Kittens seem so small for so long until one day–they suddenly become cats! But when does this transformation take place? When are kittens truly considered cats?
Kittens are considered adult cats at one year of age. However, they still have many of their kitten characteristics until 18 months of age. Kittens develop much faster than humans; a one-year-old cat is equivalent to a 16-year-old human; an adult but still young and playful.
Felines age differently than humans, with their first year having much more in physical and mental development. Read on to learn about the stages of kitten life, from birth to when they become cats.
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The Aging Stages of a Kitten
Kittens grow quickly, changing from small, helpless balls of fur into wild night stalkers, always on the hunt. It’s important to know the milestones of kitten development so you can make sure your pet is healthy and on track. Let’s take a look at how these little felines age into adults.
Kittens can be born in litters as small as two or as large as twelve. No matter the size, all of the babies are born blind and deaf. Their eyes are shut tight for the first week of their life and should be kept in a dark room for the following week as well, as their delicate eyes adjust to the light.
Their eyes begin to adjust to the light during their third week of life, and their ears stand up. Kittens gain better control of their five senses during this last week, and their curiosity will begin to grow.
As they become more aware of their bodies, the small cats will begin to take shaky steps and explore. Purring and meows will become louder around this time, and you’ll see some of the first hints of personality start to show. The young animals can have their first taste of solid food at this time, though they’ll continue to nurse over the next few weeks.
As their legs get stronger and they gain more control of their balance, the young animals will be able to stand to go to the bathroom without their mother’s assistance. You may need to assist the kittens in getting into the litter box, but they should take after their mother very quickly once there. Accidents are still very likely, so continue to protect your floors with a newspaper that you change frequently.
These weeks are some of the most exciting when it comes to the growth of kittens. During the sixth, seventh, and eighth weeks, they will begin to play with each other, toys, and people. The babies will have their first vaccination during this time, and once they do, you can begin to introduce them to people and other animals.
From this point out, the more people your animal meets, the better. Socialization starts young and continues for the first two years of your cat’s life. The key to a happy, friendly, adult cat is a well-socialized kitten.
As the kittens have been increasing their solid food intake, they will be weaned off completely during these three weeks. They will also continue to explore, and their confidence will grow. Personalities will develop more, and you’ll be able to see potential matches for new owners. If you’re visiting your future cat at this stage, keep an eye out for the individual characteristics they are showing.
Professionals say that a cat should stay with their mother until they are ten weeks of age. You’ll likely be bringing home your kitten around this time, and she will be full of energy. Make sure to kitten-proof your home by hiding any low-lying electrical cords, securing any topsy-turvy items, and creating a safe space for the animal to rest and recuperate from all of its intensive play.
Your kitten will grow rapidly during these three months. If you take photos of your animal once a week, you’ll likely see a big difference from the beginning of month three to the end of month five. Her dietary needs will also grow, so make sure you keep in touch with your vet to determine the appropriate type and amount of food for your pet.
Most kittens should be spayed or neutered around five months of age before they reach sexual maturity. This timing is especially important for females. If females are spayed before their first heat cycle, this greatly lowers mammary cancer risk and completely removes the risk of uterine and ovarian cancers. In males, neutering helps control behavioral issues and eliminates the risk of testicular cancer.
6 Months – 1 Year
Young felines reach their sexual maturity around six months of age. If you have an unspayed female, she’ll likely enter her first heat cycle at this time; there may be slight bleeding for a few days, but it’s easily cleaned up. While in their heat (or estrous) cycle, your female will be loud, attention-seeking, and affectionate.
In these last six months of kitten-hood, your pet will shake off most of the baby-like effects of their youth. Their adult teeth will finish coming in at this time, and while their dietary needs remain high, they will start to lean out and become more graceful.
1 Year – 18 Months
Congratulations! At one-year-old, you officially own a cat! You might consider the next six months to be her “teenage phase,” where she will test boundaries, rebel a little, and even become standoffish. This is because she is becoming truly independent, and her confidence is at an all-time high.
If you have an indoor cat, she may become more active at night or try to dodge out of the front door. If you have an outdoor cat, they will start to wander farther away and may not return home for longer periods.
Once your cat has reached 18 months of age, it will begin to calm down a little and will likely return to its affectionate self once out of this period.
When a Kitten Becomes a Cat
Once your kitten reaches one year of age, she is considered a cat! As soon as your pet is an adult, you should reassess her caloric intake and nutritional needs. The fat-rich diet of kittens is not suitable for adults who will quickly gain weight and risk becoming obese. You will likely have already switched your pet over to adult food that will have leaner proteins and contain less fat. The quantity of food will slowly lessen as well.
Even though your kitten is now a cat, that doesn’t mean she is done growing. Both her physical and mental states are still developing. You must continue to encourage positive behavior in your pet. Continue to introduce her to new animals and people and reward good behavior.
At about 18 months old, your cat will reach its physical maturity, so it should be fully grown. However, some breeds do continue to mature until they are four years old. Even as an adult, your pet will continue to show many youth characteristics throughout the first years. These include:
- Moments of hyperactivity
- Increased appetite
- High nighttime activity
- Moments of incoordination
A kitten is considered a cat at one year of age. This is the time when cats are fully aware of the world and are confident enough to explore it. However, your cat will continue to develop and won’t reach full maturity until 18 months of age–and sometimes later. Be sure to continue to reinforce the positive behaviors you see in your cat; training doesn’t stop because they are now an adult!
- Cornell Feline Health Center: The Special Needs of the Senior Cat
- Hill’s: Weekly Kitten Development Timeline
- Trupanion: How To Kitten-Proof Your House
- PetMD: What Age Should You Spay or Neuter Your Cats?
- VCA: Estrous Cycles in Cats
- Aspen Grove Veterinary Care: Developmental Stages in Cats
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.