The weaning process is the transition from drinking milk to eating solids. This occurs gradually over a period of weeks. Kittens begin to show an interest in food around four weeks of age. At this time, they are still nursing frequently from their mother, but begin to eat a small amount of food, this gradually increases as the weeks go by.
Unless absolutely necessary, it is important not to rush the weaning process. Your kitten(s) should still stay with their mother (queen) until they are at least 10 weeks old and will continue to nurse from her. As newborns, kittens nurse frequently and sleep, but over time, the queen begins to discourage frequent nursing and the kittens will look for alternative food sources (namely solids).
At around three to four weeks of age, the kittens will show an interest in eating food given to the mother, she may allow this or push them away. It is a good idea to let her eat on her own and feed the kittens separately.
By 7-8 weeks of age, kittens should be completely on a diet of solid food and water and should no longer be nursing from their mother.
What kind of food should kittens eat?
When introducing solid food to kittens it should be soft and in small pieces. Some types of food you might try include:
- Canned kitten food. This is often softer in consistency than adult food, and higher in calories, which kittens need.
- Dry kitten biscuits/kibble moistened with water or kitten milk replacer. As the kitten gets older, add less water to the biscuits to get them used to dry food.
- Baby food (make sure you check the ingredients carefully to ensure there is no onion or garlic as both are toxic to cats). It should be noted that baby food is fine to give to kittens when they are being introduced to solids, but it should not have a permanent place in their diet as it is not nutritionally complete.
Kitten gruel recipe:
To make kitten gruel, add kitten milk replacer to cat biscuits until it forms the consistency of porridge.
How much food should kittens eat?
Kittens should be offered small amounts of food frequently. Three to four small meals a day is ideal. I would probably allow 3/4 tablespoon per kitten, per meal and adjust as you see fit. If the food is consumed quickly and they still seem hungry, add more food. If there is uneaten food remaining after 20 minutes, give less next time.
As they grow and feed less from their mother, the amount of food should be increased. Remove any uneaten food after 20 minutes. Place the food on a small plate or shallow dish. It is common for kittens to walk through their food in the early days, so feed them on a floor that is easily cleaned (avoid harsh detergents on floors with young kittens). They are also messy eaters and a lot of the food will end up around their mouth and not in it. But kittens quickly get the hang of eating.
Water should also be left out for the kittens to drink. Don't give kittens cow's milk. The only fluids they should have are milk from their mother or clean, fresh water.
At the time of weaning, kittens can get a bit dirty from both ends and may need help cleaning themselves up. This phase will pass.
Once weaned, what should kittens eat?
This is really up to you to decide, but once a kitten has weaned from his mother he should be fed a commercial cat food or a home-made diet of raw meat and bones. If you are feeding a home made diet, please do your research well, there is a lot to feline nutrition. I personally like to feed a mixture of dry, canned, raw meat and chicken necks to cover all bases. When feeding commercial pet food, look for dry and/or canned food for kittens specifically.
When should kittens leave their mother?
Just because a kitten has weaned from his mother by 7-8 weeks doesn't mean he's ready to leave her or the siblings. There is still a lot for him to learn from his family. It is not uncommon for a kitten who has been taken away from his mother too early to develop behavioural problems such as inappropriate toileting and aggression. Kittens should stay with mum until they are at least 10 weeks old, preferably 12 weeks.
My kitten won't eat:
Please be aware that some kittens are slower to wean than others and a little weight loss around 5-6 weeks of age may occur. This is why it is important to weigh kittens daily so you have an accurate record of their weight. If they do lose weight and/or start looking straggly or unwell, please see your veterinarian.
Some suggestions to encourage late weaners include:
- Heating it up to body temperature.
- Place a small amount of food on your finger and encourage him to lick it off. Don't force food into your cat's mouth, there is always the risk of it being inhaled and your kitten developing aspiration pneumonia. There is a difference between wiping some food on the gums and forcing it into the mouth.
- Smear a little food on your kitten's mouth and gums (half a teaspoon).
- Try different types of food.
- Leaving kitten biscuits out all day for your kitten to graze on.
- Cook some chicken breast in water and allow it to cool. Grate it down the finest side of a cheese grater to ensure it is fine enough for your kitten to eat.
- Try the small cat food sachets available at the supermarket. These tend to be very heavy on the gravy with small chunks of meat in, which can be more appealing to some kittens.
If you have any concerns about a kitten who is not eating, please speak to your veterinarian.
Other kitten milestones: