When to start weaning kittens and what to feed them

All kittens will reach a point where they are ready to stop consuming their mother’s milk and switch to solid kitten food. But it is important to wean them carefully from milk before this change in diet.

Dr. Carling Matejka, a veterinarian who is a spokesperson for pet food company Solid Gold, said Newsweek: “During the first weeks of a kitten’s life, it must rely on its mother’s milk to provide it with all the nutrients it needs.”

Transitioning a kitten to solid food is a slow, gradual process that typically takes between four and six weeks, she said.

Here, feline experts explain when and how to wean kittens.

When should kittens be weaned?

Kittens can start being weaned from around four weeks old, Matejka said.

Vicki Jo Harrison, president of the International Cat Association, said Newsweek: “When the kittens are ready to be weaned, you may notice that they have become more mobile and can stand up while holding their tails. They will also start to fetch food from their mother.”

A cat nursing kittens. You can start the weaning process by first separating the kittens from their mother for an hour or two.
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What should I feed the kittens?

Harrison said it’s important to give kittens specially formulated kitten food when they’re weaned.

“These formulas contain the highest levels of calories, protein and calcium that growing kittens need,” she said.

Kittens need a specific ratio of nutrients to develop into a healthy adult cat. Matejka said, “Nutritional deficiencies can have lifelong and sometimes fatal effects.”

Below are the three key nutrients a kitten needs for growth, as listed on the website of VCA, one of North America’s largest animal hospital chains that operates more than 1,000 animal hospitals in the United States and Canada.

  • Protein: The recommended protein range for healthy kitten growth is 35-50% on a dry matter basis, with at least 9% of the dry matter coming from an animal source. The amount of protein needed by kittens is high during the weaning phase, but steadily decreases thereafter.
  • Fat: The fat content range for kittens should be 18-35% on a dry matter basis.
  • Calcium: A kitten’s diet should contain 0.8 to 1.6% calcium on a dry matter basis.

The VCA website states, “You should also avoid foods that produce a urinary pH below 6.2.” Your veterinarian can help you determine the pH levels of foods you want to feed your kitten.

Matejka said that while kittens are developing their teeth, they can’t always eat enough hard foods to get the nutrients and calories needed for growth. Young kittens should therefore receive a mix of dry and wet food in their diet.

“Cats are also particularly sensitive to food texture. It is recommended that kittens be provided with different food textures early in life so that they don’t object to certain types of food later on,” she said.

A small striped kitten on its paws.
A small striped kitten on its paws. When the kittens are ready to be weaned, you may notice that they have become more mobile, standing upright while holding their tails.
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How to wean kittens

Matejka said you can start the weaning process by first separating the kittens from their mothers for an hour or two, remembering to make sure they have their own litter box, food and water. water.

“Be careful because removing a kitten from its mother too quickly can cause it to develop behavioral problems such as aggression and anxiety,” she warned.

Over the next few weeks, you can slowly increase the separation time as the kittens get used to being separated from their mother.

Around four to five weeks of age, you can start giving kittens some formula in a shallow bowl. Do not use cow’s milk as it may cause stomach upset in some kittens.

says Matejka. “You may need to encourage the kittens to drink by dipping your finger in the bowl and offering to lick it.”

Harrison suggested feeding kittens canned/wet food mixed with formula to help them recognize the taste.

“Smear the mixture around her mouth with your finger and let her lick it off. Supplement with formula if the kitten isn’t taking the new food, to make sure she’s getting enough calories,” she said. declared.

Matejka said that over time you can slowly increase the amount of wet food compared to formula.

Harrison said that around five to six weeks of age, kittens should start munching on kibble lightly moistened with formula. As they get used to eating more solid foods, you can gradually decrease the amount of formula and increase the amount of food each day.

“After a week or two of soft food, your kitten should eat only slightly moist food. At this point, you can leave in small amounts of dry kitten food and formula,” Harrison says.

A little kitten licking cream from her finger.
A tiny caramel-toned kitten licking a creamy substance off a human’s finger. Kittens can be given kitten formula in a shallow bowl from around four to five weeks old.
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When is a kitten ready to eat only solid food?

Matejka said kittens shouldn’t eat only solid kitten food until they are eight to ten weeks old.

Once kittens are eight weeks old, they are able to digest and absorb the nutrients they need from a kitten-only diet and no longer need their mother’s milk. They should be fed primarily a kitten-specific diet (more than 90% of their calories per day) until they are finished growing.

Most cats are adults between 10 and 12 months of age, and it’s safe to switch to an adult diet once they’re that age, the vet said.

Harrison said, “It’s important to maintain the feeding protocol for the first 12 months as kittens continue to develop throughout their first year.”

A little kitten with cream on her mouth.
A little kitten staring at a bowl of food with a creamy substance smeared over its mouth. It is important to give kittens food specially formulated for kittens when they are weaned on solid food.
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Other Key Elements and Precautions for Feeding Kittens

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when feeding kittens, as noted by Matejka:

  • Make sure the food is verified by the AAFCO, which is a group that regulates pet foods to ensure they are balanced. Look for a product label stating that the food “meets the nutritional requirements for kittens or all life stages established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials.”
  • Pay attention to portions and calories. Check the product packaging for the suggested amount based on the kitten’s weight and age. The amount of food kittens should change as they get older.
  • Stick to regular meals and avoid “free food”. Kittens can be fed twice a day when they are over four to six months old. When kittens are young (four to 16 weeks old), they can often be allowed to “free feed” as they will consume as much as their body needs. But once they’re older, stick to regular meals and measure the exact amount of food they need per day, per meal.
  • Don’t overfeed them. Kittens may “still act like they’re starving”, but it’s essential not to overfeed them, as this can predispose them to obesity later in life. People concerned about their kitten’s weight should consult a veterinarian to discuss what to feed and how much to feed your kitten.
A kitten eating from a small bowl.
A kitten eating from a small bowl. Kittens should be able to switch completely to a solid kitten-only diet after about eight to ten weeks.
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