Weaning a kitten is a critical part of her social development and, as such, must be done correctly. In most cases, the mother cat (Also known as the "queen,") will handle her kitten's weaning herself. However, should your queen have trouble with milk production or should you find yourself with an orphaned kitten litter, you will need to take over. These tips will help you smoothly transition your kittens from mom's milk to proper, solid kitten food.
Should there be no cat available to nurse the kittens normally, you can use a kitten milk formula replacement with a feeding syringe or nursing bottle. In an emergency, a drop of liquid multivitamin, a cup of whole milk, and an egg yolk whipped up in a blender can be used, but, this is again, strictly for emergencies. Kitten formula should be switched to as soon as possible.
Bottle feeding will last approximately 3 to 4 weeks. Warming the bottle in a cup of hot water and testing it yourself to be sure it's the right temperature for the kittens is recommended. Read the label for proper storage of the un-used products.
Patience is key, you'll be feeding the kittens slowly and frequently. During the day, every 2 to 3 hours. During night time, let their cries dictate when you get up to feed them. If they sleep through the night, so much the better.
When the mother's involved, kittens naturally start weaning themselves at around 4 weeks of age. They'll start nibbling on mom's food or on provided warmed canned food that is made more soft and liquid by adding warm water. They will continue attempting to nurse till they are between 8 to 10 weeks of age. Most mothers allow this, and it is psychologically good for the kittens. and she'll be less interested in letting them nurse over time. When dealing with orphaned kittens, you can start the weaning process between 3 to 4 weeks of age. At around the time they start chewing and biting their bottles, is when you can start introducing kitten food.
At the beginning, mix a little formula in with the kitten food so they associate the tastes. You can also try smearing a tiny bit of this mixture on their little kitten lips, to familiarize them with the taste. In most cases, they'll lap it up immediately and be ready for more. At this point, you can place the mixture in a bowl, near their water. Keep an eye on them so they don't inhale their food and never, ever, ever try to encourage them by pushing their faces towards the bowl. Inhaling this mixture could trigger a bout of pneumonia.
At the fifth week mark, start transitioning your kittens to a moist kitten food, (Neither so dry as to risk cystitis or so wet as to risk dental issues.) supplementing it with the formula if needed.
Don't try to cut corners by transitioning kittens from milk formula to adult cat food. Kitten food products are specially designed to offer the higher calorie, protein and calcium percentages that growing kittens require. If you're transitioning kittens who do have their mother, it's ok for mom to eat kitten food while she's nursing.
When weaning your kittens, be sure to keep them warm. You can use a pet carrier lined with towels or by lining a high sided box. Consider using a layer of diapers over the towels, the diapers can be made to lie flat by cutting the leg holes. Kittens are mess makers and with this diaper lining strategy, clean up will be that much easier. Also place a hot water bottle or heating pad under the towels on one side of the box. This allows the kittens to seek out warmth when needed, from within their comfy nest. Continue feeding them small, frequent meals rather than fewer, bigger meals, if possible.
With a little patience, love and help, your kittens should sail through the weaning process. Enjoy your time with these adorable munchkins!
*image courtesy of dollar photo club
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