If you are taking care of an orphaned or abandoned newborn feline, you may wonder how to wean a bottle-fed kitten. Feeding the right formula the appropriate number of times a day is vital for newborn kittens, but there comes a time when the kitten needs to eat independently. A healthy kitten can be weaned off their bottle around 4 to 5 weeks of age.
Weaning: From Bottle to Bowl
A tiny kitten that finds itself without its mother to take care of it must be fed with a bottle for the first four to five weeks of life. Often, the kitten's caretaker is not quite sure when to stop bottle feeding or how to get the kitten to drink and eat from a bowl instead of a bottle. Questions or concerns about the weaning process are actually quite common.
Weaning Varies for Each Kitten
Weaning a young kitten from the bottle requires patience and persistence. Always remember that each kitten is different and there is not an exact timetable for weaning. Some kittens may grasp the process quickly. Others may take longer without their mother to show them how to drink and eat from a bowl. The weaning process should be done gradually, at a pace that is comfortable for the kitten. The entire process could take as little as a week, or may even take several weeks. Eventually, almost every kitten is successful in this step to becoming an independent kitten.
Signs a Kitten is Ready for Weaning
Bottle feeding is necessary until the kitten is 4 to 5 weeks old. Once that age is reached, there are several signs to watch for that signal the kitten is ready to begin the weaning process. When you are feeding the kitten its bottle, watch to see if it starts to bite and chew on the feeding nipple as it nurses. Once the kitten is biting on the nipple, place a small amount of formula onto your finger and see if the kitten licks it off. If it does, it is time to begin the weaning process.
Always make sure the kitten is healthy before weaning them off the bottle. Some kittens should continue bottle-feeding if they are not thriving.
The Weaning Process
Put a small amount of kitten milk replacer formula into a spoon and encourage the kitten to lick it. Once the kitten is successful at drinking the formula from the spoon, put some into a saucer or a low, shallow bowl. The following are several tips to encourage the kitten to drink from the saucer or bowl:
- Dip your finger into the formula and bring it up to the kitten's mouth. Let the kitten lick your finger, and then dip your finger and offer it to the kitten again. By doing this, you are helping the kitten make a connection between the formula and the bowl.
- To make the formula more enticing to the kitten, warm it slightly.
- Many bottle-fed kittens love to be held. Try holding the kitten while you are introducing it to the saucer full of formula.
- Begin the feeding session with the bottle and then move the bottle away and offer the kitten the formula in the saucer right away.
Mastering the Saucer
Once the kitten is lapping formula from the saucer, begin mixing canned kitten food into the kitten's formula. It should be the consistency of thin oatmeal. Make sure to use a high quality food to ensure your kitten gets all the nutrients they need. You can also add a kitten weaning formula designed for kittens up to 8 weeks old.
If the kitten is hesitant to eat it from the saucer, offer the mixture from a spoon, then work to transition to the saucer using the above techniques. During this time, it is important to continue bottle feeding the kitten while monitoring its intake of food and formula.
While the kitten is learning to eat from the saucer, always offer the bowl of food first and supplement the amount eaten with the bottle. After the kitten has mastered eating from the saucer, slowly decrease the amount of formula it is getting in the bottle. Once the kitten is able to eat from a dish, begin to reduce the amount of formula at each meal while increasing the amount of food.
Tips on How to Wean a Bottle-Fed Kitten
Here are some insider tips to help when weaning:
- Never rush the process of weaning your kitten.
- Never push the kitten's nose into the food dish. This could cause the kitten to develop pneumonia if it aspirates the fluid and food.
- Although most kittens are weaned by the time they are 8 to 10 weeks old, it is not unusual for some kittens to take several weeks longer. This does not mean there is anything wrong with the kitten.
- If you'd like to feed dry kitten food, be sure to moisten it. Kittens are unable to chew dry food until they are about eight weeks old. You can mix the moistened kibble with the wet food and transition them slowly.
- Changes in food can cause the kitten to get diarrhea, and this can be life threatening to a young kitten. Minor diarrhea can be normal with the food changes. Watch the stools to make sure they go back to normal quickly; if not, call the vet.
- Regardless of how messy or slow the weaning process is, remember, it is difficult for many kittens to learn how to eat without their mother's guidance.
- Never get upset with the kitten; it is trying to learn.
- Never give up; almost every kitten eventually is successfully weaned from the bottle.
Give Your Kitten a Good Start
Knowing how to wean a bottle-fed kitten is the first step in preparing your kitten for life as an independent cat. Taking the proper steps ensures your kitten will grow into a well-adjusted adult cat.