While holding that lovable little ball of fluff, it's difficult to imagine your new kitten will one day be a mature cat. That day's coming sooner than you think, as your adorable pet spends her first year maturing physically, socially, sexually and behaviorally.
Your kitten's infancy happens over the course of about the first month. A brand new kitty needs her mommy for everything, such as feeding, protection, warmth, and even going potty. If you're caring for a cat with newborn kitties, it's best to leave them alone -- momma has it under control. By week 4, healthy kittens can potty on their own, their ability to keep warm is growing every day, and they're ready to begin drinking water and eating some solid food.
The Terrible Twos
Your kitty's toddlerhood happens between about 1 and 2 months of age. Toddler kittens usually are playful and delightful as they learn to be outgoing and social, become more independent, and form relationships with humans and other pets. Most kittens this age can use a litter box consistently on their own. They now need fresh, clean water available at all times, and they're usually eating 2 to 4 meals of solid food per day. By 8 weeks, most kittens are weaned. If they're being adopted out, this is when they're ready to go (and the minimum legal age for adoption or sale in most states).
Your furbaby is growing rapidly, but she's still a kitten until around 6 months. Her vision and balance still are maturing, and she may spend a lot of time testing her boundaries in the household and with you. Most of your kitty's lifelong habits, preferences and behaviors develop between ages 2 to 6 months.
Your cat will hit puberty around 6 months of age. Like human teenagers, her body and mind are not finished growing, but she's now capable of reproducing. Spaying or neutering your kitty before this age is very highly recommended. Your kitty will be more or less her adult size by 1 year of age. However, she could take up to 4 years to mature fully, physically and behaviorally. Heftier breeds of cat usually take longer. Generic house cats and feral cats usually mature earlier.
Congratulations! Your kitty has spent her first year growing up, and now has the next 18 or so to spend leisurely as a mature, adult cat. They may still get the crazies now and then, but most cats are behaviorally mature by the time they complete their physical maturity, with firmly developed social preferences (though they still can adapt to new people, animals and situations). Overall, the temperament and body type your kitty has by the end of her first year are the ones she's likely to keep for the rest of her life. A healthy, indoor, spayed or neutered cat of ideal body weight has a life expectancy of nearly 20 years. They become senior "kitizens" around age 10. At that point, your vet may recommend more thorough yearly check-ups to troubleshoot age-related problems.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: General Cat Care
- A Kitty Cat's Life: Cat Development Stages - Your Kitten Grows Up
- Feline Advisory Bureau: Behaviour in the Kitten and Young Cat
- For the Love of Cats: The Developing Cat
- National Academy of Sciences: Your Cat's Nutritional Needs -- A Science-Based Guide for Pet Owners
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images