When Can A Kitten Eat On Her Own?
Hey guys! [gentle background music lasts throughout video] My kittens are six weeks old today and that means that over the last week, they’ve been learning how to eat wet food! [can opening] Good job, my babies! [kittens slurping cutely] (to kittens) Hey, don’t you guys want to eat too? Let’s all have a snack! So I’ve had these little guys ever since they were first opening up their eyes, since they were just a couple days old. And that means that the entire time I’ve had them, they’ve been bottle feeding. Now, you always hear me talking about how those teeny, tiny kittens are the most vulnerable they’ll ever be. But there’s another period of vulnerability that I wanna talk about today, and that is the weaning period! Um, excuse me, Tapinga! [laughing] You wanna be the star o’ the show! If you’re not careful about how and when you wean your kittens, it could be a really dangerous time for them. They can decline in health. They can lose weight. And worse, they can fall into fatal condition if they’re weaned too prematurely. So in this video, I wanna talk all about weaning age and when is the right time to wean your kittens. I personally wean my kittens at five weeks of age. I find that this is when kittens do really well making that transition on to the meaty foods, and it’s when their bodies are biologically ready to handle that transition. I’ll talk a lot more about that a little later on, but first I wanna say, there are a lot of different opinions about when the right age is to wean your kittens. Depending on who you talk to, you might be told that kittens should be weaned at three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, six weeks. It really depends on who you’re speaking with. Most of the time, these differences of opinion have everything to do with the circumstances of the caregiver. So today I wanna talk about not the circumstances of the caregiver, but the circumstances of the kitten and what’s best biologically for them. I KNOW. You want a bottle! Catalina is eating her meats pretty well, but she doesn’t eat a full meal’s worth. So after her meal, she still gets a bottle. Good job, Catalina. Okay, just a little bit. Shelters will often wean kittens very young, and that’s because there’s a lot of pressure on shelter workers to get them eating independently so they can be cared for in a foster home or in a shelter environment. You see, a lot of shelters don’t have overnight staff that can be there doing bottle feeding. And shelters have a harder time finding foster parents who are willing to bottle feed than they do finding foster parents who are willing to take weaned kittens. So when a three-week-old kitten comes into the shelter, the shelter’s only options might need to either wean them or to euthanize them because there’s no one to care for them. So given those two options, I obviously understand and empathize with why a shelter would want to get a kitten weaned young. But in a perfect world, there would be a third option and that option would be to have enough care to give the kittens what they actually need, which is often to be bottle fed. So I see this all the time. I have a lot of friends and even family who have gone to the shelter to foster their first kittens and they’ve been given three- or four-week-old kittens and told they’re totally weaned. But when they get home, they find out that kitten actually isn’t able to eat that well on their own and they need the support of the bottle feeding. This is super common. The shelter wants to get the kitten out of the door, and totally understandably. But the foster parent can then have a very hard time of getting them to do well. Ultimately, they can end up losing kittens or losing foster parents because they don’t have a good experience with these babies. When a kitten’s weaned too young, you can see a big decline in their health. Their bodies might not be able to properly absorb the nutrients from meat. Kittens weaned too young are at risk of emaciation, dehydration, diarrhea, and malabsorption. They also may not be able to effectively eat the food and can choke or under-eat, and they can consume an insufficient quantity of food to meet their caloric needs. That’s why whenever possible, it’s safest to wait until five weeks to wean. That’s when kittens are biologically capable of handling both the new nutrients and the new method of eating. There are a lot of changes that need to happen to a kitten’s body in order for them to be able to wean efficiently. At three weeks old, the kittens might have their first teeth, the incisors, but don’t let that fool you. The incisors are not for eating meat. The incisors are really for grooming, and that’s why at three weeks old, you start seeing kittens getting their first tiny teeth and engaging in their first grooming behaviors. It isn’t until the kitten is five weeks old that they have both their canines and the premolars on the side of the mouth. Those are the teeth that are designed for shredding solids. Oh my gosh. Look at Zooma in the strawberry! You are very cute! Yes, you’re very cute too, Balboa. There are other biological indicators that a kitten is ready to eat on their own during this