kitten has stabilized, get them to a veterinarian. They will need to check for any permanent damage and to determine if the kitten needs any further treatment.
When should you take a newborn kitten to the vet?
If it’s a case of your finding an abandoned kitten or litter of kittens, you need to get them to the vet as soon as possible.
On the other hand, if you own their mother, Franny Syufy, a writer for the “Pets” section of The Spruce Website, advises taking the whole family to the vet for a wellness check.
During the visit, the vet will look for common problems like various parasitic infestations, upper respiratory illnesses, or birth defects.
Fading Kitten Syndrome (FKS) is one such condition. The affected kitten will be lethargic, lack appetite, and sleep more than its littermates.
The vet will also check the mother cat for any possible problems. Examples of conditions that can affect mother cats include an infection of the mammary glands called mastitis and infection of the uterus called endometritis.
When should a kitten be vaccinated?
One of the many advantages a kitten being raised by its mother enjoys is protection from disease.
According to Jenna Stregowski, a veterinary technician writing for The Spruce website, a mother cat’s milk contains antibodies that temporarily make the kitten immune to the disease. That immunity fades, however, as the kitten becomes weaned and stops suckling.
A veterinarian will, therefore, start administering vaccinations when the kitten is between six and eight weeks old.
They will also discuss the vaccination schedule that they recommend. Some vaccinations, like the rabies vaccine, are mandatory. Others are recommended depending on where the kitten lives and the risk of its exposure to a given disease.