The process of transitioning in which the kitten start taking solid food instead of mother’s milk is called weaning kittens. It is essential for development of kittens. You have to let kittens eat on their own at the right time otherwise they have to suffer from sudden loss of weight and other serious issues. Naturally the mother cat will take care of the entire process but if you are the owner of an orphaned kitten you will have to handle everything on your own. Here we have a complete guide that will help you in transitioning kittens from milk to solid food.
If you’re not careful about how and when you wean your kitten’s it could be a really dangerous time for them, they can decline in health, lose weight and worse they can fall into fatal condition if they’re weaned too prematurely. So in this article I will cover all the necessary information about weaning your kittens.
· The Right Age to Wean Your Kittens
I personally wean my kittens at five weeks of age, I find that this is when kittens do really well making that transition on to the meaty foods, and it’s when their bodies are biologically ready to handle that transition. I’ll talk a lot more about that a little later on but first I want to say there are a lot of different opinions about when the right ages to wean your kittens.
Depending on who you talk to, you might be told that kittens should be weaned at three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, six weeks, it really depends on who you’re speaking with; most of the time these differences of opinion have everything to do with these circumstances of caregivers, so today I will talk about the circumstances of the caregiver and the circumstances of the kitten and what’s best biologically for them.
· Circumstances of Caregivers
Shelters will often wean kittens very young, and that’s because there’s a lot of pressure on shelter workers to get them eating independently, so they can be cared for in a foster home or in a shelter environment.
You see a lot of shelters don’t have overnight staff that can be there doing bottle feeding, and shelters have a harder time finding foster parents who are willing to bottle feed than they do finding foster parents who are willing to take them, so when a three week old kitten comes into the shelter, the shelter’s only options might need to either wean them or to euthanize them; because there’s no one to care for them, so given those two options I obviously understand and empathize with why a shelter would want to get a kitten weaned young; but in a perfect world, there would be a third option, and that option would be to have enough care to give the kittens what they actually need which is often to be bottle fed.
So I see this all the time, I have a lot of friends and even family who have gone to the shelter to foster their first kitten and they’ve been given three or four week old kittens, and told they’re totally weans, but when they get home they find out that kitten actually isn’t able to eat that well on their own and they need the support of the bottle feeding; this is super common, the shelter wants to get the kitten out of the door and totally understandably but the foster parent and then have a very hard time of getting them to do well, ultimately they can end up losing kittens or losing foster parents because they don’t have a good experience with these babies.
· Cons of Weaning Kittens too Young or too old
When kittens weaned too young you can see a big decline in their health, their bodies might not be able to properly absorb the nutrients from the meat; kittens wean too young are at risk of a dehydration diarrhea and malabsorption, they also may not be able to effectively eat the food and can choke or under eat and they can consume an insufficient quantity of food to meet the caloric needs, that’s why whenever possible it’s safest to wait until five weeks to wean; that’s when kittens are biologically capable of handling nutrients and the new method of eating. There are a lot of changes that need to happen to it kitten’s body in order for them to be able to wean efficiently.
Of course weaning too late can also be an issue if you wait too long to wean the kittens might not be getting the nutrients that they need but moreover their sharp teeth can actually shred the bottle’s nipple and they can swallow it, and that’s not good for anyone; so it’s important to find a good balance that works for each individual kitten meeting them exactly where they are.
· When it’s the Right Time to Wean Kittens?
At three weeks old the kittens might have their first teeth: the incisors, but don’t let that fool you; the incisors are not for eating meat, the incisors are really for grooming and that’s why at three weeks old you start seeing kittens getting their first tiny teeth and engaging in their first grooming behaviors, it isn’t until the kitten is five weeks old, that they have both their canines and the premolars on the side of the mouth; those are the teeth that are designed for shredding solids.
There are other biological indicators that a kitten is ready to eat on their own during this time, including that their eyesight and their coordination are improving with rapidly. This means that the kitten is able to seek, fine, chew, and swallow food totally independently, and it isn’t just the visible body that’s changing during this time internally, there are changes that are happening to inside the gut; the intestinal lining is developing Villi which increased the internal surface area and allow the kitten to properly absorb the new nutrients; this process is critical for ensuring that the kitten is going to be able to absorb all of those vital proteins and sugars through the gut.
Kittens need to be given enough time to figure out this whole food thing. I see a lot of what I call meat nursing which is where a kitten is actually suckling on the wet.
But as cute as meat nursing is, it doesn’t give a kitten an entire meal. I mean think about how we wean human babies, you don’t just pull them off the breast one day and stick a piece of pizza in their mouth the next. So we need to be able to support the kittens throughout this entire process.
· How Do we Support Kitten during the Transition?
Well, one big way is to meet them where they are and start them at the right age you can also hand feed them and spoon feed them or sit with them while they’re eating; but ultimately you do need to supplemental feed them until they’ve totally got it. That’s why when it comes to weaning always you have to meet them where they are.
It is better to maintain a strict schedule if you want to manage the weaning process.
- 4th – 5th week: Give wet dry food. It can be mixed with milk formula or water. In case your kitten is not eating solid food, assure that it will get proper energy and nutrients.
- 5th – 6th week: At this stage kittens will start eating on their own. You can reduce quantity of water and leave it moistened.
- 6th – 7th week: at this stage kittens will eat on their own
Make sure that you follow these steps carefully. It will allow you to take extra care of your kitten and assure that their health is maintained.
As for individuals and organizations that wean early. I get it, and I truly empathize with the horrible challenge of trying to find enough people to help these little babies. I understand how tempting and even necessary it can be to try to get these kittens weaned, but my point is that for foster parents and for everyday caregivers it’s important that we’re informed and empowered to be giving these kittens age appropriate care. Listen, I get that bottle feeding can seem really intimidating or challenging, but I promise that it isn’t. Read my previous article about feeding Kittens and how to do it properly, and you’ll be a pro in no time 😉
We need more people like me and you who are willing to bottle feed kittens, so that we don’t have to make these difficult judgment calls and try to wean them young. in fact it’s much easier to bottle feed than it is to care for an ailing emaciated kitten who’s not succeeding at eating on their own; when we give them the right care rescuing kittens can be a snap and when the kittens have a good experience we have a good experience too!
Whenever possible, it’s better to adjust the caregiver duties to meet the needs of kittens rather than to adjust the care of the kittens to meet the needs of the caregiver. So I hope that one day there will be fewer kittens in need of bottle feedings and that those kittens who are in need will be able to be cared for a timeline that gives them the best experience.
Thanks so much for reading 😉 make sure you check out all of my other instructional articles about kittens bellow.