Food and Nutrition

How and When to Wean your Kitten
A nutritionally balanced diet is crucial for the healthy growth and development of the young cat and will prepare her for a long, active and healthy life. Her food must contain a full complement of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals in the right proportions for growth. Prior to weaning, a kitten is largely dependent on her mother's milk. Once weaned, your kitten is entirely dependent on you, to provide a fully balanced diet that will meet all of her nutritional requirements.

Weaning

In the first weeks of life, kittens are entirely dependent on their mother’s milk and do not require any additional feeding. Occasionally the milk supply from the queen is inadequate, and in this case a specially manufactured milk replacement should be given at frequent intervals throughout the day and night. Cow’s or goat’s milk has a very different nutrient profile compared to queen’s milk and is not a suitable replacement.

From about 3 to 4 weeks of age, kittens become more and more interested in their environment, including in their mother’s solid food. They can best have a first taste of solid food when it is finely chopped – or soaked where dry food is used – and offered in a shallow dish. It is best to use a highly palatable and digestible food specifically designed for kittens. They will gradually eat more and more solid food until they are fully weaned at about 8 weeks of age.

Motherless Kittens

Feeding orphaned kittens is a particular challenge. Motherless kittens have two vital requirements, which are a suitable environment and appropriate nutrition. The suitable environment needs to ensure the right environmental temperature, which in the first weeks should ideally be controlled by an incubator, a heating lamp or a hot water bottle covered in blankets. Further it is important to stimulate urination and defaecation of each kitten by simulating the mother’s stimulating action of the ano-genital area. This can be done with the help of a piece of warm damp cotton wool at the ano-genital area or abdominal wall during the first 3 weeks of the kittens’ lives.

Kittens under 1 week of age need to be fed 6 times a day, or every 4 hours day and night. Queen’s milk is higher in calories, protein and lactose than cow’s or goat’s milk, and these are therefore not suitable alternatives for rearing orphaned kittens. Commercially prepared milk substitutes specifically designed for kittens are available from breeders and veterinarians and are based on the same nutrient profile as the queen’s milk. The milk substitute can be administered with a small syringe, and should be prepared fresh for every meal. It needs to be fed warm (38oC) and slowly, without forcing the kitten.

At around 3 weeks of age, kittens start exploring their environment more and more, and they should now be able to lap their milk substitute from a bowl. They will also begin to nibble solid food. Young kittens should be offered as much food as they like to satisfy their appetite, as they are unlikely to overeat at this stage of their life. Highly palatable, calorie and nutrient dense kitten foods are best used, and eventually at the age of about 8 weeks, the kittens will be fully weaned.
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