You are the proud owner of a cat and her litter of adorable kittens: to best support their physical and mental development, special attention must be given to them during the weaning period.
Find out how to proceed and what to feed them during this key age, which extends from about their fourth to twelfth week of life.
At what age should the kitten be weaned?
At around 4 to 5 weeks, the kitten will naturally begin to explore her environment and take an interest in her mother’s food if it is available. It is time to offer her kibbles sprinkled with a little warm water or formula to soften them. At this age, kittens will start eating more and more solid food and less and less breast milk, which is no longer sufficient to meet their energy needs during growth. In principle, weaning will continue on its own until the mother rejects her young, around the 12th week.
Food transition: how to proceed?
The watchword for weaning is a smooth and gradual dietary transition: the kitten must switch from a liquid diet to a solid diet, and a too abrupt change may lead to digestion problems. To prepare for this transition, one trick is to give the mother the kibble you plan to give to the kittens as early as lactation. These ranges have the advantage of being rich enough in nutrients to cover the needs of the nursing cat, and the young can get used to them by going and injecting into their mother’s bowl.
After the 4th week, it is time to offer the kittens their own croquettes on a separate plate, and to gently move the mother away at mealtime if she is insistent. It is important to moisten them beforehand because the young still have their milk teeth: they will not develop their final teeth until around 16 weeks of age. In the meantime, weaning must be completely completed and the kittens must be able to feed themselves from around the 7th week.
The kitten’s nutritional Needs
Due to its rapid growth, the kitten’s caloric needs are twice as high as those of an adult cat. In particular, it must consume large quantities of protein, provided that it is easily digestible and of high quality. Intakes of phosphorus, calcium and essential fatty acids are also crucial for the proper development of his bones and to strengthen his immune system.
Indeed, around the age of 4 weeks, which corresponds to the end of breastfeeding, the young are no longer protected by the antibodies contained in their mother’s milk: this period called “immune hole” will extend until about 8 weeks of age. It is therefore important to provide the kitten with a healthy food rich in minerals, omega 3, trace elements (copper, zinc, magnesium) and vitamins A, B, C and D. For this reason, it is advisable to choose a range of kibbles specially designed for the kitten being weaned, preferring foods offered by the veterinarian rather than products sold in supermarkets whose composition is not always clear or really adapted to the specific nutritional needs of the young kitten.
Which food to choose?
Adult cat food should not be given to kittens, as these kibbles may contain allergens and other ingredients in inappropriate amounts. That’s why it’s recommended to give kitten food to the whole family. Cow’s milk should also be banned, otherwise it could cause severe diarrhoea. If you observe an abnormal decrease or stagnation of weight in the young (their mass should in principle increase by 5 to 10% per day during the growth phase), it is because breast milk is no longer sufficient and it is time to switch them to a solid diet possibly with substitute kitten milk.
As for the choice of kibbles, we strongly advise to give a special weaning range (sold at the vet and in specialised shops) until 4 months, then to make a second transition to kittens kibbles adapted to their needs and their teeth until the age of 12 months.
What dietary rhythm for the kitten?
Kittens have a small stomach and high energy needs, so it is important to feed them frequently in small amounts. After weaning, an average of four meals a day is ideal at first (up to 8 weeks), then this number can be gradually reduced to three daily meals. At around 10 to 12 weeks of age, the definitive transition to exclusively solid food should be made. After 4 months, the fractionation should continue to be reduced gradually to an ideal two rations per day at 6 months of age.
In order to facilitate this new dietary rhythm, leave them some kibble for snacking and make sure they have fresh, clean water at all times of the day, repeat several times a day if necessary. At around 12 months of age, you can switch to a classic adult cat food. Again, this change in diet should be done gently over a period of seven to ten days, mixing a small amount of the new food with the usual food. However, the supply of food supplements remains interesting to continue to support their development and strengthen their bones.