time, including that their eyesight and their coordination are improving rapidly. This means that the kitten is able to seek, find, chew, and swallow food totally independently. And it isn’t just the visible body that’s changing during this time. Internally, there are changes that are happening too. Inside the gut, the intestinal lining is developing villi, which increase the internal surface area and allow the kitten to properly absorb the new nutrients. This process is critical for ensuring that the kitten’s going to be able to absorb all of those vital proteins and sugars through the gut. The digestive enzymes also begin to shift at the time of weaning. The lactase which breaks down milk sugars changes to sucrase, which breaks down the sugars present in meat. So even though you can’t see what’s going on inside the gut there are changes that are happening at this time that allow them to wean properly. Kittens need to be given enough time to figure out this whole food thing! Even if they do show initial interest in the food, I see a lot of what I call meat nursing, which is where a kitten is actually suckling on the wet food If you haven’t seen my meat nursing videos, you have to watch them. It’s very, very cute. (to kitten) Oh, are you gonna meet nurse right now? You’re doing it. You’re stuck! See, this is why you still need a bottle because you get stuck and you’re nursing your meat. You’re a meat nurser! (back to narration) But as cute as meat nursing is, it doesn’t give a kitten an entire meal. I mean, think about how we wean human babies. You don’t just pull them off the breast one day and stick a piece of pizza in their mouth the next. So we need to be able to support the kitten throughout this entire process. How do we support them? Well, one big way is to meet them where they are and start them at the right age. You can also hand feed them, spoon feed them, sit with them while they’re eating, continually show them the food. (to kitten) Look, Will. There you go. Good job, guys! Every kitten’s going to be different. Out of this litter, Will and Catalina are the two that struggle the most. I have to really sit with them and show them the food and continually try to support them making this transition. But ultimately, you do need to supplementally feed them until they’ve totally got it. So after Will has done everything he’s going to do with his meat, I will give him a bottle to make sure that he has all of his nutritional and caloric needs met. Do you want this? Oh. Will loves his bottle time. You love your bottle time. But you know, every single day he’s having his bottle less and less. But it’s there for him if he doesn’t get his full meal. I think you’re doing a great job transitioning! What about you? Catalina spends half the time at the food bowl just suckling, so I always make sure that she does have a bottle. And the other kittens actually don’t need the bottle anymore at all. That’s why when it comes to weaning, I always you have to… meet/meat them where they are! Get it? Meet/Meat?! Meet/Meat you where you are?! [quietly] You get it? [whispering[ She doesn’t get it. You don’t speak English. Of course, weaning too late can also be an issue. If you wait too long to wean, the kittens might not be getting the nutrients that they need. But moreover, their sharp teeth can actually shred this nipple and they can swallow it. And that’s not good for anyone. So it’s important to find a good balance that works for each individual kitten, meeting them exactly where they are. As for individuals and organizations who wean early, I get it. And I truly empathize with the horrible challenge of trying to find enough people to help these little bottle babies. I understand how tempting and even necessary it can be to try to get these kittens weaned. But my point is that for foster parents and for everyday caregivers, it’s important that we’re informed and empowered to be giving these kittens age-appropriate care. Listen, I get that bottle feeding can seem really intimidating or challenging, but I promise that it isn’t. Watch my videos, learn how to do it properly, and you’ll be a pro in no time. We need more people like me and you who are willing to bottle feed kittens so that we don’t have to make these difficult judgment calls and try to wean them young. In fact, it’s much easier to bottle feed than it is to care for an ailing, emaciated kitten who’s not succeeding at eating on their own. When we give them the right care, rescuing kittens can be a snap! And when the kittens have a good experience, we have a good experience too. [baby-talking kittens] Oh my gosh, you two are a mess! You’re the ones who need a little bit extra help with everything. But that’s okay! Whenever possible, it’s better to adjust the caregiver duties to meet the needs of the kitten, rather than to adjust the care of the kittens to meet the needs of the caregiver. My hope is that one day there will be fewer kittens in need of bottle feeding and that those kittens who are in need will be able to be cared for on a timeline that gives them the best experience possible. Thanks so much for watching. Make sure you check out all of my other instructional videos about weaning kittens.