Helping cats and dogs live their healthiest lives.
Sacred Birman kitten stood next to an adult Yorskhire Terrier in black and white.
Sacred Birman kitten and mother sitting together

Kitten development from birth to adulthood

Understanding the amazing transformation your kitten goes through as they mature into adulthood will ensure they get the right nutritional balance at each stage of development.

Birth

Immediately after birth, kittens should be guided to suckle. The mother passes important nutrients to their litter in these first hours and days which supports their healthy development.

Birth

Nutrition

Once kittens are delivered, they should naturally crawl towards their mother and start to suckle. In doing so, they will ingest colostrum, a component of their mother's milk that is rich in antibodies and enhances the immune system.

Mother cat with baby kittens

Birth

Health

At birth, the risks for newborn kittens are two-fold: they may suffer a lack of oxygen for varying durations due to abruption of the placenta and they come into immediate contact with surrounding bacteria and viruses having left the uterus. The breeder must take careful hygiene precautions, ensure the birthing pen is appropriately prepared, and monitor the birth of the kittens to limit the impact on neonatal health.

Birth

Behavior

Although kittens are born without the use of their ears or eyes, they exhibit a number of reflexive behaviors at this early stage. A kitten is already able to navigate their surroundings, relying on scent and touch. They are able to keep warm by nestling with their mother, and gain nourishment by suckling.

Newborn kittens lying down together

Birth

Development

Kittens should be born at around 2 - 3% of their mother's weight. In the first days, the weight increases daily by approximately 10% of the birth weight. Males are often heavier and grow faster. Kittens are born blind and deaf. They will find their mother for shelter and nutrition.

Birth

Environment

Newborn kittens should be kept with their mothers full-time to keep them warm, clean, and fed. Their pen should be around 72°F to reduce the risk of hypothermia, and ideally needs to have 65-70% humidity.

Mother cat and young kittens sitting together

Neonatal

Newborn kittens stay close to the safety and warmth of their mother and litter-mates. Their time is spent sleeping and feeding.

0 - 3 weeks

Health

In the first days of life, a responsible breeder should make sure that the kittens are checked by a vet. They will check for any birth defects or issues that need to be addressed. Separation from their mother and litter-mates during the neonatal stage can lead to poor physical and mental development, and problems with aggression. Deworming should be done monthly for the first six months of life.

Newborn kittens being held in breeders hands

0 - 3 weeks

Nutrition

At this stage, a kitten will continue to rely heavily on their mother's milk to support their immune system and provide them with the key proteins needed to aid their development. In the first four weeks a kitten may begin to drink water, so a shallow bowl should be kept on-hand nearby.

0 - 3 weeks

Behavior

During this stage kittens sleep for large parts of the day – around 90% of their time in the first few weeks. Movement is limited to crawling towards their mother for warmth and milk. Purring and other vocal traits are evident.

Newborn kittens lying together on a blanket

0 - 3 weeks

Development

At around five days old, the kittens will begin to open their eyes. Their umbilical cord will drop off around one week after birth. This is also the time when they start to gain between 10g to 30g each day.

British shorthair kittens sitting together

0 - 3 weeks

Environment

A clean, calm and warm environment is key in the first weeks. If there is too much noise and distraction, sleep and feeding patterns can be disrupted. Keeping a kitten's body temperature above 93.2 °F is vital. If a kitten's temperature drops below 93.2 °F they can no longer digest milk effectively, and when it drops below 89.6 °F the suckling reflex is lost and normal feeding stops.

Weaning

A kitten’s physical development speeds up and the weaning process begins. This is a vital stage for learning from their mother and siblings.

4 - 8 weeks

Nutrition

As a kitten's milk teeth develop, the weaning process begins. After a while the kittens will begin to show an interest in their mother's solid food and they can begin to transition from a milk-only diet. Their immature digestive system means that it's important they get easily digestible food that meets the specific nutritional needs of this stage.

Young kitten eating out of a stainless steel feeding bowl

4 - 8 weeks

Health

During this stage the "immunity gap" occurs. At this time, when the level of antibodies provided by the mother are no longer enough to guarantee the kitten is protected, but too high to ensure a vaccination will be effective, the kitten is more vulnerable to disease. Sleep helps to strengthen their immune system, so ensuring kittens have a warm, comfortable and quiet place to sleep is vital.

4 - 8 weeks

Behavior

As this stage progresses, kittens start to interact more with their litter-mates, and they begin mutual grooming. They will start to actively play, exhibiting running, pouncing, and stalking behaviors. At this stage their sight is fully mature.

