Weaning is the fun, messy adventure of helping a kitten transition from nursing (or bottle feeding) to eating solid food on her own! Kittens often need extra support during this time to help ensure they're receiving the proper nutrients in proper quantity, and to keep them on track for success and independence. Here's what you need to know about weaning:
1. start at the right age
Kittens' bodies are very sensitive to premature weaning, so be careful about starting them too young. A kitten 0-5 weeks old should be nursing or bottle feeding. Around 5 weeks of age, the kitten's premolars will begin to emerge, indicating that she is likely ready to start trying out some meaty foods. However, some kittens may need a bit more time on the bottle due to health issues, or differences in weight or size. Use your best judgement and follow the kitten's lead to determine the appropriate age to wean. If you see any changes in the kitten's health or energy during this process, immediately step back to bottle feeding.
2. get the right supplies
Pick up some wet kitten food, making sure that it says "kitten." Kitten food is higher in calories, fat and protein that the kitten needs to help grow big and strong. Wet food is the healthiest choice for kittens, as the moisture content will help them stay healthy and hydrated. You can find recommended kitten foods at the supplies page. You'll also want to pick up some shallow food dishes so the kitten can easily access the food.
3. start with slurry
Slurry is a mix of formula and wet food, which is used to help transition the kitten from one food to the other. You may begin by just introducing a small teaspoon of wet food mixed with the formula, which allows the kitten to acclimate to the new proteins and flavors. As the kitten becomes more comfortable eating meat, you'll begin increasing the ratio so that there is more wet food present at each feeding.
Every kitten is different, so use your judgment to determine the best way to introduce this new food to the kitten. Some kittens benefit from having the wet food blended with formula in a smoothie shaker, and then fed to them in a bottle so that they can discover wet food in a format they can understand. Other kittens may be able to eat successfully from a tongue depresser, or from your finger. Eventually, the kitten will slowly learn how to lap the slurry from a dish.
Tip: Be mindful to always supplement with bottle feeding throughout this process! If you're not sure that a kitten is getting a full meal with the slurry, complete the feeding by giving her a bottle. There's no such thing as "tough love" for kittens, and if she isn't understanding how to eat yet, you'll still need to supplement to make sure she's staying healthy and well fed.
4. transition to wet food and introduce water
Once the kitten is confidently eating slurry on her own, it's time to switch completely to wet food. Be sure you're feeding a high quality wet food formulated for kittens, and monitor to ensure that there are no concerning changes in weight, behavior, or condition.
At this time, it's also appropriate to introduce water in a small, shallow dish. Never provide a large dish that can cause a safety hazard to a tiny kitten; keep your water dish to about 2 inches high. It's normal for kittens to struggle with water at first, but she should be drinking confidently within 1-3 days of introduction.