Weaning Cats: When and How Should You Do It?

The weaning of the newborn feline is a critical stage for its development. This should be done gradually, as many cats don't eat solid food as such in their first weeks of life.
Weaning Cats: When and How Should You Do It?

Last update: 21 May, 2021

The main source of nutrients for cats until weaning is their mother’s milk. The milk product secreted from the mother’s nipples has an excellent caloric content – 106 kilocalories per 100 grams – and 40% crude protein. To give you an idea, the same amount of cow’s milk contains 65 kilocalories and 27% protein.

Cat’s milk is more energy efficient than any synthetic food that can be given to the young. In addition, colostrum – the first breast milk – contains enzymes, growth factors and antibodies, which allow the immune system of newborns, weak in an environment full of new pathogens, to kick-start.

For all these reasons, breast milk is, in equal parts, both energy and immunity. If this period, as natural as it is essential for the life of the cat, is cut prematurely, then it can suffer serious complications both in the short and long term. Based on this premise, we’ll tell you the best way to wean cats.

The best time to wean cats

After fertilization, the gestation of a cat lasts from 63 to 67 days, although it’s often difficult to estimate exactly how long she has been pregnant. Due to the female ovulation cycle and the male’s sperm viability time, it’s possible for a feline to give birth to a litter with kittens from different parents.

On average, a pregnant cat gives birth to 4 to 6 kittens, although it isn’t uncommon for a deviation from the mean to occur. The most common thing is for the mother to reject the food during the first 12 hours, but from the birth of the litter, the lactation period begins. This has an average duration of 8 weeks.

Nature is wise and, therefore, the offspring undergo a series of physiological changes that indicate that it is time to end lactation. From 3 to 4 weeks of age, newborn cats open their eyes, acquire a sense of vision, and begin to show slight motor skills. From that point, they begin to venture out.

In nature, this period marks the beginning of weaning, as the mother begins to bring dead prey to the litter at around 5 weeks of age. However, this doesn’t mean that at this point you have to separate the offspring from the mother, far from it. The process must be slow and gradual.

A litter of cats.

The weaning steps

From the fourth week, the feline will be ready to start accepting solid food. However, the young must remain with their mother and siblings. Weaning can be carried out progressively in the following way:

  1. Begins to offer the kittens solid food which is specific for newborn felines. This is a supplement, so it shouldn’t replace milk under any circumstances.
  2. To make these foods more digestible, try soaking them in warm water. If you make a mixture as a puree, the kittens will be able to start eating solid things more easily.
  3. Offer them a plate of wet food 2-3 times a day. They will know the best time to make the full transition.
  4. If they have trouble changing their diet, put the kittens in a separate room for an hour a day. Put at their disposal the food mixed with warm water, as we have said previously. This will help them to conceive of solid food as such.

If the young, on their first encounter with food, throw it on the ground or get messy with it, don’t despair. Keep in mind that they must associate the food with what it really is and, unfortunately, this can take a while. Be very patient and be kind to cats, because reprimanding will lead nowhere.

Weaning is completed in the sixth week. In any case, this can be maintained up to 8 weeks if the kittens remain with their mother.

Chinchilla Persian cat breeding.

The effects of premature weaning

As a scientific article published in the journal Nature indicates, early weaning can have many negative effects on felines. If the baby is separated from the mother early on, she will be more prone to anxiety, aggressive behavior, and repetitive movements.

Therefore, it’s recommended that complete separation from the mother doesn’t occur before 8 weeks of age. If you respect the feline’s lactation and socialization times, you’ll minimize the risks of it engaging in conflictive behaviors in adulthood.

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  • Ahola, M. K., Vapalahti, K., & Lohi, H. (2017). Early weaning increases aggression and stereotypic behaviour in cats. Scientific reports, 7(1), 1-9.
  • Adkins, Y., Zicker, S. C., Lepine, A., & Lönnerdal, B. (1997). Changes in nutrient and protein composition of cat milk during lactation. American journal of veterinary research, 58(4), 370-375.
  • Jacobsen, K. L., DePeters, E. J., Rogers, Q. R., & Taylor, S. J. (2004). Influences of stage of lactation, teat position and sequential milk sampling on the composition of domestic cat milk (Felis catus). Journal of animal physiology and animal nutrition, 88(1‐2), 46-58.