Two kittens sleeping together in a cat bed

4 - 8 weeks

Development

By the fourth week, smell is fully mature and hearing is well-developed. By the sixth and seventh weeks they begin to develop adult sleeping patterns and motor abilities. Key social skills develop through interaction with litter-mates, and learning is achieved through observation of their mother’s behavior.

4 - 8 weeks

Environment

As kittens become more mobile and adventurous, it is important to "kitten-proof" the environment. This is also a key learning stage, so making sure kittens have access to toys and other stimulation is key. Regular handling and interaction with different humans will aid their confidence as adults.

British shorthair kittens lying together indoors

Intense Growth

The kitten starts to understand its place in the world and develops behaviors that will stay with them for life.

2 - 4 months

Health

From around eight weeks, your kitten will be at the ideal age to begin their core vaccinations, with secondary injections required three to five weeks after. This is an important process in ensuring each kitten has the right protection for their adult life. Consult your vet to make sure a vaccination schedule is in place.

Kitten standing on an examination table being given a vaccination by a vet

2 - 4 months

Nutrition

Some nutrients still can't be digested, so ensuring that the kitten has food tailored to their developmental stage is important. This makes sure that they get the nutrients and energy they need during this vitally important developmental phase.

2-4 months

Behavior

This is the stage at which the kitten's behavior is most influenced by others, including litter mates, other pets and humans. They also begin to understand their position within the household and may begin to form dominant and submissive behaviors depending on their experiences and training.

Three kittens on a white rug

2 - 4 months

Development

This is a key stage in its development of human relationships, so ensuring consistency and offering support and affection is key. Effective socialization at this stage is key to raising a well-behaved and happy cat.

2 - 4 months

Environment

Kittens can begin to be moved away from their mother and introduced to new homes at around 8 weeks. Depending on the reader, this could be up to 12 weeks. If you are bringing a kitten home, it's important to make sure that their new environment is fully prepared, with electrical wires and outlets covered, windows, balconies and stairs secured, and any sharp or small objects tidied away.

Two kittens sitting in a cardboard box

Sustained Growth

Adulthood approaches, and the kitten gradually reaches full physical maturity.

4+ months

Health

During this period cats begin to scent mark through spraying and rubbing the glands on their cheeks against objects, other animals, and humans. This is the signal that puberty is starting. Neutering should now be discussed with your vet.

4+ months

Nutrition

As the kitten approaches physical maturity and gets close to its full adult weight, it will need to transition to adult food and adult portions. The nutritional balance will be dependent on their size and metabolic factors such as whether they are allowed outdoors and whether they've been neutered.

Ginger kitten sitting indoors eating from a food bowl

4+ months

Behavior

As the cat begins to approach physical maturity, there is increased exploration of dominance within the household. This will include challenging the status of humans and other pets. It is important that as an owner you maintain the routines and behaviors set in the early months of their life to ensure consistency and manage stress.

Bengal kitten standing indoors on a wooden floor

4+ months

Development

At this stage your kitten will begin to develop 30 adult teeth. If he hasn't been neutered, sexual maturity is reached at six months, and sexual cycles and mating behaviors begin. By eight months the kitten will have reached 80% of its adult weight. Depending on the breed, adulthood is reached between 12 to 15 months.

4+ months

Environment

If kittens have had all their vaccinations and once they reach around six months old, you can begin to introduce them to the outside world. A phased approach to this is best. Until kittens are confident in their surroundings, it is best to stay with them when they are outside. When they feel confident they will begin to venture further. As a rule, male cats have a wider range, while females stay closer to home. At this stage, consistent owner behavior and discipline is important.

Bengal kitten climbing a tree

Becoming an adult

By the time a kitten reaches their adult weight, they will have multiplied their birth weight by 40-50 times.

12-18 months

Becoming an adult

Kittens become adults at around 12 months old, with larger cat breeds not achieving adulthood until 15 months old. As a kitten transitions to an adult cat, it is now time to gradually move them to a diet that supports the nutritional requirements of their breed and lifestyle.

Siamese kitten sat next to a feeding bowl indoors

Tailored nutrition for kittens

Royal Canin kitten nutrition supports growth and development by providing all the nutrients essential to a kitten's health in the first year of life.

Royal Canin Kitten Diets

Find the right food for your cat

Our adult cat formulas deliver nutrition tailored to your cat's health needs whatever their size, breed, age, or lifestyle.

Royal Canin Cat Formulas