If you have newborn kitties in your home or you have a pregnant cat, you will definitely need this detailed information on the subject of when can kittens be weaned. This is not a subject that should be taken lightly - the way you handle newborn kittens can have a serious effect on their entire adult cat lives.
What is Weaning Exactly?
Kittens need to drink nutrient rich milk when they are born in order to survive and grow strong. A cat mother's milk is thick and rich with vitamins and protein. It's also very delicious and nourishing to young baby kittens, which is probably why they spend the majority of their day nursing.
Feedings are extremely important for a baby cat because the mother's milk builds up the young cat's body and immune system, and it also starts the socialization process. It is a beautiful time for both the mother (queen) and the babies. Feeding time is when kittens start to learn how to be cats and how to relate to other cats.
But there comes a time when a kitten gets too old to feed off of its mother's milk, the same as with human babies. This is called weaning.
When Can Kittens be Weaned?
Experts suggest that you start to wean a kitten at about a month to six weeks old. At that age, they usually will have developed incisors and an appetite for meat. When you offer a kitten meat and she gobbles it up eagerly, that's a clear sign that she is ready to be weaned and start eating regular, solid food, at least partially.
Another clear indicator that a kitten is ready to be weaned is when his mother starts to reject him. When the kitten comes towards the mother's nipple, she will scare him away and possibly hit him to get the point across. This is because 1) his teeth are probably too sharp to bear and 2) the mother's instincts tell her when its time to tell baby "grow up!" (Now if only all human parents had that instinct!)
Even after the baby kitten starts eating solid foods, she may still go to the mother for milk from time to time. That's normal. At eight weeks of age or older, it is highly unlikely that a mother cat will still allow a kitten to feed at all. If the young cat still refuses to eat solid foods after 10 weeks, take her to the vet as soon as possible. Kittens need to eat regularly in order to survive at that tender age.
What Are the Potential Dangers if You Wean Too Soon or Too Late?
A cat that is weaned too soon could have a variety of problems later on in life. The cat's social behaviors could be strange, including the way it relates to other cats. During the early feeding process the kitten bonds with its mother and gets used to being around its brothers and sisters. The first eight weeks of a cat's life is when it starts to play, notice its surroundings, groom itself and other cats, and start social interactions. It needs to stay close to its mother and siblings in order to learn these things.
If a cat is taken away from that situation too early, he could become a loner and frequently fight with other cats because as a kitten he never had that time to get used to the presence of other animals. He may also have a hard time understanding how hard is too hard when it comes to biting and playfighting with other animals.
Also, cats who wean too soon can develop habitual suckling behaviors later on in life. In an extreme case a cat will suck on just about everything he sees, such as blankets, clothes, and even people when he is weaned too soon.
When you wean a cat too late you could have a very hard time getting him to take to solid foods. There are rare cases when a queen will refuse to allow the kittens to wean, even after the normal amount of time. This could be because she feels that one of more of the kittens isn't quite ready and needs to stay on the milk for a while longer. It could also be a deeper psychological issue in the mother that you should consult with a veterinarian about. However, in most cases, the mother will simply not allow feeding after a certain point.
What Should the Kittens Eat After Being Weaned?
A kitten should eat foods high in proteins and vitamins. Dry foods that are formulated especially for kittens are ideal. Just look for the words "Kitten Care" or "Kitten Formula" on the bag. Don't feed your young cats cheap supermarket food that will just fill their bellies for a short time. Spring for premium or all natural food that will allow them to absorb essential nutrients. You can tell that a cat food is doing its job when your kittens start to develop shiny, smooth coats and bright, eager eyes. They will run around the house frequently, fight, play, and get into other forms of mischief.
You should also consider buying a food that will help to make your young cat's teeth strong and healthy. Dental problems in older cats can lead to more serious issues if the teeth are not taken care of properly.
Methods to Use When Weaning Cats
When you are weaning a kitten, start off with soft, wet food. Use your fingers first. Put a little tuna or other strong smelling wet cat food on your finger and place it near the cat's mouth. She will sniff the food and then either lick it or turn away. Don't try to force the food into the cat's mouth - if she's not ready, she's not ready. Try again a few days later until she starts to become interested in eating. Most of the time, the issue is that the baby cat just doesn't know what to do with the food yet.
Many times small cats have trouble reaching their mouths into deep bowls, so use a flat saucer at first. Put the food on the edge of the saucer and then gradually move it to the middle. It won't take long for the cat to understand that delicious food can be found at the center of that saucer.
The answer to the question of when can kittens be weaned is about 10% technical and 90% common sense. If you just let nature take its course, chances are that your newborn cats will adjust and grow into happy, healthy cats.