LIFESTYLE

When Do Cats Open Their Eyes: The Very First Time They See You

newborn kittens
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

If you have observed a newborn kitten and a human baby, you may have noted that while human babies open their eyes immediately after birth, kittens definitely take their time. You may also be wondering what will eventually happen to your kitten’s tightly shut eyes especially if it’s your first experience. So, when do cats open their eyes?

Your cat may take between 5-14 days to open his eyes. Also, opening his eyes doesn’t mean that he can fully see; development of the eye is a process that your kitten has to undergo amidst delicate care from you and his mother.

In this article, you will find information on everything that a kitten’s eyes undergo from the time of birth to the time when his vision becomes five times better than yours. To make it even easier to understand, we have arranged it in order from birth to adulthood. We will also explain how cats see the world once their sense of sight is fully developed.

Why the Eyes Stay Closed at Birth

newborn kitten with closed eyes

The diminished mobility and lack of full awareness of their surroundings are by nature’s design. After giving birth, the mother needs enough rest to regain her strength. She also needs to be less active to produce enough milk to nourish her litter.

All of this wouldn’t be possible if the kittens are born ready to move up and down and far from the nest. Keeping up with them would be nearly impossible. Nature makes it easier for her to keep eyes on the little ones by having them rely solely on her for survival by staying in close proximity.

Also, the eyes are very sensitive to light at birth. Thus, they stay shut as a protective measure.

So, When Do Kittens Open Their Eyes?

orange cat with her kittens

The short answer is about 5 to 14 days. However, this is determined by several factors such as the light in the litter room and the length of their fur.

If the room is brightly lit, kittens may find it hard to deal with the shine and glare. This can make the opening of the eyes to delay for a while. Hence it’s advisable to keep the light at natural levels just like what kittens in the wild experience.

The length of the fur in relation to the opening of the eyes is a factor that is most cat parents can attest to. Long-haired kitties will start peering through tiny slits at about 10-14 days after birth. On the other hand, short-haired ones will start opening their eyes 5 to 8 days after birth.

It’s also possible for some kittens to open their eyes two days after birth. However, the majority will be effectively blind for the first two weeks of their lives.

The Eye-Opening Process

Below you will find the process of how kittens’ eyes open for the first time explained in detail:

#1: At Birth

gray newborn kittens

At birth, most of a kitten’s senses are underdeveloped. Their ears can’t hear and neither can their eyes see. The eyes are tightly shut, and the ears are plastered on their heads. These important organs are delicate and require utmost care while handling your kitty.

A few days after birth, the best they can do in terms of movement is crawl a few inches. They start their experience of the world by wiggling near their mother and using their sense of smell and feel. Maintaining close proximity to their mother provides a sense of comfort and safety from the unknown.

For up to 36 hours after birth, your kitten’s life will revolve around nursing and short naps. He can’t see the world, but he can feel his way around his mother’s tits. His sense of smell is also adequate enough to help him trace where the milk is coming from. After the first 36 hours, the eyelids will start to part.

A cat has two eyelids—the upper and the lower. They also have an inner eyelid which is usually called the third eyelid. These eyelids work together to keep the eye clean and healthy.

The inner lid is a source of wonder for many cat lovers. This is probably because it’s absent in human eyes. This eyelid is also known as the nictitating membrane. It is whitish pink in color and is found in the inner side of the eye near the corners next to the nose.

It keeps the eye lubricated. If it were to open immediately after birth, the eye would dry out. This would cause itching and probably lead to infections. Once it’s fully developed, this membrane protects the eyeball from being scratched by prey during hunting. It’s also an additional lid to keep debris and bushes from the eye as the cat crawls through dense bushes.

The outer eyelids are the first protection from debris and wind gusts. By working together, the lids help in spreading tears on the eyeball. In addition to this, the inner eyelid will extend to cover the eye in case of inflammation from injury or infection.

The third eyelid is more pronounced in birds and reptiles than in cats. The former can move the protective eyelid more actively, but in cats, the movement is passive. When a fight or injury is imminent, muscles behind the eye pull the eyeball slightly—allowing the third eyelid to cover the eye’s surface.

To be able to carry out all these functions, the eyelids need to develop fully. Staying shut is the only way to keep them from being overworked before they are able to execute their functions fully.

The weak demeanor of kitties at this age can be captivating for both you and your children. While you get to watch their adorable faces, it’s important to educate your children about the dangers of trying to forcibly open the eyes.

See Also: How to Care For Newborn Kittens

#2: Day 3

It takes up to three days for the eyes to fully open. Typically, the upper and lower eyelids retract to reveal beautiful blue eyes covered in a film.

Cat lovers will notice that a newborn’s eyes appear to have a glassy, watery layer. This is a thin film that covers the eyeball. This protective layer shields the eye as it develops.

The film is important in keeping the cornea free of any infections before full functionality. It allows ample time for the eye to produce tears. This watery substance contains both nutrients and oxygen that nourish the eye.

Your cat will start by seeing formless images which he will try to reach out to. He will stumble into things and cannot walk steadily. He has low depth perception, and his steps are labored and unguided. This continues up to about three weeks of age.

#3: By the End of Week 3

cat with her kitten sleeping

The kitty can clearly identify his mother. The tiny slits have now opened to reveal full round eyes. He now can interpret visual clues from her to follow or mimic what she does. It still, however, takes him to about a month before he can walk steadily without stumbling or bumping into things.

