“How do I know if my cat was weaned properly?”  This is a common question, one we wish to answer in this article.  But first, it is good to start with the basics.

What is weaning?

When a kitten is born, it gets food and nutrition from its mother’s milk. Just like humans, the first feeding is the most important. Within 24 hours of birth, a mother produces a special kind of milk called colostrum. This is full of vitamins, antibodies against sicknesses, and other necessary boosts to the baby’s immune system.

In kittens this is also true; it is much healthier to nurse than to be switched to food right away. Many stores even carry formula for kittens; even though mother’s milk is best, the formula is a close second. Nursing not only provides food and nutrition to the little one, but it also forms a bonding relationship between mother and kitten that will later help the kitten to understand socialization and relationships between other cats.

However, after a few weeks, it is necessary for the kitten to start eating solid food away from its mother. This is called weaning. About 4 weeks after birth, the mother cat may start to get irritated with kittens feeding. She may walk away at times or even hiss at the kittens; this is the beginning of weaning.

It is at this time that you can start to encourage the kittens to leave their mother and eat wet canned food for kittens or you can moisten kitten food with formula or water since their teeth are not properly formed to chew hard food. It is not completely necessary to move the kitten to a new location, but this encourages not only exploring other areas, but also independence which will be important for the kitten as it gets older.

By the time kitty is 8 weeks old, they should be off of their mothers milk.  If the mother is still allowing nursing, it is ok only as an occasionally treat. The main source of feeding should be coming from more solid food at this point.

At 12 weeks the kitten is ready to leave the mother if they will be adopted out, or even just separating them in kitten’s exploration of the world. The kittens interaction with other animals or their siblings in crucial at this time to form social behaviors in the future; weaning is about food, but also can relate to other learning experiences in kitten’s life.

How to tell if a kitten was weaned properly

A cat that has gone through all the normal steps of separation from their mother will show confidence, curiosity and get along well with others. However, what if your cat was not able to go through the weaning process normally?

Some kittens don’t have the necessary time with their mothers and have to be weaned on their own or by the help of a human. A kitten that does not wean by 4 weeks will most likely not survive unless aided by the help of another. If you have had a kitten this young, you know about the adventures of bottle feeding and formula.

While this will keep kitty healthy and alive, it does not encourage cat socialization skills. This situation does make for very “human-only” friendships in most instances. Your cat will associate you as the mother and often come to cuddle, play, or groom with you instead of another feline.

Other examples of cats that did not have the normal weaning experience include cats who suck on things, such as a piece of fabric, shoelace, or even your finger or earlobe! A classic case is seeing an adult cat try to breastfeed on another adult cat or even a pillow. Kneading is a normal behavior, however excessive drooling or sucking behavior during kneading may show the cat didn’t properly complete the weaning cycle.

This does not mean anything is wrong with your cat; just that it may have been separated from its mother too soon and might need some extra love from you! Cats that did not complete the entire weaning cycle may not be fully socialized with other cats, but that is easy to overcome.

Your cat can be healthy and loving, with or without proper weaning.  They had a kitty mother, but you have become their adoptive mother and can show them all the love and care they might need.

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