Weaning kittens is the process of transitioning kittens from their mother’s milk to eating solid food on their own. Weaning is an important part of a kitten’s development and needs to be done correctly.
Ideally, weaning is handled by the mother cat, but when the mother has trouble producing enough milk, or when a litter of kitten is orphaned, human intervention will be necessary.
When should kittens be weaned?
The weaning process should begin when the kittens are about four weeks old, and usually takes four to six weeks to complete. If the kittens have a mom, they will start to become interested in her food at that stage, and may even push her away to eat some of her food. At that point, the mother will usually push the kittens away from her when they try to nurse.
How to wean kittens
If you’re raising orphaned kittens, gradually transition the kittens to canned food. Mix the food with formula so they recognize the taste. You may initially need to smear a little of the mixture around their mouths. Once they get used to the new taste, you can encourage them to lap the mixture up from a bowl by gently guiding his head toward the bowl. Do not push the kitten’s head into the bowl.
As the kittens get used to lapping up the mixture, you can gradually remove the formula and add water to the canned food instead. Gradually reduce the amount of water added.
If you’re bottle feeding the kittens, don’t stop bottle feeding until the kittens eat sufficient amounts of the kitten food mixture. Aid the transition by always offering the canned food mixture before offering the bottle. After two to three weeks, the kittens should be eating only lightly moistened canned food.
Be prepared for things to be messy at first
As kittens learn to eat solid food, they may play with the mixture, step in it or bat it around before they understand that it’s food. Be patient, don’t punish the kittens, and don’t rush the process. Clean kittens with a soft, moistened cloth or give them a warm bath in extreme cases. Rub them dry with a soft towel and keep them in a warm area until they’re dry.
Why kittens shouldn’t eat dry food
Kittens who are fed dry food during the weaning process will be difficult to transition to a healthier wet diet later in life, so it’s best to not even start them on dry food. Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they need meat to survive, and they also need moisture in their diet. Cats lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically, and as a result, they need few to no carbohydrates in their diet. Commercial dry cat food is high in carbohydrates and does not provide optimal nutrition for an obligate carnivore. Cats do not have a strong thirst drive when compared to other animals, and this can lead to chronic low-level dehydration when the cat’s main diet is a dry one.
This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.