At this age, the ear canal becomes fully opened, and his hearing improves greatly. He is also able to eliminate without much help from you or the mother. Owing to their improved sight, kittens will be more active in play with each other. You can also expect them to wander farther from their mother with each passing day.

#4: By the End of Week 4

Your kitty can now move around small obstacles. At this age, he will tussle with his siblings for space. He will play and bat at toys or anything within his reach.

He is now more aware of his surroundings and is able to trace his movements without much help. This is the time to introduce him to a litter box. He is now developing personality traits. Hence training should begin on where to sleep, eat, and eliminate.

It’s good to designate a clean play area at this time. This the age they start taking grooming cues from their mother. You can also clean him with a moist cloth so that he starts getting used to specialized grooming.

He has, by now, developed depth perception. Like humans, their eyes are at the front of their heads, which causes image duplication. This kind of overlap causes depth perception. This aspect of sight allows your cat to jump off of furniture without stumbling. He can gauge distances correctly, making his steps more guided and sure.

#5: By the End of Week 5

The film will clear from the eye. A kitten’s vision at this age is comparable to that of a human. Your kitty, however, cannot yet differentiate colors.

At this time, his sight is that of a budding predator. His play will be more of pouncing and stalking his siblings or hunting anything that piques his interest. You will have to pay close attention to his antics since his claws and teeth are quite sharp. He can injure his playmates, scratch furniture, and hang on curtains.

See Also: How to Discipline a Cat

#6: From the 6th to the 8th Week

tabby kitten lying on floor

Your cat will continue to grow at an accelerated rate. He will add weight, and his sight will improve greatly. With better judgment of how far he moves from his mates, he will continue venturing on his own for longer durations. Individual siblings will start becoming more independent from the litter—suckling, sleeping, and playing at their own time.

This is a good time to start weaning your kitty. He is ready to nibble and feed on something else other than his mother’s milk. Some cats can, however, start weaning at five weeks of age though sparingly.

His improved sight will also play a part in the possession of toys or stuff around the house. He will start identifying different members of your household.

This is the period that a kitten will start playing favorites in the house. He will shy away from those who are nasty towards him and prefer spending time near those who pet, cuddle, or play with him.

By the end of this period (two months), he should be fully weaned and can actually be separated from the mother. He should be more than capable of expressing himself when he is hungry or under duress. This is the time to put them up for adoption if you can’t keep them.

See Also: How to Wean Kittens

He can bear full baths though you will need to dry him up thoroughly. You should also take care not to soap or wet his eyes, especially in the first few times. This is because he will keep his eyes focused on every move you make.

#7: By the End of Week 9

The eyes of your kitty will have begun to take on their true color. The blue will fade as the eyes settle on a permanent shade. If after two to three months of age the blue color persists, then you have yourself a blue-eyed cat.

The kitten is ready for more interactions with you since the mother starts ignoring him around this age. Take advantage of the rift between the mother and the kitten to forge a lasting bond with your fur baby.

His eyes are now fully open and aware. He can hunt, capture mice, and play laser games with much precision. From here onwards his sight continues to strengthen, making him a dangerous albeit cute and cuddly predator.

How Cats See the World

kitten's eyes

Once cats open their eyes, their interest zeroes in on everything around them. Kittens will go crazy over grass, your feet, shadows, laser pointers, insects, etc. It’s just normal to wonder how cats see the world. What is so special about their sight that makes everything so interesting?

#1: Color Vision

Cats see a lesser range of colors compared to humans. The retina of a feline has limited distribution and variation of cones—the light receptors that allow one to tell different colors.

Owing to the limited number of cones, a cat’s vision is believed to be limited to blue and gray shades. When the sun is up high, there are no clouds, and the bushes are well lit, you will see more clearly than your cat.

#2: Night Vision

All cats, including the big wild ones, have a heightened sense of sight, especially in the dark. This allows them to see better and hunt more efficiently at low light. This unique aspect of their sight could be the reason behind a feline’s increased activity at dawn and dusk.

Cats can see clearly at one-sixth of the illumination that a human’s eye requires. At the same time, they can make out the shape or silhouette of their prey in the backdrop of a night sky.

#3: Visual Range

A human vision is said to be excellent if it’s 20/20. If this is the datum, then a cat’s vision is over five times better. Your furry friend can see objects that are far away better than you can. This allows his wild counterparts to stalk or waylay prey long before they are noticed.

Cats also have a 200o field of view, which is 20o more than that of a human eye. This enhances their ability to detect prey in the periphery.

While you can clearly see objects very close to you, he, on the other hand, cannot see them clearly. He depends more on his sense of smell to locate things that are very near. This could be the reason why he sniffs his mates when they are right in front of him.

Wrap Up

kitten with opened eyes

When a kitten is born, his eyes are not yet fully developed. The eyes are closed and protected by eyelids that only open when the kitten is ready to face the world.

Contrary to human beings, cats, birds, and reptiles have an additional inner eyelid that keeps the eye lubricated. This is in addition to a watery protective film that remains intact for about five weeks. The kitten may take between 5-14 days to fully open his eyes.

Even when he does open his eyes, he still needs some time to adjust to the environment and find his way around. The help of the mother and you are greatly needed at this stage.

Did you find this article helpful? Did you witness your kitty’s eye-opening process? We would like to hear all about this miraculous experience. Share your feedback with us below. Also, check out our article on how long are cats pregnant in case the kittens have not yet arrived.

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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