When Can Kittens Be Separated From Their Mother?

Weaning kittens slowly makes the transition less stressful for both kittens and their mother.
i kitten image by Natalia Kosyanenko from Fotolia.com

Whether planned or unexpected, a litter of kittens is sure to bring joy to your life. Weaning them away from their mother in preparation for their journey to new homes takes weeks of patience and attention, but producing happy, well-adjusted kittens is worth every bit of effort.

Typical Kitten Development

From birth to two weeks of age, those little fuzz balls are in the neonatal stage. Unable to do much more than roll around, they rely on their mother for everything from meals to baths. By the time they hit three weeks of age, those tiny balls of fur open their eyes, ears and taste buds to the outside world. They gradually begin to explore their environment, sniffing, touching and tasting everything in sight, including their siblings and solid food.

Litter Size

Just as in their human counterparts, big litters are harder on the female’s body than single births. First-time queens normally have a maximum of three or four kittens, but experienced mothers may have as many as 10 or 12 in a single litter. As a general rule, the number of kittens in a litter determines how quickly they can leave the nest: the bigger the family, the sooner they learn how to be cats. Human siblings learn how to talk, play and fight sooner if they’re surrounded by brothers and sisters, and kittens learn how to hunt, eat and play better when they come from big litters.

Starting Solid Food

Swapping from milk to solid food marks a milestone in the life of your kittens. Solid food provides proteins, vitamins and minerals necessary for those fluff balls to grow into refined, sophisticated adults, so introduce solid food as soon as you notice the kittens stealing the queen’s food. Fill a small bowl with a paste of canned cat food and water and let the kittens eat their fill. Wipe them down with a damp towel after each meal to prevent a sticky, smelly pile of kittens. After a week of feeding the paste, add less water with each feeding until the kittens are eating food straight from the can. Once the kittens have a full set of teeth, add a handful of dry cat food to the dish to acclimate them to different textures and flavors.

Preparing for Separation

The transition from milk to solid food is the most vital step in the weaning process, but teaching each kitten to be independent will make the separation process much simpler. Take each kitten to a quiet room away from his littermates for a few minutes a day. Give him a few toys to play with and encourage him to wander and explore on his own. Make sure he is out of sight and earshot from the litter, and praise him with pets and a tasty treat when he appears calm and relaxed. If you start this independent exploration when the litter is six weeks old, they will be more than ready to move confidently onto a new family by their eight-week birthdays.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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