The process of transitioning young kittens from their mother’s milk to solid food is called weaning. During this in-depth process, kittens develop quickly, moving from a state of complete dependence on their mothers to social independence in a matter of weeks.
In an ideal scenario, the mother cat will handle the entire weaning process. However, it may be necessary to step in if you are caring for a kitten who's been separated from their mother. Orphaned kittens, or kittens you may be fostering, rely on you for warmth, nutrition, and socialization in the absence of their mother. Weaning is an important step in socializing your young kitten.
When Is the Right Age to Wean a Kitten?
At around four weeks old, kittens are ready to begin weaning. Under four weeks of age, kittens are considered neonatal and might not be ready for weaning from their mother’s milk or formula.
When kittens are ready to wean, you may notice that they've become more mobile and can stand on their feet while holding up their tail. They'll also have their canines and incisors at this point and should be exploring their surroundings through play.
If your kitten is unable to stand, play, or focus their eyes, it's too early to start weaning. At the very earliest, you may begin weaning at three weeks if the kitten shows signs of readiness. Keep a close eye on your kitten to make sure they’re getting enough food.
How Long Does It Take for a Kitten to Be Weaned?
Most kittens take between four and six weeks to be weaned from the bottle or their mother. The weaning process is relatively brief — a typical kitten will be entirely weaned when they are between eight and ten weeks old.
How Should I Begin the Weaning Process?
To begin the weaning process, start by separating mother and kitten for a few hours at a time. This will gradually lessen the kitten’s dependence on their mother and her milk. Both mom and kitten should have their own special area, complete with a litter box, food, and water.
As the kitten becomes more socialized and independent, they'll be able to spend longer periods of time away until they are completely weaned.
Remember that removing a kitten from their mother too quickly can have negative consequences for both mother and baby, such as aggression and other anxious behaviors. Kittens learn how to play, eat, interact, and use a litter box by observing their mother or another adult cat. Ideally, a weaning kitten should be left with their mother.
How Do I Feed a Weaning Kitten?
While your kitten is weaning, you should feed them kitten formula from a bottle or shallow bowl. When bottle-feeding, always tilt the bottle and make sure the kitten is on their stomach, never their back.
When kittens are still drinking formula, you will need to burp them. Burp a weaning kitten by placing them on your shoulder or on their stomach and patting them gently. You will be able to hear or feel them burp.
To encourage a kitten to make the shift from bottle to bowl, dip your finger into the bowl and let the kitten lick formula off your finger. Gradually direct your kitten to the bowl — patiently — until they learn the process.
How Do I Teach a Kitten to Eat Solid Food?
If you are weaning an orphaned or fostered kitten, plan on serving the kitten milk and food in a shallow saucer or bowl. Don’t use cow’s milk, which can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea in some kittens. Instead, use kitten formula.
Gradually mix the formula with wet food and encourage the kitten to eat it on their own. The next step is to adjust the ratio of formula to wet food until the mixture is primarily wet food. Next, mix formula with dry food and repeat the process.
Remember to always provide your kitten with fresh water.
How Should I Wean an Orphaned Kitten?
If you are weaning an orphaned kitten, you can begin weaning at about three weeks of age to begin fostering independence early. Without mom, you’ll want to make sure the kitten is confident about eating on their own as soon as possible.
What Are Some Tips to Encourage the Weaning Process?
While weaning can be challenging, remember that kittens are young animals. Don’t be surprised if your kitten wants to step in the bowl, bat the pieces, or spill the saucer. Play is a normal and healthy way for them to explore their environment, so be patient and don’t rush the process. Things may get messy, so make sure to keep your kitten clean after each feeding.