Kittens grow from helpless little lumps of fur, totally dependent on their mothers, to balls of feline energy in just a few short weeks. Unless something happens to the mother, weaning should be a gradual process. She'll do the weaning herself, while you provide the kitten's next feeding stage.
Weaning simply means a baby no longer nurses from its mother and receives nutrition from a non-maternal source. For kittens, the process starts as early as 4 weeks of age, completed by the time they're 2 to 3 months old. It's not a good idea to let kittens go to a new home before the age of 8 weeks. Mother knows best about this natural process -- leave weaning up to her, if possible.
Clues from Mom
As the litter grows up, mom has less to do with them. Watch her for signs that she's preparing the kittens for weaning. She won't let them nurse as easily and may start hissing at them. At this stage, when they're around a month old, you can start supplementing them with kitten food. Purchase canned and dry food specifically manufactured with kitten nutrition in mind. Avoid giving kittens cow's milk. It's likely to cause gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, and cleaning up baby felines is really unpleasant.
When you start feeding the kittens, place them in a separate, safe area for an hour or two. Think of it as kitten nursery school. Just like little kids, some kittens cry because mama's not around. In addition to food, give them water and a litter box. For the next few weeks, they'll nurse and eat kitten food. As their energy needs increase, mama cat will feed them less and you will feed them more. When they've reached the bouncing off the walls stage, they're probably done with nursing. Mama cat only puts up with so much.
Kittens require a lot of protein and they eat a lot. Once they're weaned, feed them a high-protein kitten diet. If you give away or sell your kittens, let the new owners know what a kittens needs nutritionally. He should be fed kitten formula canned and dry food until he's a year old, when he can switch over to regular cat food.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.