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Congratulations on becoming the parent of a kitten! Now that your new kitten is settling into your home, you may notice your cat making noises that sound like crying. Hearing baby kittens cry is a sad sound, indeed. Read on to learn why kittens cry and how to help a crying kitten.
Why Kittens Cry
Much like a human baby, your kitten communicates with you through vocal sounds. A crying kitten is telling you they need something, pronto. Your cat will continue this behaviour throughout their life because it's an effective way to get your attention.
Generally, an otherwise healthy kitten cries because they want one or more of the following:
A bored kitten is a (potentially) mischievous kitten, so keep them occupied! Playing with your kitten every day and providing them with enrichment will keep them mentally and physically satisfied.
How to Soothe a Crying Kitten
Knowing your kitten's developmental and nutritional needs during their first months will help you identify why they're crying. Here are common reasons why kittens cry at different ages, and how you can help soothe your kitten.
Newborn to 8 Weeks
Newborn kittens are deaf and blind. In their first weeks of life, it's normal to hear baby kittens crying or meowing to tell their mothers that they’re hungry or distressed, says Cats Protection. Kittens usually stay with their mothers until 8 weeks of age so that they can nurse and stay cosy. The weaning process will typically start at around 4 weeks and last 2–4 weeks. During weaning, the kitten might cry because they are hungry and their mother is not around for food. If you have a kitten younger than 8 weeks and their mother isn't there to help, you'll need to step in.
How to help: If you need to bottle-feed your kitten, the PDSA advises only feeding them a milk replacement specially designed for kittens. Other milks, like cow’s milk, won’t have the same balance of nutrients and may actually be harmful to your kitten. When you're not feeding them, kittens up to the age of 4 weeks should stay in a cat carrier or other safe container with plenty of blankets or towels to keep them warm. Providing them with a heating pad specifically for kittens is another option.
8 Weeks to 6 Months
A kitten's baby teeth will start to erupt at around 3 weeks, and will start to be replaced by their adult teeth around the 3-month mark. Teething can cause some discomfort, says the PDSA, but most cats don’t appear to be bothered by teething. Most kittens alleviate their discomfort by chewing on things, although they may also cry more than normal. If the crying is accompanied by red, swollen gums with discharge, or your kitten is pawing at their mouth a lot, contact your veterinarian right away — your kitten may need treatment.
How to help: Give your kitten cat-safe chew toys to chew on. You can use a cold, wet washcloth to gently wipe your kitten's gums. This has the added benefit of getting your cat used to you poking around their mouth, which will make it easier to brush their teeth later on. Be sure to keep the experience pleasant, as you don’t want your kitten to associate any pain or discomfort with you putting your fingers in their mouths.
Your kitten quickly learns that you are the provider of food and they may start to cry around mealtimes, whenever you open the cupboard where their food is stored, or even if you walk into the room where the food is stored. Some people love chatting to their cats and will have entire conversations with them, while others prefer a quieter kitten.
How to help: If you like a talkative cat, you don’t need to do much. However, if you would prefer to redirect your kitten’s vocalisations, you can use the fact that they learn new things very easily by teaching them to come when you shake the food container, or to go into their cat carrier happily.
6 Months to Adulthood
As your teenage kitten approaches adulthood, their bodies and brains continue to grow and develop. As your cat is reaching their adult size, it is important to reassess their litter box. If you notice your kitten crying before, during or after using the litter box, it could be the result of painful urination or defecation.
How to help: If your cat or kitten is showing signs of distress at the litter box, the first step is to have them evaluated by a veterinarian. However, creating a safe, clean and comfortable place for your cat to use the bathroom is recommended for all cats, even those not having any problems. Consider whether the litter box is big enough for your cat and whether they like the litter. The litter box should be about 1.5x the length of your cat and it should be easy to get in and out. Be sure to scoop daily and keep the area clean and tidy.
When to Call the Vet
If your kitten's crying doesn't stop or if you notice additional signs of distress, such as diarrhoea, vomiting, lethargy, decreased appetite or excessive grooming, speak with your vet or an on-call emergency vet.
Your kitten's meows and cries will change as they grow into a rambunctious young adult and beyond. Keep those lines of communication open by listening, responding and showing them lots of love.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien, Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, STEAM educator, professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA), and a devoted pet parent. Find and follow her and her cats on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien
Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA and Dr. Aileen Pypers, BSc, BVSc, PGDip