Last updated: December 11, 2016
Awww… aren’t they just gorgeous? With their beautiful blue eyes, soft, soft fur and tiny little squeaky voices, kittens are just about the cutest creatures ever invented. One day they will be the slayers of birds, rats, and mice, but today they are just itsy-bitsy little things who wouldn’t harm a fly. The trouble with kittens is that they have mothers, and Mommy cats are not to be messed with! They can already sink surprisingly long fangs into ANYONE who dares mess with her babies. So when can you safely lift up and cuddle these little squishy furballs? Read on and find out!
Not only does Mommy cat protect her babies with her considerable arsenal of weapons, she instinctively marks them as her own by licking and touching them, so when you touch a kitten you put your own smell on it, thereby making it stand out as different from its siblings. This is OK sometimes and, depending on the kind of cat she is and the relationship you have with her, she may accept it, or she may not. In the wild, queens often move kittens from place to place to safeguard them from predators, and although you aren’t one of those nasty beasts, Mommy is awash with mothering hormones and isn’t quite thinking straight! So if you find that Mommy and kitties are not where you left them, don’t worry! She hasn’t run away – she’s instinctively being a good mother and has moved them to what she thinks is a safe place. So when can you hold kittens? When Mommy says so – OK?
Be Still and See!
Any baby has basic needs as soon as it emerges from the womb into the world – after all, it has just come from a dark, quiet safe place where all its needs were provided to a harsh environment full of strange talking creatures! So it’s best if we don’t intrude too much in the first few days. After all, Mother Nature has equipped Mommy cat with all the tools she needs to bring her children up right! She gives them milk, keeps them warm, and shows them where to defecate and urinate. So observe – you can learn it all from her. If you’ve already become close to Mommy you can watch and see how she reacts when you come near. Wait till the kittens are over a week old and their eyes are open before you try to touch one. But if you do and she shows obvious signs of displeasure then listen to her. She’s saying: “these are my kittens and I’m in charge. Back off,” so do just that. Growling and hissing will quickly be followed by snarling, scratching and biting. Motherhood is a fearsome thing!
You wouldn’t Just walk into a little newborn baby’s bedroom and pick him up out of his cot without asking Mommy. If you don’t do it for humans, then don’t do it for cats. Ask her permission; let her sniff you, pet her, pat her head and scratch under her chin. Most cats love that! This way she knows that you mean her and her kittens no harm. If she shows a positive response, like cheek-rubbing, purring or licking, you can assume that it’s safe to go on. Now you can pick up a kitten, supporting him under his backside and holding him against your chest, while giving him enough room to breathe.
Now that you’ve finally managed to navigate your way to the kitty with the gracious consent of Mommy cat (be careful, though – one wrong move and you’re hamburger meat!) make sure you keep kitty warm. Kittens burn a lot of calories staying warm, and hypothermia is a leading cause of malnutrition among kittens. That seems a bit strange, I know, but if kittens are too cold they can’t nurse properly and if they do they can’t absorb nutrients so well. If you really, really must pick up the little guy, wrap him cozily in a warm blanket and make sure you’re in a warm room with no stray breezes anywhere. Don’t keep him away from Mommy and all his brothers and sisters for too long, though since their body heat keeps his temperature up.
In the first few days, kittens don’t have much resistance to ordinary germs that won’t do them much harm when they’re big snarly cats! So practice good hygiene habits when you’re picking up the kitties. Wash your hands and ensure that no other pets are in the vicinity. Babies of any species, including cats, are very delicate, so treat them as you would a precious piece of bone china! Don’t manhandle or drop them – their little bones are still very fragile. And you know how eager toddlers and small children are! Kittens are just perfectly squishy and cuddly and squeaky, just like those lovely toys you can buy in the store, except they’re not toys! If you have small children around, keep a close eye on them if you’re going to allow them to touch or play with the babies, and make sure they wash everything TWICE!
Well, Hi There!
It’s very important that kittens become used to people very early on in their development, just after their eyes open at around one week old. Don’t rush things. Remember he only weighs a few ounces and you’re – let’s just say a bit heavier than that! So just a little touching to start with, then a little more, and a little more, till he is thoroughly familiar with you and learns to trust you. This will result in a contented, well-rounded cat. If, for some very good reason, you absolutely MUST pick the kitten before that, call your vet and ask for his opinion. The little guy may need his assistance! If you leave socialization too late, the cats will become shy and even hostile to people. Many people think that it’s only appropriate after six weeks, but by then it’s far too late! While you’re picking up and touching your kittens you can check and see that they’re in good physical condition, and if there are any problems you can catch them early.
Speaking of Vets…
Choose your vet carefully. Hopefully, you’ll be together for a long time! At your first visit, you’ll need to ask him to recommend the best food for your little darling, ask about products that are safe for kittens to control parasites, learn how to spot symptoms of illness and make appointments for vaccinations.
And by the time he’s ready to leave Mommy, he should be a happy, healthy, well-mannered kitten. Now all he needs is love!