By Kim Rain
Published: 12/17/2021, edited: 12/17/2021
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Kittens are pawdorable! With their tiny meows and stubby little tails, these tiny felines can melt our hearts in seconds. Watching kittens grow and explore their world is a treat. Whether born in a big or small litter, each kitten will spend a lot of time eating, sleeping and playing with their littermates, but they won’t get far without walking.
A kitten’s first steps are important, and happen pretty fast. But there are times when some kittens develop a little slower than the others, or have a problem that stops them from getting out of the box to see what lies beyond. Let's take a look at when kittens start walking, and what could happen to slow them down from this normal growth milestone.
When do kittens begin to walk?
The first weeks of a kitten’s life are important, with each week seeing the development of new senses and abilities that develop with their growing bodies.
When kittens are born, their eyes and ear canals are closed, and they can’t yet walk. All they can do is huddle next to one another and their mother to nurse, sleep and eliminate. By the end of the first week, they’ve doubled their body weight.
By week two, their blue eyes will open and they’ll start to become alert as they can see the world around them. Their vision will still be blurry, though, and sensitive to light as the pupils continue to develop.
Week three sees a lot of changes as their ear canals open, allowing them to hear, and they begin to take those first few steps to walking! Kittens at this age will be moving a lot and trying to stand, but will still be wobbly on their feet. Some may try to climb out of their enclosure or box, while others may begin to play with their littermates.
By week four, though, most kittens gain more coordination, and are walking and playing confidently! Usually, an indicator of a kitten’s age, these activities are a captivating sight as each kitten begins to venture further away from their mother to explore their new world.
However, this isn’t always the case.
What if my kitten isn’t walking?
If, by 4 weeks old, your kitten isn’t standing on their own or walking at all, there may be a problem. A lot of things could be affecting your tiny purrbox and causing them to be weak or unable to move how they normally would. Your job throughout their growth cycle is to watch their development closely, and note any abnormal signs that could indicate an issue.
Pay attention that each kitten is nursing properly, is gaining weight each week, and hits the major milestones of eyes and ear canals opening, and beginning to stand. Any lack of these progressions, including the inability to stand or walk, should be cause for concern and requires a trip to the vet office.
Your veterinarian will try to determine if you’ve just got a slow learner, or if there is an underlying issue stopping your kitten’s progress. They will ask about how the kitten is eating, sleeping, eliminating and moving, as well as their rate of weight gain and how much they are sensing the world around them.
Often, other signs can help lead to a diagnosis of why they are failing to get on their feet, so be sure to relate anything you have noticed. Many issues and conditions that affect a kitten’s ability to stand and walk can be treated, but many are time sensitive and require immediate attention to avoid more serious complications.
What health conditions can stop kittens from walking?
There are many medical conditions that could stop a kitten from being able to stand on their own feet and walk. These include:
- Swimmer’s syndrome – Also called splayed leg syndrome, this congenital condition results in splayed legs that resemble frog legs or those of a breast stroke swimmer. An affected kitten may have a frog-like posture, the hips may jut out from the side of the body, and the kitten won’t be able to stand or walk. Often seen with Flat Chested Kitten Syndrome, Swimmer Syndrome can be corrected by fixing the legs into position while the kitten continues to grow.
- Vestibular syndrome – Caused by infections, diseases, tumors, or trauma, this syndrome results in a loss of control over body movements that can make it difficult to walk, along with head tilting, vomiting and abnormal eye movements. Vestibular syndrome can be successfully treated by treating the underlying cause.
- Feline panleukopenia – Often called feline parvo or feline distemper, this highly contagious virus affects kittens the most due to their lack of an immune system. The virus kills rapidly growing cells, such as those found in the bone marrow or intestines, and can affect the brain and eyes in young kittens. A kitten born from a mother affected by the virus can have feline cerebellar ataxia, or a lack of control over their muscles, difficulty walking and severe tremors. Usually treated with supportive care.
- Ear infection – As the source of balance, an ear that’s infected could cause a lack of balance that can affect a kitten’s ability to stay on their feet and walk properly. Ear infections are often caused by ear mites, but can also be a result of a yeast, bacterial or viral infection, an immune disorder, or something getting stuck in the ear canal. Treating the infection should return balance and coordination.
- Fading kitten syndrome – This syndrome is a collection of signs that a kitten is declining, such as a low birth weight, low activity levels including trouble standing or walking, inability to nurse, lethargy, difficulty breathing, excessive crying, and pale or white gums that are indicative of hypothermia. The causes can include disease, infections, trauma, malnutrition, neonatal isoerythrolysis, fleas and parasites, hypothermia or abandonment by the mother. Treatment aims at fixing the underlying cause, but needs to be started immediately.
- Brain trauma – An injury or blunt trauma that damages the area of the brain that controls movement can cause a lack of coordination and difficulty standing or walking. Treatment will depend on severity of the injury.
- Tumors – Tumors in the ear, brain or spinal cord can directly affect balance, coordination and nerve responses that control movement.
- Brain inflammation – Inflammation in the brain is usually caused by an infection, or an immune disorder, and can cause disorientation, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, and pain.
- Birth defects – If a kitten’s body doesn’t develop properly, such as abnormalities in their bones, joints, skull, heart or lungs, they can experience a myriad of developmental issues that will become readily apparent.
Tips to help kittens grow properly
The above list can be scary, but there are steps you can take to avoid many of those issues and keep your kitten safe and growing properly. Check out these quick tips to help your kittens on their path to adolescence.
- Weigh kittens at birth, and once or several times each week to keep an eye on weight gain
- Watch when kittens nurse to be sure everyone gets a turn
- Keep kittens in a warm, dry and clean environment
- Perform seeing and hearing tests with kittens at appropriate weeks to be sure they are progressing normally
- Check each kitten daily for parasites, signs of infection in nose, ear and mouth, and that all limbs look and feel right
- Provide deworming and vaccines at appropriate ages
For kittens, those first weeks and months are essential. Be sure you’ve got all the bases covered with a pawfect wellness plan to cover your kitten’s routine care. Compare Wag! Wellness plans today to ensure your kitten stays healthy throughout their crucial first year.