What We Do

The Life Cycle of the Cat

As mammals, cats progress through distinct growth, development and aging steps.

Learning Objectives for students:

• To know and understand the main stages in the life cycle of the cat; from embryo to old age.

• To know and understand about the various welfare needs of the cat at different stages of their life cycles.

• Like humans, cats demonstrate distinct behaviour and have different physical features at different ages.

Students should:

• Understand that there are similarities and differences between the life cycles of cats and humans.

• The difference in growth rate, development and ageing between cats and humans.

• The responsibilities of the cat owner. This should extend over the entire lifetime of the cat.

To do:

• Using descriptive language and photographic evidence, students should document and identify the main stages in a cat’s life and in a human’s life.


Find the meanings to the following words:

• Birth. Grooming. Neutering. Spaying. Queen. Responsible Pet owner. Worms. Vaccinations.

• Look at how a cat develops. How does this differ from the way a human being develops?

• Compare and contrast your answers with others in your group.

• What have you found out?

Mating and Pregnancy:

Cats have a polygamous mating system. This means males will mate with several females and vice versa. The uncertain paternity of a litter of kittens is advantageous to the female as any male she has mated with will defend and not attack her kittens. The female’s pregnancy will last for approximately 64 days.

Signs that a cat is pregnant will include swelling of the nipples, they will also turn pink and her belly becomes larger.

The mother cat is called a queen and when she is ready to give birth she finds a suitable nest where she will give birth to around four or five kittens over a two to six hour period.


Kittens are altricial and highly dependent on their mother for the first few weeks. Altricial means ‘requiring nourishment,’ and refers to a pattern of growth and development in organisms that are incapable of moving on their own.

Kittens are born with a sense of touch and some abilities to smell but have a poorly developed auditory system and their eyes are closed. They have fur but are unable to thermo regulate and need to huddle up close to their mother and each other in order to keep warm. Following their birth, the kittens are attracted to their mother to suckle by odour and warmth and begin to vocalise from a few hours after birth. Newborn kittens will cry if they are cold, trapped or separated from their mother.

The First Two Weeks:

During this time the kittens’ eyes will open and their eyesight develops from any time between two to sixteen days – this depends upon their sex, their parents and their exposure to light. They begin to move around the nest by dragging themselves about and start to play before they can even walk.

This is the time when the kittens’ socialisation period commences. This is a sensitive period of development for them and the kitten learns about social behaviour from his mother. The kittens form a social bond with other cats, people, dogs and other species. This is important as these early experience influence a kitten’s behaviour throughout the rest of his life.

Three Weeks Old:

The kittens begin to walk but their attempts are wobbly. Their ear canals are now open and they can hear and this means they can respond to other cats’ vocalizations. The kittens also begin to develop a preference for a particular toilet location and this tendency can be used to train them to use a litter tray.

Four Weeks Old:

By this time the kittens can recognise different cat vocalizations and show differential responses – i.e. retreating from growl and approaching maternal calls. The queen will start to bring prey back to the nest for her kittens and they are no longer reliant upon suckling entirely.

Seven Weeks Old:

Their movements are fully coordinated and the socialisation period ends around this time with kittens becoming more fearful of the unfamiliar. The kittens don’t go more than one or two metres from the safety of the nest until they are about eight weeks old so it is advantageous when they venture further and encounter something new to be more wary of it in case it is dangerous. If kittens aren’t handled by humans at eight weeks they will be less sociable to people.

12 Weeks Old:

By the time the kittens approach 12 weeks, they have become more independent. Compared to a human child, kittens develop and mature at a much higher rate. If they developed at a similar rate children would be independent by the age of three.

15 Years Old:

In terms of age, a 15 year old cat is the equivalent to that of a 73 year old human. As a cat gets older they may move more slowly and have difficulty jumping and climbing. They also often get dental problems and like dogs, can suffer from age related senility.

For more information email me at miriam.kerins@dspca.ie



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