Kittens take about a year to mature. Within this year, kittens go through several growth stages -- from early blindness to weaning to potty training -- each of which requires special types of care. Knowing what to expect during each of these stages will help owners nurture their feline friends through a happy kittenhood to a healthy adulthood.
Birth and the First Few Weeks
Mother cats usually have litters of two to five kittens. For the first several weeks kittens cannot urinate or defecate without stimulation; the mother cat will usually stimulate kittens in this manner. Kittens are incapable of regulating their own body temperature for the first three weeks, so kitten born in temperatures under 80 degrees F can die if not kept warm by their mother.
After Two Weeks
Newborn kittens are defenseless: They don't open their eyes until about seven to 10 days after birth, and have poor vision for some time afterward. They cannot see as well as adult cats until they are about 10 weeks old. After opening their eyes, however, kittens will begin exploring their environment. Kittens grow very quickly from about two weeks to seven weeks of age, developing strength and coordination as they play-fight with their litter mates.
Mother cats begin to gradually wean kittens three weeks to a month after birth. The kittens begin to eat solid food and are usually fully weaned after six to eight weeks. Kittens also begin to develop their hunting abilities at this age; feral mothers begin bringing live prey to their kittens around this time.
After Eight Weeks
Though it's common to send domestic kittens away from their mothers after six to eight weeks, many breeders wait until the kittens are 3 months old. Even after the kittens have gone to new homes, it's important for their new owners to watch them carefully. Kittens are curious and like dark places so they can get lost easily. It's also important to consult a veterinarian to get necessary vaccinations as well as spay or neuter your kitten at the proper time.
Full Growth Rates
Cats continue to grow after the first year, though by this time they are very nearly adults. The ultimate growth rates for cats often depends on the breed. Most domestic shorthairs -- the standard tabby cat, for example -- are full adults after three years. Other breeds, like the Norwegian Forrest cats, can take five years to achieve their full size.