A lone, artificially reared kitten with no role models around to copy and emulate will never learn much of the repertoire of feline hunting skills. What is not learned during the formative first few weeks of life, cannot be acquired later. Kittens that watch, and are in a real sense taught by their mothers, learn more quickly than they would by watching some unrelated adult.
It is therefore nothing to worry about when your young kittens indulge in regular rough bouts of fighting. Play “combat” of this kind almost never results in any wounds, or the loss of a single drop of blood. As well as refining physical and mental abilities that will serve the cat well in adult life, there is quite obviously lots of sheer fun in kittens’ boisterous play. As with a human child, play with its peers increases the social skills and sociability of a kitten. The kitten that is denied the opportunity of play may grow up into a rather antisocial, insular, and perhaps neurotic adult.
Under normal conditions the kitten packs a lot of learning and physical growth into half a year, equivalent to about ten years in the human life span, and, as with humans, a perfect feline upbringing can best be achieved by a family environment (normally a one-parent family in the case of the domestic cat). In raising a strong and sensible cat, there is nothing to equal the natural milk and constant attention of the queen, the endless games the natural milk and competition with siblings, and the opportunities to learn from and inwardly digest the example of mother and other sophisticated adults.
The same applies to the young cubs of wild cats. I have attended hundreds of your lions, tigers, leopards, and other cat species in captivity that have had to be hand reared by humans without the influence of feline kith and kin. Such animals are never, in my opinion, quite as well adjusted as naturally reared ones. Their reintroduction into a naturally reread pride or group is often difficult.
Giving birth to a large litter of kittens can be exhausting for a queen, and she will need to rest for about twelve to twenty-four hours after her labours. Under normal circumstances the kittens should stay with her.
By the second day the queen should be feeling much recovered, be eating and drinking normally, and happily getting down to the business of rearing her kittens.
Blind, two-day-old kittens respond to the touch, warmth, and purring vibrations of the mother.
The kittens now weigh, depending on their breed and the physical characteristics of their parents, between 110 and 250 gm (4 and 9 oz). The eyes may open at any time between now and twenty days.
The kitten’s weight is now between 180 and 340 gm (6 and 12 oz) and crawling will start within the next four days.
The weight is now somewhere between 215 and 420 gm (8 and 15 oz). This is the time that weaning after natural rearing can begin. Give powdered cat milk substitute, or tinned milk diluted with water as for human babies, but at double strength. Offer the liquid on a teaspoon, four times a day.
Toilet training should also start now. Put a litter tray in a convenient, quiet, and easily reached spot. At the first sign of a kitten even looking as if it might be thinking of defecating or urinating, pop it on it. If you have more than one kitten make sure the tray is big enough for communal toilet sessions, and if you have a single, nervous kitten provide a covered litter tray.
A kitten one month old weighs 250 to 500 gm (9 to 18 oz) and is now making great strides – literally. It begins to run and play games between four and five weeks old, and at about the same time first washes itself. Toys should be provided, either special cat toys, or simple household objects such as empty cotton reels or ping-pong balls, but avoid giving balls of knitting wool to breeds such as Burmese and Siamese.
A little babe cereal, pureed, tinned, or bottled baby food (fish, meat, or cheese varieties) can now be added to the milk mixture.
The weight is between 290 and 620 gm (10 and 22 oz), and it is time for you to register the kitten’s pedigree with the breed authorities.
Finely minced best meat, finely chopped tinned cat food, or chopped, boiled, or milk-poached fish should be substituted for one of the four milk feeds. Place in a shallow tray or saucer and give the kittens as much as they will eat once a day, but don’t put too much down at once.
The weight of the kitten has now reached between 315 and 700 gm (11 and 25 oz). The youngster makes its first attempts at hunting practice between six and eight weeks.
Although it is best if a kitten stays with its mother until it is fully weaned at about eight weeks old. It can be separated from six weeks onwards.
Increase the amount of solid minced food in the diet by replacing two more of the milk feeds with a balanced tinned cat food.
Weighing 400 to 900 gm (14 to 31 oz), the kitten is now normally fully weaned and possesses all its milk teeth. Feeding should comprise two or three solid meals a day, and a saucer of cow’s milk – which can be substituted with fresh water once the kittens are six months old. Milk or water should be available all the time, but change it at least twice a day.
At eight to nine weeks old, the kitten will receive its first vaccination against the virus diseases Feline Influenza and Feline Infectious Enteritis. This is followed by a second shot three to four weeks later. Never neglect to have kittens protected against these potentially lethal diseases and, when adult, ensure that they receive annual booster vaccinations. Although in special cases, when there is a high risk of infection, your veterinarian may recommend vaccination of a kitten younger than eight to nine weeks, it is not normally done before this age. This is because antibodies transferred by the mother to the kitten will still be circulating in its blood and may neutralize the effect of the vaccine.
About now, the kitten’s eye colour changes to its permanent shade, and the permanent teeth begin to push through during the next six weeks. Your kitten receives its second Influenza and Enteritis vaccination.
If you are not planning to breed from a queen, make arrangements with your veterinarian to have it spayed. Spaying involves the removal of both ovaries and much of the uterus under general anaesthetic. It is a very safe operation, is irreversible, and has no after-effects. Because a general anaesthetic is used, you much keep the animal off food and drink for twelve hours before admission.
A spayed queen will have either dissolvable or non-dissolvable stitches in her small skin wound. Non-dissolvable stitches will be removed by the vet five to ten days after the operation.
* Vaccination is not dangerous and very rarely produces any side effects. Should these occur, they are easily countered by the veterinarian.
* Kittens are not protected by the vaccine until about ten days after the first vaccination. Keep them indoors during that period.
* Pregnant cats must be given dead or inactivated vaccines, never the live sort.
* Vaccination should only be given to a healthy kitten.
* Don’t forget to return the kitten for its second vaccination on the date advised. Animals vaccinated on veterinary advice earlier than eight weeks will normally receive a second shot at twelve weeks, or repeated doses at three- to four-week intervals until they are twelve weeks of age; the veterinarian will advise you what is best for your particular kitten.
* make sure you receive a signed veterinary vaccination certificate. Take it with you for endorsing when you go for the annual boosters and also when taking your cat to a breeder or boarding cattery.
* If in doubt as to whether a kitten you acquire has been vaccinated, play safe and have it re-vaccinated. An “extra” vaccination won’t do it any harm at all.
Theodore is a typical kitten and a number of important occasions in his first nine weeks of life have been recorded.