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Life Stages of a Cat

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Cat life cycle stages occur in multiple ways since your cat will grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. As your feline friend goes through their various stages of life, it can be beneficial to understand their care-taking needs and developmental milestones, whether they are a young kitten, middle-aged adult, or senior cat.

Stages of Cat Development

Throughout your cat’s life, you will see them go through many development stages, both in their physical and behavioral growth.

Cat Physical Development

Although cats go through many of the same stages of life that people do, felines age and grow exponentially faster in comparison. When kittens are anywhere from one to three weeks old, they will begin to open their eyes, though their eyesight still won’t be the best. It is about this time that their ears will open as well.

Around the one-month mark, most kittens will be ready to take their first steps, though they will be rather wobbly. This is an exciting time for a kitten as their new-found mobility allows them to explore more of the world around them. Within a few weeks, you’ll notice a major improvement in their maneuverability, which also means your cat will be ready to use their litterbox.

Between two and three months, you should continue to see an improvement in your cat’s balance and ability to move about—this would be the perfect time to cat-proof your home. Kittens are energetic and mischievous, and they could accidentally get into something you’d rather they avoid. It is at this time you will also notice that your cat has nearly all their baby teeth. Now is also the best time to consult your veterinarian on when and how to begin transitioning their diet to soft food, then solid food. Keep in mind they will generally continue nursing for a while as well, so they should not be separated from their mother early.

As a kitten has gained the use of their senses, can move about and explore on their own, can use their litter box, and is weaned from their mother, they will be ready to be adopted and venture to their new home with their new family. Between the ages of six months up to a year old, you will watch your cat grow an incredible amount, from a tiny fuzzy kitten to a rambunctious teenager into a full-grown adult. Although many cats can carry their kitten energy with them for many years to come, most felines will be done growing by the time they are a year old—though they may continue to gain some weight as they fill out.

For the most part, once a cat reaches adulthood, there won’t be much change in their physical appearance. You might notice a slight fluctuation in their weight from time to time, but you can help keep them at a healthy size by providing them with plenty of exercise and appropriate meal sizes.

You may not notice any physical difference in your feline friend until they are much older, nearly ten or above. At this point, chances are your cat’s coat will not appear quite as shiny as it once did. You may notice some grey fur getting sprinkled across their coat, and they may start to move a little slower or not jump up onto high surfaces anymore.

Cat Behavior Development

Within the first few months of a kitten’s life, much of their time and energy is spent adjusting to their new senses and learning more about the world around them. There is an enormous amount of information to intake—including sights, sounds, and smells. They will still want to spend a lot of time around their littermates and mother, though some may be braver than others as they begin exploring more.

Due to a combination of kittens having an abundance of energy, little fear, and a plethora of curiosity, most young cats could be mischievous. That said, even at just a few months of age, how your kitten interacts with their environment can already say a lot about their character.

Because it is one of the major highlights of being a pet parent to a young kitten, many people can’t help but wonder, “When do cats develop personalities?” You may begin to see your cat’s character shine through even when they are only a few months old. Do they run away when new people approach or adore the attention? Is your cat wary of the dog? Do they give everyone in the house some attitude? These behaviors and observations of your cat’s body language can provide insights into who they are.

Despite some traits shining through at a young age, it could take anywhere from a year to a year and a half before the kitten behaviors are replaced with their personality as a full-grown adult. At this time, you may get a better understanding of how your cat may act in the foreseeable future.

Of course, like people, a cat’s behaviors can change and develop throughout life—these can depend on their life experiences, living environment, and health. A once timid cat can learn to become more confident, or an independent cat could come to love cuddles. As a natural part of aging, you may notice minor behavior shifts as your cat ages.

little girl hugging a baby kitten

What Are the Stages of a Cat’s Life?

The most prominent stages of a cat’s life are similar to that of a person. They start as dependent kittens or babies, grow into unruly teenagers who like to push the rules, settle into full-grown, mature adults, and one day reach their golden years as senior cats.

Caring for a Newborn Kitten

You never know when you will find yourself with a newborn kitten in your care. One of the most important things to keep in mind when caring for a cat at such a young age, especially if their mother isn’t around, is that they will be entirely dependent on you.

Being raised by the mother has many health and behavioral benefits, and kittens should not be needlessly removed from their mothers before weaning. If the mother is not available, newborn kittens will not be able to eat any solid kibble or canned wet food—they need formula. It is best to avoid any milk that you would typically consume, as these often cause stomach problems for felines. Instead, you will want to find a milk-replacement formula. You can talk with your veterinarian about specific recommendations.

While you are hand-feeding your kitten with a bottle, it’s important to always wash your hands and the bottle thoroughly before mealtime to help reduce the chances of spreading germs. You will also need to remember that when kittens are this age, they will need to be fed every few hours, and they also need their caregivers to stimulate urination and defecation as the mother cat would.

Although it can be a lot of work at first to take care of your young friend, this phase only lasts until they are a little past a month old, at which point you will be able to start weaning them off a bottle and instead provide their formula in a dish. It is also at this age that you can stop feeding them every few hours. You can switch to a three-meal-per-day schedule.

