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Weaning Kittens: Vet-Reviewed Guide for When & How to Start

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

By Rachael Gerkensmeyer

kitten drinking milk from bottle

Vet approved

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Kittens are adorable little creatures, but they are also fragile and require gentle care until they’re ready for more independence. Fortunately, mother cats will handle most of the work. For example, a mom will feed her babies exclusively milk for the first 3 or 4 weeks. After that, she will begin weaning the babies onto solid food before she stops feeding them milk altogether. In a perfect world, the mom will wean her kittens all on her own.

However, in certain circumstances, you may need to step in and provide assistance. For example, if you have an orphan kitten or if the process is not naturally occurring. It is important to note that the more gradual the weaning process and the later the separation of the kitten from the mother, the better. A 2017 study found that kittens separated from their mother before 8 to 12 weeks of age were more likely to suffer from behavioral problems such as aggression, anxiety, and stereotypes.1 Here is what you should know about when and how to wean kittens that you’re looking after.

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When Should Kittens Be Weaned?

Most mom cats start to wean their kittens when they are about 4 weeks of age. Until then, the kittens will strictly eat their mother’s milk. It contains all the nutrients that a kitten needs to get strong and healthy. A mother cat’s milk also contains antibodies that are designed to help protect her babies against disease until their immune systems get strong enough.

a newborn kitten drinks its mother's milk
Image Credit: Rembolle, Shutterstock

How Does a Mother Cat Wean Her Kittens?

You will know that the process of weaning is taking place when the mother cat begins pushing her kids away from her nipples and allows them to follow her to her food bowl. The kittens will watch their mother eat and start investigating the food themselves. Before you know it, the kittens will start eating food right alongside their mother. Just keep in mind that the process does not happen overnight. It takes a while for the transition to happen. In the wild, from approximately 4 weeks of age, mother cats start bringing prey to their kittens to introduce them to solid food.

What to Do If You Must Wean the Kittens

Sometimes, a mother cat will not start weaning her kittens for one reason or another, or you may be raising an orphan kitten that needs your help. Whatever the case, by the time the babies are about 4 weeks old, you can step in and wean them yourself. Here’s how:

1. Separate the Mother From the Kittens for a While Each Day

The first step in weaning kittens is to separate them from their mother for short periods several times a day. This will not only give the mom a break so she can relax, but it will also allow the kittens to become more self-reliant. It’s important not to separate everyone too soon. Make sure the kittens are at least 4 weeks old.

Set up a space for the mother cat in a separate room in case she wants to use it. Let the kittens investigate their surroundings. There is no need to push them to eat any food. If they do, that’s great! If not, maybe they will next time.

As the kittens age, you can separate them from their mother for longer periods until they are independent and eating all their meals on their own. At this point, there is no need for further separations.

bottle-feeding newborn kitten
Image Credit: KayaMe, Shutterstock

2. Make Soft Food Available at First

Baby teeth start to come in around 3 weeks of age, so you can start offering them soft, mushy food for a couple of weeks. You can either feed them wet food or soften dry food with liquid. Water works just fine, but if your kittens don’t seem interested, you can mix commercial kitten formula with the food to make it more palatable, as the formula will be similar to their mother’s milk.

It’s important to use a formula designed just for kittens, to ensure that they are getting the nutrients that they need as they learn to eat solid foods. Use small plates or shallow bowls for their food so there is less of a chance that they’ll tip over the dishes and make a mess all over the floor.


3. Gradually Introduce Dry Food

Once your kittens get used to eating soft foods, you can start introducing dry food to them. Place a small, shallow dish of dry kibble, preferably one that is designed especially for kittens, next to their soft food. At first, the kittens may just sniff the food and push it around with their noses or paws.

Allowing their mom to hang out and eat her food around them can help teach them what to do with dry food. Eventually, they will start to eat the dry kibble on their own. When they do, you can begin reducing the amount of soft food that you offer and increasing the amount of dry kibble until they’ve completely transitioned.

tuxedo kitten covering the white porcelain food bowl
Image Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald, Shutterstock

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How Long Does It Take to Wean Kittens?

It can take between 2 and 4 weeks for kittens to become fully weaned, so do not feel pressured. Each day, the kittens will become more interested in eating solid food, and some will progress faster than others. Be patient, and let each kitten work at their own pace. The mother cat can be of help even if she doesn’t focus on weaning, as the older her kittens get, the less often she will let them nurse. Therefore, they are bound to get hungry and start eating the food that you put out for them.

What If the Kittens Are Orphans?

Orphaned kittens have no mother to feed them, so you will have to provide them with kitten formula yourself. Newborn kittens should be fed with a bottle on a strict schedule of every 2 to 4 hours depending on their age, weight, and health condition.

After about 2 weeks of age, kittens can be fed every 6 to 8 hours, and you can get by without nightly feedings. Follow the feeding instructions on the kitten formula label to ensure that you don’t under- or overfeed the kittens. Kitten formula should be the sole source of nutrition for the kittens until they’re at least 3 weeks of age, at which time you can start the weaning process.

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In Conclusion

Weaning kittens should be a job that the mother cat takes care of on her own. However, if she does not for some reason or you have an orphan kitten, you can step in to make sure each kitten gets all the nutrition that they need to grow big, strong, healthy, and happy.

Don’t put pressure on yourself or the kittens during the weaning process and everything will come into place in time. Expect it to take up to 4 weeks for your kittens to become fully weaned; however, that doesn’t mean that your kitten should be separated from their mother at that point. The mother cat not only provides nutrition to her kittens but she prepares them for life as independent and social adult cats


Featured Image Credit: Adina Voicu, Pixabay

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