Unlike other mammals like humans that are born with eyes open, cats are born blind and only have two functioning senses – smell and touch. They are born with their eyes shut.
When will your kittens open their eyes?
Kittens usually open their eyes between seven to ten days after birth. However, there are some kittens attempt to open their eyes a few days after being born.
A kittens eyes usually remain closed for at least a week. Some young cats open their eyes faster or slower than their littermates. It is also possible for some kittens to have one eye open before the other one.
When kittens do open their eyes, they still cannot open their eyes as widely as older kittens. After spending their early life in the dark inside their mother’s womb, they still need to get used to the light of the world surrounding them.
There are a few possible reasons behind kittens being born blind and as to the timing when their eyes begin to open and function.
Why are kittens born blind?
For starters, eye development in mammals is linked to brain development and growth. Mammals born with eyes still shut have brains that have not yet a certain point of development and maturity. Furthermore, the body and brain develop separately. Some mammals are born almost fully functional while others need some time to develop.
Additionally, some animals are born underdeveloped because their parents are well equipped to care for and protect their young. From an energy conservation standpoint, this makes better sense, especially among predators. In short, it is easier for predators like felines to give birth to underdeveloped kids and return to their normal routines like hunting.
Finally, mammals like cats do not have the luxury of having long childhoods as people do. They do not have the support system needed to allow their young to have a long childhood.
After three weeks, a kitten has a full vision and can explore the world around him. Instead of just relying on his senses of smell and hearing to find his mother, he can now use his eyesight at this point.
Why do kittens have blue eyes?
When your kittens finally open their eyes, the first thing that you will notice is that they have strikingly blue eyes.
All kittens are born with blue eyes because their eyesight is not yet fully developed. For most cats, their blue eyes will retain that hue anywhere between three to six months.
Their blue eyes can be attributed to the refraction of light off their corneas. At around six or seven weeks of age, the eye color of a kitten begins to change following the production of melanocytes. Melanocytes are responsible for the production of melanin which gives a cat the color of his matured eyes.
The number of melanocytes in the eyes will vary from cat to cat. This is why cats have different eye colors, from green to brown.
However, some cats retain their baby blue eyes or have eyes with different colors. This comes as a result of little to no melanin production in the eye. To a large part, this can be attributed to genetics. This is why breeds like the Siamese and the Balinese have blue eyes.
Cats retain the color of their eyes for life. If you notice a change in the color of your adult cat’s eyes, it can be a symptom of a disease or disorder such as leukemia or uveitis. Do not hesitate to consult a vet when you notice a color change in your pet’s eyes.
How do kittens interact with their mothers?
If kittens are born blind, how do they communicate with their mothers? Born with just two functioning senses, kittens rely on their mothers for everything they need, from food to protection.
During the first few days, kittens do not need much to do. They will mostly sleep and eat as their bodies, including their eyesight, develop.
If you happen to rescue an abandoned kitten with his eyes still shut, you can communicate with him by touching him gently. This will replicate a mother cat’s interaction with her babies.
How do you take care of a kitten’s eyes?
Whether your cat gave birth or you rescued an abandoned kitten, pay close attention to your young wards’ eyes. Sometimes, crusts can develop in the eyes even before they open their eyes. This crust can be caused by either a viral or bacterial infection.
You can wipe these crusts off using a moistened cotton ball. Use warm water to moisten the cotton but avoid using soap as this can irritate the eyes. Observe the eyes and proceed to the vet if things do not seem to get better.
If the kittens begin to play with each other, continue observing their eyes. Because of its poor eye-paw coordination, a kitten can accidentally hit his brother’s eyes. In turn, this can cause irritation or even permanent eye damage.
If a kitten has an eye injury, separate him from the rest of the litter and clean the injured eye. Schedule a visit to the vet to get the eye checked out.
Kitten eyes are fascinating
Cats are one of the top predators in the animal kingdom. As such, it can come as a surprise that they are born blind and practically helpless, relying on their mothers for all of their needs. However, they can grow at a rapid pace. They may start blind and clumsy are are running around after just a couple of weeks after birth.
Image: istockphoto.com / anurakpong