Knowing when to wean kittens benefits the kittens as well as the mother cat. As kittens grow, they require more nutrition. The mother cat will benefit because her body will no longer need to produce as much milk.
Kittens will naturally begin the weaning process when they are four to five weeks old. During weaning, kittens still benefit from continued access to their mother’s milk and should have free access to it when possible. It is best to wean kittens to dry food gradually so that their young digestive system experiences minimal upset.
You can assist the weaning process by offering canned food as soon as the kittens are four weeks old. Choose food specifically labeled for kittens as it contains the calories and nutrients required for optimum health. Place this food on a saucer or in a shallow bowl so that the kittens can easily reach it. Add kitten milk formula to the food if your veterinarian recommends doing so.
If the kittens are not ready to be weaned, they will show no interest in the food. If this is the case, wait one more week before offering the canned food again. When they are readily eating the canned food, supply them with daily feedings of the amount suggested by directions on the can.
One week after the kittens have started the canned food, begin mixing dry kitten food that you have moistened with water into the canned food. Start with 1/3 moistened dry food per 2/3 canned food. Over the course of a week, increase the amount of moistened dry food until you are feeding the kittens the moistened dry food without adding canned food.
At this time, leave additional bowls of dry kitten food, which you have not moistened, out and accessible to the kittens. Soon you will see them eating the dry food in addition to nursing and in addition to the moist food. When this occurs, this is when to wean kittens completely over to dry food – after one more week, they should be ready to make the complete switch.
After you have witnessed the kittens eating the dry food in addition to the moistened food for this one-week period, you may feed them the dry food exclusively, unless your veterinarian advises otherwise. Always provide clean water for the kittens so that they will remain hydrated as they make this dietary transition. By the time the kittens are eight weeks old, most easily eat dry kitten food, although some may take a week or two longer.
Most kittens will still want to nurse even after they are on dry food. Some mother cats will begin to push the kittens away at this point, but some will allow nursing to continue indefinitely. It is fine to allow the kittens to continue nursing and you should not force kittens away from the mother – doing so causes unnecessary trauma.
Additional information to remember:
Consult a veterinarian if a kitten develops diarrhea. Diarrhea can quickly cause dangerous fluid loss and electrolyte imbalance in young kittens.
Some kittens may become aggressive during meals and push littermates out of the way. If this occurs, you should provide separate bowls so that all have equal access to the food.
Refrigerate uneaten canned food after opening to avoid spoilage. Use a clean, lidded container to maintain freshness and use or discard it within 24 hours.