With each passing week, it’s important to keep an eye on your cat’s physical growth. A sign of a healthy kitten is one that is regularly gaining weight. Your veterinarian will also continue to monitor your pal’s weight at each appointment, and they can help show you what a healthy weight looks like for your cat—the happy medium between underweight and overweight. Your kitten will also need to visit their veterinarian in order to receive their necessary vaccinations, some of which require a booster shot once they get a little older.

Another key part of caring for a kitten is to ensure that you are providing a safe environment. Kitten-proofing your home may be necessary for the first year or so, though depending on how mischievous and curious your cat becomes, you may need to keep your house cat-proofed for the foreseeable future. A few ways to get your home ready for your new family member include:

  • Moving cords that can be chewed on
  • Removing toxic plants
  • Keeping breakables on a higher shelf, out of reach
  • Baby gating stairs
  • Securely storing any harmful cleaners or products
  • Fixing any broken doors, windows, or screens the cat could get through

You will also need necessary supplies such as food and water bowls, a litter box, litter, and scoop, toys, scratching posts, a climbing tower, brush or comb, age-appropriate food, treats, and a bed.

Another major part of caring for a kitten is to have patience. Kittens are energetic and ornery, and it’s not a matter of if but when they will get into something. While you may try your best to be proactive about avoiding accidents, it’s in a cat’s nature to push stuff off tables. You can help channel some of this energy by playing with your cat throughout the day.

Caring for a Young Cat

Around the time that your kitten reaches a year old, they will be switching into their adult stage of life. At this point, most cats are as big as they will be, height and length-wise, though some may continue to fill out and gain a little more weight—make sure they don’t gain too much.

Since they are no longer a kitten, you will need to switch their food over to a formula that’s made for adults. You will also want to look at the suggested serving size for your cat. Most cats are switched to an adult formula between 6 and 12 months of age. However, you can also talk to your veterinarian about exact timing and meal size recommendations, as this can vary from one cat to another based on multiple factors.

For many cats, though they may technically be in their “adult” phase, they will continue to display kitten behaviors and energy levels for many more months or even years. This means you can still expect some zoomies in the middle of the night, them getting into mischief in the day, and lots of playtime in between.

With your cat fully grown, you may find it’s time to update or replace some of their items. For instance, although many collars are adjustable, you may still need to bump up to one made specifically for adult cats. Depending on how small your kitten was and how much bigger they are fully grown, you may also need to get them a larger bed.

By this age, your cat will most likely be a pro at giving themselves baths, but it will be essential that you help them with the rest of their grooming routine. You should check your cat’s ears on a regular basis and clean them whenever necessary. This can be done with a cotton ball and a cat-safe ear cleaning solution. Just be sure not to use cotton swabs or to clean into the inner ear, as both of these could accidentally cause some pain. If you notice that your cat’s ears are more red than usual or have a bad smell, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, as this could indicate an ear infection.

If your cat seems to always have a mess around their eyes, you can easily clean this area up with a soft, damp cloth. Gently wipe down and away from their eyes and use a separate corner of the cloth for each one. With the help of some cat-safe toothpaste and a cat-friendly toothbrush, you can also keep your feline friend’s pearly whites nice and healthy—plus, their breath will stay fresh too.

Depending on your cat’s coat type, they may need to be brushed at least once a week. There are many benefits to brushing your cat, including a healthier, well-maintained coat, less hair left around the house, and fewer hairballs. Don’t forget—you will also need to trim your cat’s nails. Although cats naturally file down their nails by using scratching posts, it’s still typically not enough, and the nails need some maintenance every month or so.

It may take some convincing before your cat becomes comfortable with their new grooming routine. You can help by playing with them beforehand. That way, they are more tired by the time they are getting groomed, and you can reward them with plenty of ear scratches and treats.

Caring for a Senior Cat

A cat’s lifespan can vary greatly, depending on their living environment, lifestyle, and overall health. That said, a healthy cat could easily live into their teen years or early twenties. To help your cat live a long and prosperous life, it’s crucial to provide them with proper care. Once your best pal is around the age of 11, they will be considered seniors, and their care-taking needs will change again.

As a natural part of aging, it is not unusual for your cat to begin developing some health conditions. This often means that they will need to be put on medication or supplements, and you may need to visit the veterinarian more than once a year. While at these appointments, it can be incredibly helpful to discuss your cat’s dietary plan. What type of food your cat has and how much they eat may also need to change with their age.

For instance, older cats could be more prone to experiencing dehydration or kidney issues, so it’s more important than ever that they have easy access to clean drinking water. If their water bowl is on a higher surface, it will be best if you move it to the ground, and you may even want to consider placing multiple water dishes throughout the house. Serving your cat canned food can also help with their water intake.

Physically, you will most likely notice more grey hair sprinkled throughout your cat’s coat, and they may move much slower than they once did. Chances are, you’ll also catch that they no longer jump onto the high shelves and windowsills and instead stick to lower items like the couch. Even though your cat may move slower or stiffer than they once did, it’s crucial that you still keep an eye on their mobility and physical abilities. If your cat struggles walking or seems to be in discomfort when you pick them up, it could be indicative of an underlying health issue such as arthritis.

Continuing to play with your cat and providing daily exercise can help keep them healthy and young at heart. Plus, providing mental stimulation can be beneficial to your cat’s well-being.

Despite the fact that most cat developmental milestones occur within the first year or so of a cat’s life, that’s not to say that there aren’t many more happy memories and exciting times to be shared with your best pal for the many years to come.

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The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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