The innocent little "mews" that newborn kittens make melt your heart. You'll be tempted to pick them up right after they're born -- but resist your urge. Petting them too soon can be dangerous for their health and might make your mama kitty upset.
Dangers of Touching
Mama cat licks her babies to put her own signature scent on them, according to Animal Planet. When you touch a newborn kitten, you make it smell different to its mother. Some cats aren't phased by humans touching their young, but other felines become agitated. Mama kitty might feel threatened by the unfamiliar scent and feel that she needs to move her offspring to a safe location. If you come back to the nesting box in a few hours and notice that the whole family is missing, don't worry. Your precious queen was simply trying to protect her litter and moved them to a safe location.
When It's Safe
As difficult as it may be, you'll need to avoid touching newborn kittens during their first week of life, the ASPCA reports. Since socializing kittens with humans is an important part of their early growth, carefully start to handle your new fluffy babies starting during their second week of life. Before you pick them up, make sure you allow mama cat to sniff your hand. Pet her head and show her affection, ensuring her that you are not a threat. If she purrs, licks your hand or otherwise welcomes your petting, gently pick up a kitten -- pick up only one at a time.
Importance of Warmth
When it comes time to pick up your fuzzy friends, make sure you keep them warm. Hypothermia, or cold body temperature, is a major problem with infant kittens. Early in their lives, newborn kittens use up most of their energy stores to stay warm, explains Dr. Virginia Clemans, a veterinarian based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Cold felines cannot digest their food and become less likely to nurse, resulting in possible malnutrition. If you pick up one of the tiny fluff balls, scooping him up in a small baby blanket and keeping him away from drafts ensures that he stays warm. Prevent hypothermia by handling him for short periods of time and returning him safely to his mama and warm littermates.
Newborn kittens haven't yet developed strong immune systems. Wash your hands carefully before handling the babies, and keep other animals away from the pint-size felines to prevent spreading germs. Petting and picking up newborn kittens can be dangerous. Baby kittens, much like human babies, are extremely fragile. Handling them roughly or accidentally dropping them can damage bones or vital organs. Be very gentle and, if you have young children in your home, supervise closely while they handle the kittens.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.