How Old Is The Kitten in My Henderson Yard?


by:  Diane Soukup

It is happening almost daily: Kittens, some as young as a day old, are being found and turned in by well-meaning Henderson and Las Vegas residents to local shelters and rescues. Just yesterday, March 27, the Kitty Mafia Rescue revealed the addition of seven new neonates (the tiniest babies) to the rescue: Five were found in a box in a trash can, and a passerby heard their cries. The other two were found with three other siblings, but no mother cat; the three siblings died. Kittens this tiny need round-the-clock care… but how do you know how old the kittens are to determine what they need?

The most important point to keep in mind is the unless the kittens are found in a dumpster or some other place where it’s apparent they’ve been discarded, leave them be and watch for the mother to return. Mama Cat is probably off hunting – she needs to eat, too – and should return within a couple of hours. If she doesn’t, then the babies will need help. Kittens have rounded bellies, bright eyes (if their eyes are open), and clean fur likely have a competent mother cat caring for them. Kittens appear thin, dirty, with eye or nasal discharge are in trouble and will require intervention to stay alive. Knowing approximately how old they are will help determine what kind of help you’ll need to provide.

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Newborns to Four Weeks

Newborn kittens will have closed eyes, folded ears, be unable to stand, and may even have their umbilical cords still attached. They won’t have any teeth. Newborn kittens, like newborn humans, rely on the mother for everything: Food, warmth, assistance with elimination. They can purr and make distress calls, however. At this age, until about four weeks, they require intensive around-the-clock care – this includes bottle-feeding with kitten formula every two hours and using a warm damp washcloth or cotton ball to wipe their bottoms and help them eliminate urine and stool. They also need to be kept warm – a heated rice sock, soft blankets, or skin-to-fur contact can all work.

At approximately a week old, their eyes are open, ears nearly unfolded, and birth weight should be approximately double (to around eight ounces). They can wiggle around but are still very limited in how far they can go. They continue to require around-the-clock bottle-feeding, warmth, and help with elimination. You will probably notice the kittens (assuming there are more than one) snuggling together for warmth and rarely moving far away from Mama or their nest.

By two weeks, the kittens will interact with each other but still need Mama’s (or a surrogate Mama’s) constant support. They will hiss (adorably) at unfamiliar sounds or smells and can’t retract their claws. You may see them “kneading” or “making biscuits” with their paws.

Mobility by the three-week mark is much improved. At this point, their teeth are coming in and the kittens are steadier on their feet. Kitten gruel – a thin mix of kitten formula and wet kitten food – can be introduced, first in the bottle, and then in a flat plate on the floor. (They are notoriously messy eaters, so you may want to put down an absorbable potty pad under the plate.) Feedings can be decreased to four or five times daily, and the kittens’ weight should be almost a pound. Mobility is improving, and you’ll see the kittens start playing with each other; however, sleep still occupies most of the day.

The best thing about this age, however, may well be the ability to introduce the litter box – make sure it’s scooped out daily, and monitor for changes in urine or feces may indicate a problem. They will have to be taught how to use the litter box if they’ve been raised without their mother – this is a topic for another time, but essentially, it involves encouraging the kitten to eliminate in the box by positive reinforcement.

At four weeks, the kittens are very mobile and curious about their surroundings. Socialization with frequent positive, gentle handling by humans should start now – as should playing with toys. These one-month-olds can be weaned from the bottle and onto a diet of solid food (wet and dry) two to three times daily, with plenty of clean water always available. The kittens should be steady on their feet, walking with tails up and blue eyes wide open – their eye color may change; essentially, all kittens start off with blue eyes. Four-week-olds still need a warm place to sleep as body temperature regulation is not always efficient yet.

Five to Nine Weeks

This is when the kittens you’ve found in Henderson are the most fun! Their personalities are beginning to show, and continued socialization is key. The kittens are usually fully weaned from Mama Cat by now – or from a bottle, if Mama is not present – and are eating a regular diet of kitten food with plenty of clean water available.

By about six weeks, you’ll see the kittens practicing their hunting skills: Pouncing, stalking, and hiding. This is instinctual and will be seen no matter what environment the kittens have lived in. They’re also cleaning themselves (and each other if there are littermates) efficiently, having learned it from Mama. If there is no Mama in the picture and/or no littermates, then working some grooming into daily interactions between human caregivers and kittens will be essential. Introductions to other animals, other areas of the home, and different people should start now to ensure a well-socialized kitten.

By about eight weeks, the kittens are about two pounds which is the ideal weight to get them spayed or neutered. Please note it is in the law in all of Clark County – including Henderson – the cats must be spayed or neutered (unless the individual has a breeder’s license). In Henderson, based on a quick review of municipal code, spaying or neutering must take place by the time the animal is four months of age. A quick Google search will reveal low-cost spay/neuter clinics which will also do vaccinations, as well as cat-specific clinics in Henderson, in addition to typical veterinary clinics.

Finding one or more kittens can be distressing, especially if you determine they need human intervention to survive. Reaching out to rescues like the Kitty Mafia, Nothin’ But Love Cat and Kitten Rescue, Las Vegas Cats, or Henderson Animal Shelter, the NSPCA or the Animal Foundation are all potential options which can help with advice and resources. 


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