That’s right. Everything your cat knows, good or bad, she learned in the first weeks of her life. Further, even though she is trainable as she leaves exotic shorthair cat for sale-hood and grows into an adult, it becomes more difficult for her to change the way she does things as she grows older. Is that the reason older cats seem to be crotchety ole’ grouches? And why they won’t move off of your favorite chair without a lot of grumbling? Maybe. But, it’s well documented that the first weeks of a kitten’s life is where they develop all the critical elements of their physiology and personality.
Physical Development and Growth:
The first weeks of a kitten’s life is the most dramatic, growth-wise. At birth a kitten will weigh around 100 grams (3.5 oz). Normal weight gain is about 7-10 grams a day and their weight should double in 14 days. A healthy kitten is plump, firm and vigorous and they will nurse every 1-2 hours. They prefer one teat to nurse and find it by smell. When they’re well fed their stomachs are round and they sleep quietly. If they are crying and moving around, they are not getting enough to eat and may be taking in air when they nurse. Before, during, and after nursing, the queen will lick the stomach and perineal area (the area just above the tail) to stimulate urination and defecation. She’ll do this for the first 2-3 weeks of her kitten’s life.
At 3-4 weeks the kittens will begin to imitate their mom’s eating and drinking habits. Keep a shallow dish for water available for them and you can also allow them to taste a kitten mush mixture of high quality kitten food, kitten milk replacement and hot water blended to the texture of infant cereal. Start off with 3-4 meals a day of this mixture. At first the kittens will explore it, walk in it, and eat some. After that mom may finish the meal herself. Each week decrease the amount of milk replacement, water and time of blending. Weaning will be complete by 7-8 weeks when the kittens should be eating dry food and drinking water on their own.
This growth schedule matches what wild kittens will experience. Mom will nurse them for a while after birth. Then, she will hunt her territory for prey, bring it home and teach her kittens how to eat it. Later she will catch the prey and bring it home alive so that she can teach them how to kill. Kittens need to learn fast because, being easy prey themselves, they are susceptible to predators . They also need to learn fast because mom’s territory is not going to be sustainable for providing food indefinitely. As they grow they’ll eat greater amounts and more often. So, they need to grow up, get out on their own, find their own territory and fend for themselves.
Personality and Socialization
Though cats are solitary creatures, they are not completely loners. Young kittens do not have a developed sense for personal space or territoriality. They’ll snuggle in a ball with themselves or with mom in order to maintain normal body temperature. Conversely, they’ll spread out a little if they’re too hot. As they grow and their bodies develop the ability to maintain itself, they’ll begin to find their own private spaces for resting or sleeping, but still play with each other. In the wild mom will stop providing food for them eventually. She’ll resume protecting her territory, causing her brood to leave or chasing the now adult kittens off. Now they’ll need to establish their own territories and begin the cycle all over again. Domestic kittens may seek their own private space, but since food is readily available, they’ll display less protective territoriality instincts with each other. They’ll include your house as part of their territory, but exclude neighbor cats or other animals from the property.
While they’re still kittens, they’ll stalk and play to develop their balance and coordination. This is the training ground for learning predation and the basic survival techniques that has perpetuated the presence of cats for thousands of years. As cute as the play seems, this play is critical to the survival of the species.