cat care

When do cats wean their kittens and how?

Newborn kittens arouse the desire to own them with their fluffy, gentle fur and funny clumsy movements, so when can they be weaned and separated from their mother?

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When do cats wean their kittens and how?


Kittens get more beautiful and cute the younger they get with their small paws, thin tails, and clumsy movements. It is no wonder that many cat breeders want to acquire kittens as soon as possible, and are even happy to do so. But taking kittens away from their mothers can actually be a serious problem unless they are weaned.

In the ideal scenario, the mother cat takes care of weaning her young and separating them from her, but for domestic cats, breeders may have to do the task on her behalf, so when and how can young kittens be weaned?


What is weaning cats?


The process of weaning involves weaning kittens off of their mother’s milk and onto solid food. In conjunction with this change, the cat’s behavior develops, and it moves from a state of total dependence on its mothers to social independence within several weeks. Therefore, the appropriate time and method must be determined.

According to veterinarian Joel Benson, vice president of veterinary services at pet insurance company Petplan, it is important for a kitten to eat its mother’s milk, especially during the first 12 to 24 hours, which is known as colostrum, which is rich in antibodies and important for the kitten’s immunity.

If the mother cannot produce enough milk to feed all her young, or she has mastitis or other problems, the kittens must be given milk even in small amounts or from another nursing mother, or with an alternative formula.


When are kittens weaned?


In general, the weaning of kittens begins about 4 weeks after their birth and continues until the age of approximately 8 weeks, during which the mother allows the kittens to breastfeed from time to time.

The kitten’s readiness for weaning is associated with some behavioral changes. For example, they become more mobile and have the ability to stand on their legs while holding their tail, in addition to a clear growth in canines and incisors, which enables them to switch from eating natural or formula milk to solid food. Most importantly, the kittens’ curiosity increases to discover and get to know their surroundings, so this stage is the most appropriate for a person to introduce himself as a loving friend to her.

These signs are an indication of the kittens’ readiness for the weaning stage, as some of them may reach 4 weeks of age without being able to stand or focus with their eyes, which indicates that they are not yet ready for weaning. On the other hand, some young kittens may show signs of readiness since the third week, but it is always preferable to wait before that because the kittens need their mother to obtain warmth and safety.


Stages of weaning cats in Nature


In nature, the mother cat weans her young, following the following stages:


  • Spend time away from her.
  • Reducing the amount of milk she can get by preventing her from getting to her milk by lying on her stomach.
  • Assess the needs of the young to keep them hungry enough to eat meat, without harming their health.
  • Catching prey and allowing her young to join her in eating it.
  • Teach kittens hunting skills before they become independent.


Stages of weaning domestic cats


Domestic cats must be helped to become less dependent on their mother’s milk. If the following tips can be followed:


  • Try to separate the mother and kittens for a few hours a day, making sure they have water and a litter box available so that they can meet their needs without the mother present.
  • Provide wet food, and to prepare it, one part of lukewarm water can be mixed with three parts of dried cat food.
  • Offer food to her in 4-5 batches a day, because her stomach is small, and to avoid indigestion.
  • Switch to solid food after 2 weeks of eating soft food, by gradually decreasing the amount of water and increasing the amount of solid food, until she is able to eat her entire solid diet within 5-7 weeks.
  • In general, weaning may last for 10 weeks, or until the kitten can take care of itself and deal with its environment.
  • Throughout the entire weaning process, it is essential to monitor the kitten carefully and report any problems that may occur to the vet.


Changes that affect kittens during the weaning stage

During the weaning period, the switch in a kitten’s diet from milk to meat causes changes in their metabolism and anatomical structure, including:


  • Kittens’ intestines become lined with villi, which increases the amount of nutrients that can be absorbed.
  • Replacing the lactase enzyme that breaks down milk sugar with the enzyme that breaks down sugars in muscle fibers.


Early Weaning vs. Late Weaning 

A common notion among some is that kittens can be weaned and separated from their mothers before 8 weeks of age, while others advise waiting until 12 weeks. However, a study published in Scientific Reports indicates that Both recommendations may be wrong.

An observational study showed an association between the time the kittens were weaned and behavioral problems. According to the cat owners participating in the study. Kittens that were weaned before the eighth week were more aggressive towards strangers, compared to animals that were weaned after the 12th week. In contrast, kittens that were not weaned until 14-15 weeks were less likely to exhibit stereotypical behaviors such as licking shoes or jackets.

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So, cats must wean their young in adulthood, when they can defecate, eat their own food, and play on their own.

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