Kittens are considered newborns for the first two weeks of their lives -- which is usually until they open their eyes, according to the Greenway Pet Clinic website. Those first two weeks of their lives are incredibly fragile, so if you notice a problem, rush the baby to the vet -- even a few hours can make a difference between life and death for a newborn.
Newborn kittens basically do just two things: eat and sleep. This means one of the most common signs of trouble in newborns is lack of appetite or difficulty eating. If Mom has too many kittens, she might not have enough nipples to feed them all, and the weakest one might find himself without food. As he gets weaker from lack of food, a newborn will eat less and less. So if you don't see all newborn kittens eating minutes after being born, it's a sign that they might need help from you.
Newborn kittens don't cry much, if at all, according to the Greenway Pet Clinic website. Crying is usually a sign that something is wrong. For example, the kitten might be in pain, cold or hungry. If you see the kitten feeding and then immediately after crying, maybe he's not getting enough milk. Or maybe eating causes him discomfort. In any case, a crying newborn kitten needs veterinary attention, so take him to see a doctor ASAP.
Newborn kittens should double their weight during the first week of life. If you don't see that happening, it's a sign that trouble is brewing. Failure to gain weight is especially troublesome if you see the kitten eating regularly -- but still not gaining weight and growing. The lack of weight gain could be connected to lack of food -- Mom doesn't have enough milk -- or it could be connected to illness or weakness. In any case, it might be necessary for you to feed the kitten on your own, but always talk to your vet first to figure out what's going on and what you need to do.
Mom is Not Around
Newborn kittens need to be near Mom pretty much all the time. That's because they're not capable of maintaining their own body heat, so they need to use Mom as their source of warmth. Hypothermia sets in quite quickly in newborn kittens, so keep an eye out. If Mom steps away for long periods of time and the kittens become motionless, you need to intervene. Using a hot water bottle is a good solution, as is wrapping the kitten in a wool sweater.