HOW TONKS GROW
Kittens come into the world about 63-67 days after a queen is bred. Ask any breeder — it seems most births happen at night, when things are peaceful. Generally, Queens are able to birth the kittens without help, and the breeder is present only to assist if necessary. Each kitten is born in its own sack, with its own placenta. The Queen will break the sack and lick the kitten to stimulate the kitten to breathe. The Queen will give each kitten a bath, and the kitten will be dry and fluffy in no time. A kitten’s first instinct is to nurse. It is quick to nuzzle around until it finds the right spot. Kittens will weigh between 2.5-3.5 ounces (85 grams) at birth. In my experience the average litter is 4 kittens, although I have had litters from 1-8 kittens. Typically, births range from 4-6 hours in length.
Young kittens (birth to 3 weeks) have a hard time regulating their body temperature, so it is important to keep them warm. The first 2-3 weeks the kittens nurse and sleep, in a continuous cycle. The Queen is very dedicated to her babies, and will hardly ever leave them except for food, water or to use the litter box. The Queen is very proud of her accomplishment and likes nothing more than to be complimented on her beautiful babies.
At 5-10 days old the kitten’s eyes will start to open, although they can’t really focus clearly yet. They will start to lift their heads up and slowly move around the bed by pulling themselves. One day the most amazing thing happens — the kittens sit up! Suddenly they look like 3 dimensional kittens, as they are no longer spending all of their time horizontal.
Life takes off from here. At 3-4 weeks the kittens will begin to stand on all four legs, although they often fall because they are so wobbly. They will start to take steps, but are not ready to run. Sisal rope scratching posts are introduced at this time as well. We have special tiny scratching posts with a toy on one end for just this purpose. This is the way the kittens learn early on where they should scratch!
In the 4-6 week time frame we will introduce real food & water to a kitten. Prior to this the kitten received all nourishment from its Mom. The exact age at which feeding starts is often determined by the size of the litter, kitten weight gain, and the condition of the Queen. Typically, larger litters will start eating real food sooner. It is harder for the Queen to produce enough milk to support nursing all of those kittens. When the food is introduced – so is the litter box. With kittens, we use “The World’s Best Cat Litter,” a corn-based clumping litter.
Next comes what I call HELL WEEK. The kittens are learning about eating food, and using the litter box. It is a messy time. We have spilled water, dirty cat beds and kittens walking through their food. Every morning and evening is a major clean-up job. Miraculously it ends before the week is out. They eat the food, rather than walking through it. They drink the water, rather than spilling it, and they use the litter box as it was intended.
Now the kittens really come into their own. They start to run and jump, and find toys have a purpose. You can watch them and never stop laughing. And then as quickly as it starts — it is nap time again. Kittens still need lots of sleep to accommodate their growing bodies!