Newborn kittens stay close to the safety and warmth of their mother and litter-mates. Their time is spent sleeping and feeding.
During the neonatal period the mother meets all her kitten’s nutritional needs. A key factor is a regular intake of colostrum from the mother’s milk in the first 18 to 24 hours of life. Colostrum is rich in antibodies that aid the immune system, and proteins that aid development.
During the first days of life a responsible breeder should take kittens to visit a vet. The vet 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. Worming should be done monthly for the first six months of life.
During this stage kittens sleep for large parts of the day, and movement is limited to crawling towards their mother for warmth and milk. Purring and other vocal traits are evident, as is the repetitive pawing cats exhibit in later life.
When kittens are born they can barely move or hear, and their eyes are completely closed. At around 5 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.
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 34c is vital. If a kittens temperature drops below 34c they can no longer digest milk effectively, and when it drops below 32c the suckling reflex is lost and normal feeding stops.