Why Do Kittens Have to be Weaned?
Weaning is the natural transition process of kittens from suckling their mother’s milk to eating solid food.
The weaning must be successful in order for the kittens to survive, grow properly and remain healthy. This is also the critical time when kittens progress from total dependence on the mother cat to becoming socially aware and independent. During the weaning process kittens become more interactive with their mother, litter mates, and their surroundings.
Weaning should be a wonderful time of exploring, learning and playing for the kittens, as this is when their personalities, bonds and life skills develop. Normally, weaning is the job of the mother cat who inherently knows what to do. However, in order for the kittens to progress from mother’s milk to solid food we have to intervene by providing their starting food source.
When Should Kittens Be Weaned?
Weaning is typically a four to six week process that starts when kittens are about four weeks old, and is normally finished when they are eight to ten weeks. It is very important for the health and socialization of kittens that they are never forced into weaning too early. However, if you are uncertain of when the kittens were born, the rule of thumb is once the kittens are able to focus their eyes and walk steadily you can begin to gradually introduce solid food.
How Is Weaning Done?
Firstly, and if possible, the litter should always stay with the mother cat through the entire weaning period. Again, this is a natural process that allows the kittens to observe and learn from the mother. No one should ever intentionally remove the kittens from the mother before weaning. This is an act of cruelty which will negatively stunt their development, and worse, it will cause digestive and possibly respiratory failure.
Once the kittens are four weeks old, you can place them in a separate area for a short time each day to begin reducing their suckling and dependence on mother’s presence. Mom’s nurturing continues to be important for both kitten and mother during weaning so let them continue receiving mother’s milk through the weaning period. The health benefits of her rich milk are enormous for the kittens while the suckling helps mother cat through postpartum recovery and avoiding mastitis
It’s a good idea to make a special, warm place for the kittens with small food and water dishes and a litter box when you separate them from mom. You should use a low or no-dust pelleted litter to safeguard the kittens from inhaling dust. You will find that the kittens will become less dependent on mom and more adventurous each time they are separated from her. The kittens will be completely weaned after four to six weeks of weaning and the mother will stop lactating.
Secondly, to introduce the kittens to solid food prepare a food mixture twice a day by adding a small amount of kitten milk replacer to a quality dry or canned kitten food (mix this by hand until it is moist and palatable, don’t use a blender!) Don’t use cow’s milk as it can cause digestive upset and diarrhea, milk replacer is available at all leading pet stores. As the kittens get used to eating (three to four weeks into weaning) you can stop adding replacer and simply increase the amount of kitten food.
By nine to ten weeks of age I like to set out a small dish of dry food with fresh water in addition to feeding canned food in the morning and evening. At ten weeks of age you’re done – the kittens will be weaned and no longer needing mother’s milk – happy and healthy kittens and mother cat.
Wayne Morrison has a master’s degree in animal science with over 40 years experience in raising cats and dogs.