The ancient Egyptians built big and beautiful cities, but the city streets were far from clean. Rats and mice were commonplace, attracted by the grain collected from the fields. They scavenged anything left behind after the ruling classes had finished their feasts.
Due to their extra-sensitive eyes and ears cats and their kittens were obvious rat-catchers. Their love of chasing small furry animals began to be exploited by the Egyptians to keep the streets reasonably clean. And the cat’s efforts didn’t go unrecognised: some Egyptians worshipped cat gods and came up with new cat breeds!
These days we still revere our feline friends, but in a different way (and we’re less inclined to build 20-metre-high statues of them). For those of you who love kittens and cats read on to discover 10 facts about baby kittens.
1. Kittens can be left or right pawed
1 in 10 humans are left-handed. The rest of us are either right-handed or ambidextrous. It is estimated that around half the number of kittens in the world are left-handed, with boy kittens (and male cats) being more frequently left-handed than girl kittens. Watch how kittens learn and you may be able to tell which paw they favour when they check out something new.
2. Kittens have a great sense of smell
In the roof of a kitten’s mouth is a sensory lobe called the Jacobson's organ. It is part of the olfactory (smelling) mechanics of a cat and is a patch of sensory cells that detect very slight variances in smell. The Jacobson’s organ is used by cats in their identification of each other. This added sense of smell allows a cat to detect minute differences in pheromones given off by another cat. It also empowers their sense of smell far beyond our own.
3. Kittens have a great sense of hearing
Newborn kittens are deaf and blind (they are also born with blue eyes) but quickly develop a staggeringly acute sense of hearing. A juvenile cat can hear higher pitched sounds than a juvenile dog and certainly higher sounds than a human. We can hear sounds at a limit of 20,000 vibrations a second but a cat can hear sounds up to 79,000 vibrations a second. It is likely that this ability helps the cat to hear the ultrasonic calls of rats and mice.
4. Kittens are carnivores
Cats are carnivores: their bodies are designed to get all of their minerals, macronutrients and energy from animal meat. And what that means is that feeding them anything more than meat is fairly pointless. Cats are also thought to be lactose intolerant. A domestic cat if fed properly with the right type of good quality and nourishing cat food will already have all of the goodies inside it that it needs to live a full and happy life.
5. Kitten whiskers
Kittens are born with whiskers. Whiskers (vibrissae or tactile hairs) are not just long strands of fur. They are specially designed sensory filaments and deeply embedded in the cat’s face. They contain nerve endings and as such are important sensory tools for cat and kittens, helping him to navigate, especially in darkness.
6. Fleas can overpower kittens
Fleas don’t just bite kittens and cause them to scratch themselves. Often a flea is contaminated with the eggs of a tapeworm or roundworm and by a process of biting the young kitten will transfer the eggs into the kitten’s blood stream. Once inside the kitten, the eggs will make their way to the gut and begin to develop into full-size worms. This can cause a kitten or an adult cat serious health problems and upset their immune system.
7. Kittens grow fast
Kittens develop at about 15 times the rate of a human baby. By 12 months of age they are commonly called cats and will have grown from the size of a tea cup to a fully-fledged cat (about 20 times the size that it was when it was born). The fastest rate of growth occurs in the first three months of a kitten’s life: up until 12 weeks of age a kitten needs all the protein, fat and fatty acids it can get!
8. Kitten names
Did you know: a group of kittens is called a ‘kindle’ and a group of cats is called a ‘clowder’? The word kindle is an old English word relating to children and the clowder is a relatively recent word that relates to the noun ‘clutter’. Did you also know that the word ‘kitten’ is roughly 700 years old, and that the offspring of big cats are called cubs rather than kittens?
9. Kitten teat wars
Usually a mother cat will give birth to between one and nine kittens. During the first four weeks a kitten should be suckling his mum. He will probably have to contest the homemade milk with two and four other kittens although generally speaking a pecking order of teat preference keeps each of his mother’s eight nipples productive. Orphaned kittens needs to be hand-reared.
10. Kitten sleep… lots!
Kittens sleep for on average 18 in every 24 hours. They do this because they need to conserve energy. After all, their bodies are growing so fast. When a kitten sleeps his body is still growing and the organs of his body are releasing hormones into his bloodstream. A good well-balanced and wholesome diet is essential for a kitten. He needs every ounce of mineral and nutrient he can get.
The first few weeks of your kitten’s life are the most important. At 12 weeks a kitten is already learning who he can trust, where he can go for a wee, where his solid food is, and what he can and can’t do in the house. He may become an adult very quickly but in the meantime he relies on you to provide him with everything he needs.
Kittens are fragile beings: they easily get sick and frightened, but if they know they have someone that will look after them, no matter what, they become more confident and more relaxed. In the end, if you bring up a kitten in the right way you will have reared a cat that is as mighty as a lion.