Weaning normally occurs at 4-5 weeks of age, but keep in mind that some kittens take longer, particularly without their mom to show them the ropes. You will know that a kitten is ready to begin the weaning process when it is biting the feeding nipple and is able to lick formula from your finger.
The next step is to persuade the kitten to lap up formula from a spoon. Once they've accomplished that hurdle, try offering formula in a small, flat dish.
If the kittens appear to need encouragement to lap from a bowl, dip your fingertip in the formula and let him lick it off your fingers as you move them down to the bowl. DO NOT push their nose into the dish as they can aspirate the fluid and develop pneumonia! Once the kittens become accustomed to lapping liquids you can add weaning formula or baby cereal by combining them with the formula. While the kittens are grasping the art of eating from a bowl you will still need to bottle-feed them and monitor the amount of formula and food they are consuming. Always offer food from the bowl first, and then offer the bottle. When you see they are eating well from the bowl begin to decrease the amount of formula they are receiving from the bottle.
At that point, you can mix the kitten formula with baby food into a gruel and try to get the kittens to lap it up from a dish or a spoon. We recommend Chicken Baby Food but any meat flavor will do, just be absolutely sure there are no onions in the list of ingredients. You can also try using Dr. Hill's A/D brand which is sold at any veterinarians. Eventually, you can mix canned kitten food (we recommend Wellness, Avo Derm, Nutro Max Kitten or any other premium brand of kitten food) with formula, gradually reducing the amount of formula until the kittens are eating just the food. Try to buy high quality food for the kittens (from the vet or pet food stores). Much of what is sold in supermarkets is junk food and will not help your kitten thrive. It is not uncommon for weight gain to slow and minor, temporary diarrhea to occur during weaning.
Some kittens grasp the concept right away; others take days. Keep bottle feeding while weaning to make sure they get enough to eat. Reduce bottle feeding as their solid-food consumption grows. If you give dry food, moisten it, because kittens can’t chew dry food well until they are about 8 weeks old.
Never make the mistake of rushing the weaning process. It may seem slow and often messy, but it is an essential part of learning for the kittens and they are doing the best they can without their mother to help them. Never give up and NEVER get upset!
Remember, these changes in diet can quickly cause diarrhea, so keep an eye on your kitten's stools. Diarrhea can be life-threatening to a young kitten if left untreated; however a dose of antibiotics prescribed by your vet will get them back on track again.
Anne Pottinger is the owner, director and publisher of 4PetsOnline.com a pet and domestic animal website with a difference. This user-friendly website contains hundreds of pages of information covering pet selection and care advice, as well as many humorous and often poignant articles.
She is always available to answer pet and domestic animal related questions.