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How to Know a Kitten Is Ready to Leave Its Mother (And 4 Signs It Isn’t)

14 Jun 2024.

If you’re caring for a pregnant cat or a litter of kittens, or thinking of adopting a young kitty, you may be wondering how to know when a kitten is ready to leave its mother. For baby cats to develop properly both physically and mentally, it’s important not to wean them too soon. But how can you tell if a kitten is ready to leave its mother? Cat in a Flat shows how to know it’s time, the best approach, and what to do with a kitten that was weaned too soon. 

How old should a kitten be to leave its mother?

How old does a kitten need to be to leave its mother? Kittens should not leave their mothers until they are at least eight to nine weeks old. While this is generally the age that shelters and rescue organisations approve these tiny fur balls for adoption, experts agree that longer is always better. It’s best for baby cats to stay with their mothers until they’re about 13-14 weeks old. This gives them more time to learn important skills such as how to use the bathroom, groom, hunt, and socialise. 

How to know when a kitten is ready to leave its mother

It can be tricky to know exactly when a baby kitty is ready to be more independent from its mom. Kittens develop very quickly. Their eyes will open in the first few weeks, they’ll be walking by four weeks, and by six weeks they’ll have developed baby teeth and can start eating more solid foods. 

However, age alone isn’t the only way to determine if a kitten is ready to leave its mother. These developmental milestones will give you a good idea if your little furry friends are ready! 

Is the kitten weaned?

Weaning is when a kitten graduates from drinking its mother’s milk to eating solid foods. Once you’re able to feed a baby cat solid foods and they’re gaining weight consistently, it’s a good sign they’re completely weaned. 

Can the kitten use the litter box?

Using a litter box comes naturally to many felines. Hence, a mother cat will often teach her babies how to use one. To ease learning, make sure you provide proper litter boxes that are easy for your kitten or kittens to access. Open litter trays with low sides work best. Place these in quiet out of the way corners so tiny Mr Whiskers feels safe using them!  

Does the kitten have grooming skills?

It’s possible for kittens to not develop proper grooming skills when they leave their mothers too early. If this is the case, you will need to step in and help your cat groom regularly. This is especially important for long-haired cats, but every paw parent should be familiar with the cat care basics for all types of kitties.

Is the kitten socialised?

Cats are very curious about the world around them, and this is a quality that develops in kittenhood. If a little feline can engage in playtime, shows curiosity about its surroundings, and is comfortable exploring, then it may be ready to leave its mother. 

How to know it’s too soon to take a kitten away

Here are four signs a kitten was taken away too early: 

1. The kitten is illness prone

At around eight weeks a mother cat will start to naturally wean her babies away from her milk. Newborn felines get all their nutrients from their mum’s milk, so they may have trouble growing and developing if taken away too soon. This can make them more prone to falling sick, or even stunt their growth. 

2. The kitten is aggressive

Like human babies, kittens need their mothers for both nutritional purposes and to learn how to behave. Mother felines will give their babies lessons in how to act like, well, proper cats. When a kitten leaves too soon, it may not understand how to play, play too rough, or act out aggressively when stressed. If a baby cat leaves its mother before eight weeks, it’s more prone to aggressive behaviours—not only towards humans but also other cats in your household. 

3. The kitten is shy and fearful

It’s not uncommon for little felines to become timid, shy, or fearful when taken away from their mothers too soon. This is because they haven’t had time to pick up on important social cues. Even kittens who stay with their mother for the full eight weeks need to start having interactions with humans before they reach the age of 10-12 weeks. This will help them to learn not to be fearful and how to behave around different people. Kittens who learn these skills as babies are much more likely to grow into confident, affectionate cats. But don’t worry, it’s still possible to help a shy kitten learn to relax in social situations.

4. The kitten struggles to adjust

When a kitten leaves its mother too soon, it may struggle to adjust to everyday life in a new environment. Litter tray upsets are one of the main signs of this. NEVER get angry at tiny Mr Whiskers when mishaps happen. Instead, you need to step into the role of Mama Cat and teach your little fur friend how to properly use their litter tray. This can take time and patience but is well worth it.

What should I do if a kitten was taken away too young?

What should you do if a kitten was taken from its mother too young? The first thing you should do if you come across a very young feline is to take them to the vet. A veterinary can give you an estimate of the kitty’s age and tell you whether they were ready to leave their mother. A vet can also provide you with information such as what to feed them, when to neuter your kitten, and other feline care advice. 

Here are a few tips for caring for a kitten that left its mother too early: 

  • Provide your furry friend with cosy sleeping spots. You’ll want to place these in areas where your kitten will feel safe, such as a closet or in the corner of a room. 
  • Feed your kitten high-quality kitten food or formula. If tiny Mr Whiskers is over eight weeks you can start feeding them a combination of nutrient-rich wet and dry food. Also make sure that your kitty has lots of clean water sources! 
  • Socialise your kitten by spending time playing with them. Learn the proper way to play with a young cat. (For example, never use your feet or hands as toys as this encourages your kitten to bite.) If you already have felines and you’re bringing a new kitten home, take steps to properly introduce them. This will help them become friends, and you’ll have a happier multi-cat household too. 
  • Train your kitten to use the litter box. Some young felines may struggle to learn life skills such as how to use a litter box. You can teach your kitten by placing them in the litter tray, helping them scratch the litter with their paw, and rewarding them after each session. Be patient with your furry friend and never punish them for litter box mishaps. And be sure to clean the litter box at least once a day so tiny Mr Whiskers feels more comfortable using it!  
  • Stock up on toys, trees, and scratching pads. Kittens are full of energy, so you’ll want to make sure they stay entertained. Start by providing your kitten with safe, engaging toys. Place cat scratching trees around the house. Make sure your kitten has perches from where they can look out a window and bird or people watch. And invest in several scratching pads too, your furniture will thank you
  • Commit to spending time with your kitten. Baby felines require significant attention and care, so be prepared to spend a LOT of time with your new fur friend. You shouldn’t leave your kitten home alone for more than a few hours at a time. If you need to go to work every day, consider hiring a trustworthy cat sitter to come in and provide daily at-home care for your kitten. This way your little fur friend can receive the care they need, even when you’re not there. 

Want to learn more about how to care for your feline? You’ll love the informative articles in the Cat Care section of our blog. We have tips for first-time cat owners, suggestions for keeping your kitty safe in and out of the home, and much more! 

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  • Cat Care
  • kitten care
  • kitten ready to leave mother
  • weaning a kitten
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