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At What Age Can You Touch Newborn Kittens? Minimum Age & Handling Tips

The worry you feel when your cat is pregnant is immeasurable. As a pet parent, you’re constantly watching the little momma and trying to make sure she’s ready when the time comes. When delivery begins, you feel like a proud grandparent. You can’t wait to meet the new babies and dote on your fur baby about the great job she did bringing them into the world. Then you see the kittens. It’s no different than seeing a newborn baby. You want to hold, cuddle, and love them the instant you see them.

Unfortunately, that’s not a good idea and you’ll need to fight that urge. So, at what age can you touch newborn kittens? While it’s going to be difficult, unless there’s an issue, you shouldn’t touch newborn kittens until they are at least 2 weeks old. Let’s learn more about newborn kittens, why you shouldn’t hold them, and how you can help make things easier for the kittens and their mother.

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Why You Shouldn’t Touch a Newborn Kitten

The first 2 weeks of a newborn kitten’s life are quite important. As most cat lovers know, kittens are born with their eyes closed. A kitten’s developing systems are also delicate at this time. This means they are dependent on their mothers for everything. Mothers will feed kittens every 2 to 3 hours, provide them with warmth, help them with using the bathroom, and keep them clean. Unfortunately, mother cats are somewhat prone to becoming anxious during this time. You’ll find that they are hyper-focused on their kittens. If an animal or person they don’t trust comes around, they will be on high alert. It’s even possible if the cat isn’t comfortable with the person or animal nearby, that it may unleash its motherly instincts and react to protect its kittens.

With all the important growth and bonding taking place during the first 2 weeks after a kitten is born, it’s clear to see why you should avoid touching them. You may also find that not only will a mother react violently when someone tries to interact with one of her kittens but it can stress her. As we all know, a stressed cat can react in several ways. The last thing you want to do is cause the mother to abandon the care of her kittens or cause harm to herself thanks to an intrusion.

mother cat with kittens
Image Credit: Karen Hogan, Shutterstock

When Is It Safe to Interact with Newborn Kittens?

Most veterinarians feel that around the 2-week mark, when the eyes begin to open, is the best time to interact with newborn kittens. At this point, mother cats need a bit of a break. They’ve dedicated all their time to the kittens. She knows the kittens are now able to see a bit and wiggle around. If you and the mother cat have a strong bond, she may feel safe allowing you to watch over her kittens while she stretches her legs and takes a well-deserved breather.

You’ll also find that there are times when even the experts feel it’s okay to step in and handle newborn kittens before the 2 weeks is reached. Here are a few of them that you should be aware of and keep in mind.

  • Aiding the mother if there is an issue during birth
  • Helping a non-breathing kitten after birth
  • Intervening when a kitten will not suckle
  • Checking the weight of kittens to ensure they are growing properly by using minimal contact
  • Stepping in to help if you feel one of the kittens is suffering from a medical emergency or isn’t gaining weight properly
  • Helping the mother if she is having a medical emergency
  • Removing the kittens if the mother endangers them in some way
  • Moving the litter if you feel they are in a dangerous location
sleeping cat with kittens
Image Credit: Sofia Kostova, Pixabay

Tips for Touching Kittens When Necessary

When you feel it’s time to check the kittens there are certain protocols you should follow. No matter the relationship between you and the mother cat, the most important thing is to ensure she can always see her kitten. By keeping the kitten as close as possible you will reduce the stress the new mother will experience. Here are other guidelines to help make touching kittens safer.

  • Kittens are susceptible to bacteria and infection so make sure your hands have been washed
  • Position yourself near the mother so she can see the kitten
  • Keep the kitten in an upright position with its belly down and supported by your hand
  • Try to keep the kitten warm while you interact (use a water bottle if necessary)
  • Handle kittens gently but make the interaction as short as you can
  • When returning a kitten to its mother, offer the mother pets and attention to transfer the kitten’s scent to her

Orphaned Kittens

Unfortunately, there are situations when mother cats don’t make it through delivery or you find abandoned kittens in your area. While your veterinarian will help you decide what should be done with the kittens and whether you can care for them, moving them is the first step. As we’ve already mentioned, kittens can get cold easily. Make sure you have a safe transport device where you can keep the kittens warm while taking them to the veterinarian. Once you reach the veterinarian, they will coach you on what to feed the orphaned kittens, how to help them potty, and other steps you’ll need to follow to rear them without a mother.

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Final Thoughts

As you can see, newborn kittens are very vulnerable and should be left to the care of their mothers. While you may want to touch and interact, it’s best to avoid doing so until the kittens are at least 2 weeks old and opening their eyes. Of course, there are circumstances when you have no choice but to hold or touch the kittens. When this is the case, always keep your hands clean, keep the kittens warm, and stay near the mother to avoid stress to her or the kittens. Before long, the new kittens will be up and about giving you a lot of fun, love, and adventure.

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Featured Image Credit: Rembolle, Shutterstock