Many new cat owners are keen to get their kitten as soon as possible, and as early as possible. After all, who doesn't love a tiny little ball of fluff? However, adopting a kitten who is too young can have consequences which we will outline in this article.
Kittens need their mum and littermates to teach them manners. Kittens will play with mum and their siblings, and during this time they learn cat socialisation skills. Picking up body language, boundaries and playing skills from the other cats.
Kittens need time to build up a strong immune system. Mum's milk is full of antibodies which help to protect your kitten from disease. Even after the kitten has started solids, he is still nursing from mum and getting the benefits of these antibodies.
Kittens should not leave their home until they have had their vaccinations.
Most breeders and cat shelters now insist on desexing (spaying or neutering) their kittens prior to them being adopted out. With shelters bursting at the seams with unwanted cats, taking this approach is the responsible way. Purebred breeders do not generally sell un-desexed cats unless you are a registered breeder.
The age your kitten will be adopted out will vary from shelter to shelter, breeder to breeder and even breed to breed. Shelters will generally adopt out kittens from the age of 10+ weeks, once they have had their vaccinations and are old enough, weigh enough to have been desexed.
Many breeders will hold on to kittens until they are 12 weeks of age, some will be kept until 16 weeks, especially the oriental type breeds such as Siamese who need a little more time with their mum. Most breeders prefer to wait until their kitten is between 1 - 1.5kg (2.2 - 3.3lbs) before desexing, so smaller breeds such as the Devon Rex, Burmese, Singapura may need to be a little older than larger breeds.
What happens if I adopt a cat younger than 10 weeks?
Possibly nothing, but it is not uncommon for a kitten who has been taken away from mum and adopted out too early to develop behavioural problems. I adopted a very sad and lonely looking kitten at the age of 6 weeks (I didn't know better) and he had behavioural problems his entire life. He had no idea how to socialise with other cats, and was aggressive towards other household cats, he also had a time limit on how long he could be petted by humans. After a while I learned to read his body language and could avoid an attack (he would start to look bored, wave his tail and you could see him eyeing off an escape route), however many guests didn't listen to my warnings and would rush in, stroke him and end up with a bloodied hand. He also sprayed his entire life (despite being desexed from an early age). He never really took to people or cats. He was okay with me, but as soon as a stranger came to the house he would run and hide.
Children and kittens:
Another thing to factor in is the age of your children (if you have any), young kittens can be very fragile and I don't recommend very young kittens around toddlers who can inadvertently be a little rough. My own recommendation is not to adopt a kitten under 16 weeks if you have young children in the house, just to give them time to become a little more robust.