Being a cat owner is no simple feat. It comes with its fair share of responsibilities. If you have no prior experience, you need to arm yourself with various skills. Your feline will need to take a bath, have their nails trimmed, and their teeth brushed among other feline routines. If you’ve adopted newborn kittens or your cat has just given birth, you will also need to learn how to wean kittens.
Luckily, the process of weaning kittens is a natural one. Both the kittens and their mother have natural instincts that help in the transition. But you do need to give them a little push in their weaning journey. With some patience and the right information, the kittens should be well on their way to indulging their palates in solid meals.
This article will let you in on the right time to wean and give you practical steps on how to go about it. Whether the mother cat is present or not, weaning kittens is an easy process. Read on and discover how to go about handling this crucial feline milestone effortlessly.
When Should You Wean a Kitten?
Weaning is the process of transitioning kittens from feeding on their mother’s milk to solid food. This should be done when the kittens are around four to five weeks of age, and ideally, no sooner.
The reason being, just like with all mammals, a mother’s milk is very crucial in the kittens’ newborn stage. Kittens derive important antibodies and nutrients from their mother’s milk. As much as possible, they should exclusively rely on their mother’s milk up until they are four weeks of age.
You can, however, start weaning the kittens at three weeks if you sense they are ready. When kittens can walk steadily on their legs and can focus with their eyes, they are ready for weaning.
When Should You Not Wean a Kitten?
In some instances, the young kittens’ mother may not be available to breastfeed them. This can happen if the kittens are orphaned, if the mother is unwell, or if she is simply unable to produce enough milk due to the size of the litter.
If the mother cat is not producing enough milk, she should still be encouraged to breastfeed as much as she can. The cat owner will, however, need to supplement the feeds with a kitten milk replacement formula if the kittens have not yet reached the minimum weaning age of three weeks, and especially if they don’t look strong enough yet to handle the change. This is also the case if you are taking care of orphaned kittens or if the mother cat is ill. Avoid allowing a sick mother cat to nurse because the last thing you need is for bacteria or viruses to attack the kittens’ untrained immune system.
What is a Kitten Milk Replacement Formula?
Newborn kittens need nourishment from their mother’s milk as it contains important nutrients that their growing bodies require to thrive. When the mother is not available, the best alternative is kitten milk replacement formula.
This formula is designed to replicate vital nutrients found in their mother’s milk. It combines the right quantities of fat, proteins, colostrum, taurine, vitamins, and minerals that growing kittens need.
Kitten milk replacement formula is available in most pet stores and vet clinics. The formula mainly comes in powdered form and will be mixed with water before being offered to the kittens. Kittens should never be offered cow’s milk as a substitute for their mother’s milk. Cow’s milk is too harsh for their little tummies because it contains lactose and will often lead to diarrhea and stomach upset.
Homemade Kitten Milk Replacement Formula
We all know that life can be unpredictable. You may find yourself with hungry newborn kittens whose mother is unable to breastfeed. If you had not stocked up on kitten milk replacement formula, you need a temporary alternative. Luckily, you can whip up an emergency meal for the kittens from basic ingredients. Here is one simple recipe that you can use:
1 Ounce Plain Yoghurt
1 Ounce Water
1 Egg Yolk
1 Ounce Condensed milk
Prepare the mixture using a blender, then warm the mixture in the microwave for a minute. Allow the mixture to cool off before feeding it to the kittens.
It is important to note that this is not a nutritionally complete meal for kittens. It is just a viable alternative that can be offered to help the kittens survive before you can access some professionally-made kitten milk replacement formula. This emergency formula is safe for the kittens’ delicate tummies and will not trigger a stomach upset. It should, however, be used for the shortest period possible.
You can use a syringe, a kitten feeding bottle, or an eyedropper to feed the little kittens. You will need to feed them this formula every two to three hours until they are ready for weaning at four weeks of age. You will also require some kitten milk replacement formula to aid with the weaning process.
4 Easy Steps to Wean Kittens
If you decide that the kittens are ready, then it’s time to begin weaning. Before you begin the process, you need to gather just a few items to aid you:
Kitten milk replacement formula
High-quality kitten food
Shallow food and water bowls
Syringe/kitten bottles/eye dropper (if the kitten is bottle-fed)
Be sure to choose food designed specially to cater to felines at a specific life stage. Kittens require high-calorie and nutrient-packed food to thrive. Remember they are in a stage where they are going through major growth spurts. They should therefore not be fed on adult cat food.
Kitten food is specially designed to meet their nutritional needs and is available at local pet stores and vet clinics. It is rich in protein, fats, amino acids, minerals, and vitamins—all the nutrients that growing kittens require.
Kittens should eat kitten food from the time they are weaned up until they are one year old. Kittens are okay with eating either canned or dry food. The kittens should also have a constant supply of fresh drinking water.
If you have gathered all the aforementioned supplies, you can start the process. Below is an easy step by step guide on weaning kittens:
Step 1: Teach Kittens How to Lap from a Bowl
To teach your kittens how to lap from a bowl, place some kitten replacement formula in a shallow feeding bowl. Dip your finger into the formula and offer it to the kitten to lick it off. If you are weaning a bottle-fed kitten, dip the nipple of the bottle (or syringe/eye dropper) in the formula instead of using your finger. Repeat this until the kitten gets used to the taste.
After the kitten has gotten used to licking your finger, direct him to the shallow bowl. Do not be tempted to push his head into the bowl. This may cause him to inhale the formula and spark off lung problems. If he accidentally gets moisture in his lungs, he will develop bronchitis, so avoid rushing him at all costs.
Repeat this process until the kitten learns how to lap from the bowl. Be gentle and allow the kitten to explore his new feeding method. He may at first make a mess by stepping into the bowl and splashing the formula around. With time, however, your kitten will get the hang of it.
Step 2: Introduce Some Solid Kitten Food
Now that kitty knows how to use a feeding bowl, it’s time to introduce his solid food. Mix high-quality kitten food into some milk replacement formula to form a gruel with the consistency of oatmeal. You can use a blender to mix the two.
Offer this to the kitten who will recognize the familiar taste of the milk formula. Keep offering the mixture till kitty gets accustomed to the taste of kitten food. As the kitten gets used to kitten food, gradually reduce the amount of milk replacement you use in the gruel.
It is important not to rush the kittens through the process. Allow them time to get used to their new diet. Breastfeeding by the mother cat should also not be stopped abruptly. This is because the cat can develop mastitis.
Some kittens will resist the gruel mix and will barely nibble at it. Such kittens need a more gradual weaning approach. Continue offering them the milk replacement so that they don’t starve. During each mealtime, however, start by offering the food bowl and save the milk for later. The kittens will eventually catch up.
Step 3: Offer the Kitten Food and Water Three to Four Times a Day
It’s finally time to let the kitten eat his solids without coaxing him with the milk replacement. Since it has been a gradual process, the kitten should not put up much resistance when you withdraw the formula.
Now offer him moistened kitten food. Eventually, the kitten should be able to eat his kitten food in its original state without you having to moisten it. Always make sure he has access to fresh drinking water.
Offer the kitten food three to four times each day. You can offer the food in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening. During the weaning period, ensure you take away the food bowl after the kitten has finished eating. Any remaining food should not be left at the kittens’ disposal. This is because the food may accumulate bacteria which can make your kittens sick.
Weaning kittens takes an average of four weeks. By the age of eight to ten weeks, cat owners should have successfully completed the process. If the mother cat is present, you may as well expect your kittens to breeze through the weaning process. They learn how to eat by observing the mother. Also, the mother instinctively discourages them from constant breastfeeding when they are ready for weaning.
The weaning process can be summarized in three easy steps: teaching kittens to lap from a bowl, introducing kitten food while gradually reducing the replacement formula, and offering them food and water three to four times each day.
Weaning kittens is an easy process that should commence at around four weeks of age. Before that, cat owners should ensure that kittens exclusively feed on their mother’s milk. Kittens derive vital nutrients and antibodies from breast milk.
Even when the mother cat is unable to produce enough milk for her large litter, the kittens should still have access to any breast milk available. A little of it is better than none. They should also be offered kitten replacement milk formula to supplement their feeding.
Orphaned kittens need to be bottle-fed exclusively on kitten replacement formula. This milk is made to mimic the nutrients and flavor found in their mother’s milk. In case you don’t have immediate access to professionally-made kitten milk formula, you can make some at home. However, emergency kitten formula should only be offered for the shortest period of time possible. This is because it does not contain the right nutritional values required by kittens to thrive.
During and after weaning, Kittens should be fed high-quality kitten food. Kittens need higher calorie food packed with proteins, fats, amino acid, minerals, and vitamins. They should, therefore, not be fed adult cat food. Also, as aforementioned, cow’s milk should never be offered to kittens. It is too harsh for their delicate digestive system.
Kittens can be weaned more easily if they are in contact with their mother. They will observe their mother’s eating habits and try to imitate her. They also learn other social skills from their mother.
Have you successfully weaned kittens before? What challenges did you encounter? How long did it take you to complete the process? Please share your experience with us. Also, do let us in on any additional tips for successful weaning.