When do kittens open their eyes? When they’re good and ready! But really, this is determined by nature. The length of time can vary, as some brand new kittens will be able to see as soon as a day after birth. Some are a little more reluctant to see the world – they would rather wait a few more days before facing the cold, harsh realities of kittenhood. Relaxing in the sun on their backs. Playing with their siblings. Chasing after yarn balls and drinking sweet mother’s milk. Oh, it’s all just too much to bear!
The birth of a kitten is a beautiful thing to see – that is if you’re lucky enough to witness it. Most mother cats will go to great lengths to hide when they are pregnant and about to give birth. The kitten will be guarded and protected by the mother like a hawk because she knows that the young one needs time to fully develop before coming in contact with the outside world.
When a kitten is first born it looks like a a slimy ball the size of a young child’s fist. After a few days the newborn cat will start to look like a hamster or gopher. Like other mammals, cats go through waves of growth after birth. A newborn kitten cannot even go to the bathroom on its own until about two and a half weeks old.
When cats are born they come out with a film over the eyes. A newborn kitten cannot see at birth. It is a natural occurrence and is nothing to be worried about, unless the film remains after a certain period of time. The cat cannot walk, see, or even hear until they are about six or seven days old. Give newborn kittens time to go through that natural period of growth before getting worried about when they will start to look like normal fun loving kittens.
The exact and definitive cause of why this film forms over a young cat’s eyes is unknown – maybe as a natural defense to shield the cat from sharp, bright lights. Possibly because the kitten’s eyes still need time to develop after birth. Also, the cat needs time to allow tears to be produced. If you notice, a cat’s eyes look like glass because they are covered with a protective layer of liquid tears – they need to stay lubricated. The tears contains nutrients and oxygen to keep the cornea healthy. “Dry eye” is a problem that can develop if the tears do not have time to fully develop and distribute over the eye after birth. Dry eye can cause a kittens eyes to burn, the same way that allergies affect humans. Finally, the eye film protects the cornea from eye infections, which newborn kittens are very vulnerable to.
The purpose of the eye film is probably a combination of all of these reasons. A cat’s eyes are extremely important to its hunting abilities, its agility, and its ability to defend itself. Where some humans have 20/20 vision (perfect) cats have something closer to 20/100 vision. They can see exceedingly well in the dark and far away objects are very clear. This is why it’s so important that a cat’s eyes mature properly.
So when do kittens open their eyes?
About ten to 14 days after birth, the kitten will slowly start to open her eyes. It will begin as a thin slit. Slowly but surely the eyes will open completely and shed the film. Short haired kittens will usually open their eyes faster than long haired cats.
When the cat first opens her eyes they will most likely look blue, but over time the actual color of the eyes will start to show.
Even after the kitten grows, you will probably be able to see a film-like covering that falls over the eyes when they close and re-open. This is a way for the cat to continually lubricate the eyes with tears. Some cats also produce “eye crud,” a black or brown substance that forms around the inside corner of the eye. This is usually just an allergic reaction, or simply the way that the cat’s body drains fluids and removes dirt and waste. The crud might make your cat look like he’s homeless or dirty, but it is usually not a major concern. Just clean the brown stuff away with your clean thumb or a damp cloth and give your kitty any allergy medications prescribed by your vet regularly.
If after a short time, a kitten’s eyelids become swollen, or if you see a strange discharge coming from the eyes, there could be an infection. This problem needs to be checked by a vet immediately. If an eye infection is not corrected at the first signs it could cause serious damage to the cornea and possible long term issues with sight. If the kittens eyes don’t open after two whole weeks, this could also be a sign of a problem. This is again one of those rare situations when you would have to take the kitten from its mother prematurely.
So if it has been over two weeks and you are still contemplating the question of when do kittens open their eyes you might need to intervene and take action. You might be able to help get some of that thick gunk from the kitten’s eyes safely using a warm compress or a clean washcloth soaked in warm water. Just lay the compress over the kitten’s eyes and gently wipe away any excess film. Mineral oil may work for this purpose as well. Again, this is only if the kitten has problems opening his eyes after 14 days on his own. Never, ever, use any type of chemical on the eyes. As a matter of fact, before you put anything on the eyes, call your vet to ask for advice.
If the cat develops dry eye symptoms and blinks often to deal with the burning sensation, take her in for a visit. Yes, it’s a pain to continually have to spend money on a doctor, but sometimes it is worth it for peace of mind for both you and your kitten. The vet will most likely prescribe eye drops to correct this issue. As you can imagine, it won’t be easy to administer eye drops to your cat, but it may be necessary to give her comfort and relief.