Weaning kittens signifies more than just a change in diet--eating solid food is the first step for a kitten learning to become a grownup cat!
If you are fortunate enough to have a mother cat in your home raising her own litter, you will be able to watch her cues for when she is ready to stop letting them suckle.
Typically, the queen will begin weaning her kittens between 3 and 4 weeks old. How does she do this?
She simply makes herself less available to them!
In the wild, mom would do this slowly over the course of several weeks, by supplementing her breast milk with small prey that she would bring back to the den for the kittens to eat.
Eventually, the nursing is phased out completely by the time they are between 6 and 10 weeks old.
At home, mama cat can continue the kitten weaning a bit longer, or shorten the amount of time.
If you begin to introduce the kittens to solid food when they are between 3 and 4 weeks old, then you and the queen are really acting as a team to help her babies reach independent cat hood!
Even if the kittens take to solid food easily and quickly, it is important not to separate the queen from her litter until she lets you know she's ready to begin weaning them.
If she still wants to nurse them, let her instincts guide your own actions--weaning is more than just dietary change.
When a mother cat is weaning kittens, she is teaching them an important lesson about how to deal with disappointment.
It is not unlike teaching our own young children that they cannot always get their way!
Weaning is a process that teaches a kitten, at the proper stage of development, how to cope with frustration.
A completely hand raised kitten cannot learn this lesson from a human.
Kittens raised completely by people can become moody cats--generally very affectionate and loving, but can quickly get cranky or aggressive with their own humans.
If you are in the position of weaning one without mama cat around, it can be helpful if you have atolerant adult cat in the house to help teach them some of these basic cat "life lessons."
If you are the caretaker of very young orphaned kittens and have gotten them safely to the weaning stage, give yourself credit for a difficult job well done.
Your challenge though is a bit different--with no nursing queen around, the weaning is all up to you.
When they are between 3 and 4 weeks old, you can begin to change their eating habits.
To start change one meal a day for a day or two.
Combine the formula that they are used to with a quality food, either canned or dry (and soaked soft.)
Have them eat this one meal out of a small saucer.
If they are reluctant to try, put a little on your finger for the kittens to try, and let them see you dip it into the bowl.They will catch on eventually!
As the days go on, eliminate the eyedroppers and bottle feeding completely, but keep adding their familiar formula in decreasing ratios with their kitten food.
As their little needle teeth begin to grow in, you can feed them crunchier dry food, if dry food is your preference.
By 8 weeks, the orphans can be weaned completely, but there is no set rule.
As long as the kitten is eating regularly, and you are not changing his food too drastically to cause stomach upset or diarrhea, you are probably doing just fine with the weaning process.
Sometimes when it comes to raising and weaning kittens, it is more of an art than a science!
Click here for more info on feeding orphan kittens.
Click here for how to select a quality kitten food.