Kitten drinking from a bottle

Key takeaway

Kittens should be weaned at around 4 weeks old, using slow transition methods to ensure they receive the nutrition they need. Cat owners should monitor their kitten throughout this time to make sure their kitten is growing as they should be. 

Weaning Kittens: When & How To Wean Them 

In the beginning stages of their lives, kittens get the necessary nutrients to grow and develop through their mother’s milk. There’s a reason why kittens are attached at the hip to their mothers when they’re first born– they need their mother’s milk for their health and survival. But that doesn’t mean a kitten should survive off their mother’s milk for a long period of time. They need to be weaned off of it eventually.

In general, a kitten should stop drinking their mother’s milk at around four weeks of age. This process of stopping a kitten from drinking their mother's milk is called weaning, and it's a crucial step in a kitten’s young life. 

When a kitten begins to wean, that means they’re transitioning from drinking their mother’s milk to consuming solid food, and it's an imperative process to ensure they continue to grow and thrive as they get older. But how exactly do you wean a kitten? And when should you start? We’ll get into all of that– and more– below.

In this article, we discuss when and how to wean kittens, how to wean a kitten off a bottle, how much to feed them, and more. Continue reading the article for more information about weaning kittens, or use the links below to skip to a section of your choice.

Definition of weaning kittens

What Is Weaning?

Weaning is when a kitten transitions from drinking their mother’s milk to eating solid food. But weaning isn’t just a kitten changing the food they eat, it’s also them transitioning into becoming more independent and relying less on their mother. 

If your kitten is still with their mother, then their mother will handle the whole weaning process. But if you adopted an orphaned kitten, then it’s your responsibility to wean them. Weaning a kitten is crucial for their development, so you have to do it right. An orphaned kitten is relying on you to take their mother’s place in terms of comfort, socialization, and nutrition. 

When Should Kittens Be Weaned?

Kittens should be weaned at about four weeks of age and the weaning process should complete at around eight weeks of age, but this differs for every kitten and their relationship with their mother. Most kittens will need their mother’s milk until they are at least eight weeks old, but some vets say 12 weeks.1

You may be able to tell that your kitten is ready to be weaned if they can stand on their feet while holding up their tail. They may also become more explorative and want to play with their surroundings. If your kitten is still with their mom, they will show that they’re ready to be weaned by trying to get their mother’s food, and she’ll stop them from eating it. In this case, you can let the mother handle the weaning process. But if your kitten is orphaned, then you should aim to start the weaning process around four weeks of age.2

How To Wean A Kitten

So now that you know when to wean kittens, let’s discuss how to wean kittens. It’s important to be careful with the weaning process, as it’s a big step for your kitty and essential for their development. 

Steps to wean a kitten

Carefully introduce kitten food

When your kitten is about 4-5 weeks old, you’ll want to begin the weaning process by carefully introducing your kitty to their food. You can do this by mixing their kitten food with their formula so that they still recognize the taste. You can do this by spreading this kitten food and formula mixture around their mouth and letting them lick it off. You want them to get adjusted to the food on their own terms. Once they get comfortable with the taste of the kitten food, then they’ll be more inclined to eat it on their own. 

After you’ve introduced them to their food, then you can put the food in a bowl and have them eat it themselves that way. Make sure you keep a close eye on them during this process and don’t force them to eat it at a certain pace. Let them get used to eating the food on their own. 

Slowly transition to dry food

When your kitten is around 5-6 weeks old, then you can begin to slowly transition them to dry food. It’s important to gradually transition them to dry food, using formula when necessary. You’ll want to start with either canned food or dry food that’s mixed with water, so it’s easier for them to digest. You can reduce the amount of water that’s mixed in with their dry food as the kitten gets older and becomes more comfortable eating dry food.

Graphic outlining kitten weaning timeline

Monitor

Throughout the entire weaning process, it’s crucial to carefully monitor your kitten and communicate any issues you may encounter with your vet. At around 6-7 weeks, the weaning process should be finished and your kitty should be comfortably eating dry food all on their own.

A weaning kitten should be kept warm, so to help them get used to the kitten food, you should keep them warm with towels as they eat. Your kitten may also play with the food while they’re getting adjusted to it. They may think it’s a toy at first, and it might take some time before they realize that it’s actually food. Be patient during the weaning process- your kitty will get there eventually!

Weaning Kittens: Frequently Asked Questions

When should a kitten be weaned?

If your kitten has been orphaned, it’s crucial to know how and when to wean them. A kitten should be weaned starting at four weeks of age. When they're around 4-5 weeks old, you should give them wet dry food that’s mixed with a formula. If the kitten is having a hard time adjusting to this new food, make sure to still give them formula so they get enough nutrients. When they’re around 5-6 weeks old, you can start giving your kitten kibble that’s slightly moistened with water and they should begin to slowly nibble on it. When they’re around 6-7 weeks old, you can start giving your kitten only dry food, and they should be comfortable enough to eat it without your help.

How much should a weaning kitten eat?

Every kitten is different, so you should stay in communication with your vet to determine what’s the best amount of food for your cat. But as a general rule of thumb, when your kitten is under one week old, they should weigh less than 4 ounces and be fed formula every 2-3 hours. When your kitten is between 7-10 days old, they should weigh 4-6 ounces and be fed formula every 2-3 hours. When your kitten is 10-14 days old, they should weigh 6-8 ounces and be fed formula every 3 hours. And when your cat is 14-21 days old, they should weigh 8-12 ounces and be fed formula every 4 hours.

What happens if a kitten is weaned too early?

It is crucial to wean your kitten at the right time. If you wean your kitty at too early of an age, it puts them more at risk of developing aggression, anxiety, and stereotypic behavior. If you wean your kitten at a later age like after they’re 4 weeks old, they will be less likely to develop aggression and stereotypic behavior. So in general, you’re better off weaning your kitten later rather than early. Weaning your kitten too early can have an irreversible effect on their behavior.

Weaned kitten eating food from bowl

Final Notes

When you adopt an orphaned kitten, you’re taking on a huge responsibility. You’re essentially becoming this kitten’s mother, meaning it’s your job to make sure they grow and develop properly. And in order to do this, you need to know how to wean them. Weaning kittens may seem like a complicated process, but it’s actually quite simple. You just have to start at the right time and do it carefully, and before you know it, your kitty should be eating hard food like a true cat. 

But if you encounter any complications in your weaning process, you’ll want to contact a veterinarian so you can make sure everything is alright with your feline friend, and a great way to do that is with Dutch.com. Dutch is an online, telehealth service that provides convenient pet care for pet owners. When you sign up on Dutch, you’ll be instantly connected with a licensed veterinarian who can help with a myriad of pet care topics, like how to wean a kitten off a bottle. 

Dutch-affiliated vets are available to answer any questions you may have when it comes to pet care, and prescribe any necessary treatment you may need for your furry friend. So whether you’re dealing with weaning kittens or sick kittens, Dutch is here to help you get the treatment you need. We’re also the only pet telehealth company that offers prescription delivery right to your door, making going to the vet easier than ever before.