By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 12 May 2011)
During weeks 7 through 12, a kitten’s visual acuity and physical coordination continue to improve, an adult sleep pattern develops, and the eyes finish changing to their permanent adult colour. When caring for kittens between 7 and 12 weeks of age:
- Continue the weaning process – kittens should have completed the transition to solid food by around 8 weeks.
- Take kittens to a veterinarian for their first vaccinations between 6 and 8 weeks.
- Be alert to safety issues, particularly objects on furniture or floors where kittens can get at them. Much like human toddlers, kittens are inclined to swallow things they find lying around. Items such as needles with thread attached, highly poisonous plants such as lilies, and spilled medications can be particularly deadly.
- Remove any fleas with a flea comb, and use natural, non-toxic flea control methods to keep the house free of fleas and their eggs. If considering using a flea control product, check with a veterinarian beforehand – many products are too harsh for kittens.
By 7 to 8 weeks, kittens run quite well and are very active. At this stage, they use play to practice and refine their hunting skills, particularly stalking. In addition to playing with their littermates, they begin to show an increased interest in inanimate objects.
When kittens start engaging in solo play, providing safe, appropriate toys can help them develop their coordination and dexterity. Toys should be soft, with no hard pieces and no bits that can be chewed off and swallowed. Don’t give kittens balls of yarn or string to play with – it can catch on the barbs of their tongues, forcing them to keep swallowing it.
Although the most intense socialization window occurs between 2 and 8 weeks, the socialization period during which lifelong impressions are formed can last until about 14 weeks of age or even longer.
Continue the socialization process by introducing kittens to friendly, gentle people and pets and grooming them regularly. Exposure to new situations and individuals now will create a more laid back, friendly personality in adulthood.
Meeting lots of people can help prevent future phobias of particular types, such as children or people wearing glasses, and exposure to friendly cats and dogs increases the likelihood that kittens will integrate well within multipet households when they’re older. Supervise interactions (especially those with other animals and children) to make sure that they’re positive experiences.
During this stage, it’s a good idea to take kittens on a few short car rides. Car travel when young increases the likelihood that cats will be calm travelers in adulthood. This is also a good time to leash train kittens, as they’ll be more receptive to it when young.
Continue to accustom kittens to specific types of handling, such as looking in their mouths and ears, holding their feet, and placing them on their backs. This will make them better able to tolerate necessary procedures in adulthood, and less inclined to react negatively to handling in general.
Another important aspect of socialization is setting limits on aggression. To avoid raising a biter, never encourage kittens to bite people’s hands and feet. If a kitten bites, say “no” in a firm voice, keeping the hand or foot still until the kitten lets go to avoid sending any “want to play” signals. As a general rule, avoid physical punishment or yelling, as this tends to increase bad behaviour overall and create a more aggressive or neurotic personality.
Most cats won’t need baths in adulthood unless they get grubby, suffer a flea infestation, or participate in cat shows, but certain breeds such as the Sphynx require regular baths to remove oil build-up on their skin, so this is a good time to get them accustomed to bathing.
If bathing a kitten, use only kitten-safe shampoos and warm water, rinse very thoroughly, and dry by gently blotting and rubbing with a thick fluffy towel. The room temperature should be quite warm, as kittens are particularly vulnerable to becoming chilled after bathing.
Some people dry cats after bathing using a blow dryer on the cool setting, but many cats are terrified of the noise. If a kitten finds the blow dryer scary, then she may permanently associate the harsh noise with the bath and become phobic of bathing as well. Owners who plan on using blow dryers should introduce them to their kittens before bathing to see how they react.
Adopting Kittens Out
Although kittens can be adopted out at 8 weeks, it is far better to keep them with their mothers and littermates until 12 weeks of age. This allows them to further their socialization with their family and increases the likelihood that they will be psychologically well-adjusted and better able to integrate into multicat households in adulthood.
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- IBOK Rescue. (n.d.). “Stages of Kitten Development.” IBOKRescue.RescueGroups.org.
- Neville, P., & Bessant, C. (1997). The Perfect Kitten: How to Raise a Problem-Free Cat. Octopus Publishing Group, Ltd.
- Turner, D., C., & Bateson, P.P.G. (Eds.). (2000). The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
- VetInfo.com. (2009). “Bathing Cats and Kittens.”