When looking to adopt a kitten, one of the most important questions you should know to ask is, “has she been weaned?” What is weaning, you ask? Weaning is the process of graduating a kitten from milk to solid foods, and that she has learned everything she can from her mother. Once a kitten is eating on his own, that is usually a tell-tale sign that he’s ready to be separated from his cat mama. However, just like humans, some cats take longer than others to fully prepare for life outside of kittenhood. Are there any ways you can you tell if your cat was taken from his mother too soon? And if so, what are they?
Weaned Kittens vs. Mama’s Boy
Story time. My beloved boy Danger was the baby of a stray mama, found by a family looking to find homes for her babies. He was literally perfect, teeny tiny, and hilariously rambunctious. The family assured me he was weaned, and maybe they would have been right had he been any other cat, but Danger was definitely a mama’s boy. He whined the entire way home, presumably hungry (and not to mention confused!) His first adventure with wet food was, we’ll say… somewhat successful? Try though I did, Danger’s number one concern was finding milk. “WHERE IS THE MILK, STRANGE NEW MOTHER?” he seemed to demand, quite indignantly I might add.
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Danger’s favorite thing to do, even into his adulthood, was to find one ridiculous thing to suck on after another, from my earlobe to the webbing between my thumb and index finger. And this behavior was not exclusive to me. Everyone he met was subject to endure the search for milk. A shakedown, if you will – as if you were purposefully hiding it from him. I soon found out what he was up to, and I realized that this behavior was, indeed, an indicator that he had not been properly weaned. Sigh.
The Search Continues
In addition to this, there is another, much more common sign that your cat may have been taken away from his or her mother too soon; kneading. Cats knead for a variety of reasons. It’s relaxing. It’s a form of marking one’s territory. Heck, it’s even a great way to make a little nest to sleep in. But one other major reason cats like to knead is because it is their first instinct as kittens when they’re thrust unceremoniously into this mortal plane of existence, otherwise known as “being born”. They use this “paddling” motion, as it’s been described, to stimulated their mama’s mammaries into giving them The Good Stuff; that delicious and nutritious kitty milk. White gold. Leche del Gata Mama. It’s perfectly natural, not to mention super cute.
Considering all this, how old does a cat have to be before she can start being weaned? Mother cats try to wean their kittens as early as one month. That’s not a whole heck of a lot of time to get accustomed to solids, but it is important to their survival in the wild and on the streets. After the initial process of weaning has begun, it usually takes another month for them to get used to the idea of eating food, whether that food is fresh prey or fancy shmancy store-bought kitten formula. In total, the weaning process can last as long as ten weeks, at which point your kitten should be eating strictly kitty chow.
Making Sure Your Cat Is Healthy
The biggest concern for cats that have been weaned too soon is not the silly little habits that Danger held on to, but their overall health. The first few months of life are essential to a young and growing kitten’s well-being, and their mother is responsible for a lot of that. Kitty milk is full of crucial nutritional elements that ensure a kitten’s healthy growth, not only physically, but cognitively as well. Mother cats also teach their babies litterbox etiquette – something that is important not only to a cat’s quality of life, but their likelihood of being adopted. To take a kitten away from his mother too soon is to risk him missing out on a lot, if not all of these benefits, to the extent that he can even grow up with deficiencies. Yikes!
To make sure your cat maintains a full and healthy life, always make his nutrition a priority. If you think there is a chance that your cat is suffering a deficiency, take him to a vet immediately. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and if it’s possible your baby was taken away from his mother too soon, the best thing you can do is make sure you’re doing everything you can for him in the present and future. Doing the best that you can for your baby in the here and now is the key to ensuring him the longest, happiest life he can live.