Getting out of the nest—when can a kitten leave their mother?
Motherhood in felines isn’t only about nursing. A queen must teach her babies many skills before they’re off to their new homes. Kittens who leave their mum too early may have a hard time adjusting to their adoptive human parents.
So, when can a kitten leave their mother? The exact age can vary depending on the kitten. Specific circumstances call for an early removal of a litter from their mother. This guide will tackle the following crucial questions:
- How long does a kitten stay with their mother?
- What is the right way to remove the kitten and prepare them for adoption?
- What are the emotional and dietary needs of a kitten after the separation?
How old should a kitten be before they leave their mother?
Whether you want to adopt a new kitten or are caring for a nursing cat, the ideal time to separate the litter from the queen depends on the developmental stage of the babies. The time a kitten spends with their mother can be roughly distributed into three growth stages:
Should the kitten be removed?
No—essential for the survival of a kitten (with minor exceptions)
Not recommended (unless it’s absolutely necessary)
Yes, depending on the kitten’s disposition
A queen’s love is primal, unconditional, and forgiving—she’s the shield from the unpredictable world.
A kitten desperately needs their mother to survive during the first three to four weeks of their life. The queen provides the following to her offspring:
- Nutrition—A lactating cat produces milk with adequate quantities of taurine, an amino acid necessary for the development of the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, digestive system, and immune function
- Warmth—Newborn kittens develop the ability to generate heat and regulate their body temperature over the first 45 days of their life. They can succumb to hypothermia if their mother doesn’t share her body warmth during the initial weeks
- Stimulation for bowel movements—The mother licks and caresses her kittens to stimulate digestion until they’re old enough to move around
No kitten should leave their mother during the nursing period unless the queen:
- Suffers from toxic milk syndrome—A queen’s milk turns toxic when her mammary glands are infected with bacteria. Kittens who feed on her could die from diarrhoea and septicaemia. They should be separated from their mother and raised with the help of:
- Kitten formula (KMR)
- Artificial heating
- Bowel-stimulating massages around the belly
- Rejects them—Queens may reject kittens who they perceive as too weak to survive. The kitten should be removed as the mum could hurt them when they try to suckle
The presence of a queen is essential to help kittens wean off milk. Most younglings begin teething during their third week. Suckling for milk starts hurting the mother, so she would push the kittens away when they reach out to feed. That’s the appropriate time for the litter to get acquainted with solid food.
A kitten should ideally be introduced to wet food made of whole meat. Starting on coarse dry food can be risky for kittens as the hard biscuits can get lodged in their throat and cause choking. With the mother around, you can make a gruel, a moist mixture of kitten milk and dry or wet food. Most queens gradually decrease breastfeeding over the next few weeks, and the kitten should be completely on cat food by week eight.
Besides helping kittens wean, queens also impart basic training, including:
- Self-grooming (baths are not safe during kittenhood, so kittens should learn basic hygiene skills by observing how their mother licks herself clean)
- Identifying what’s edible and what’s not
- Finding and using the litter tray
- Being polite and patient during meals
Keep in mind that feral kittens are removed from their mother earlier (as soon as they start eating cat food) to prevent them from picking up on her wild skills like:
- Being aggressive to humans
- Hunting anything that moves (mice, birds, bugs, etc.)
- Playing rough with other kittens
For the hundredth time, that’s NOT where we go, kiddo. We talked about this!
Source: Helena Jacoba
Stage 3—Socialisation training
It’s common for breeders to offer kittens for adoption at the end of their 8th week. By then, the kittens are full of energy and super accepting of new surroundings.
Some breeders feel it’s suitable for kittens to hang around their mother for another 3–4 weeks to learn the following skills:
- Socialising with littermates—Kittens are energetic and can get rough with their siblings or even puppies (if the breeder has them). A queen’s body releases pheromones that calm kittens down. She also disciplines them upon observing inappropriate behaviour, so schooled kittens are better at mingling with other pets in new homes
- Interacting with humans—A queen also teaches her offspring to interact suitably with humans. She may lead by action, showing how licking and cuddling are okay, but biting and scratching are not
Kittens who spent their early developmental phase with their mother are generally ready for a pampered, domesticated life.
Separation tips—when is a kitten ready to leave their mother?
Most kittens older than eight weeks are mentally prepared to leave their mother and enter a new household. Some may need more time because of:
- Sickness—Don’t separate a kitten from their mother if they show signs of sickness. Common illnesses in kittens include digestive issues, stunted growth, and respiratory infections. With adequate veterinary help, the mother should nurse her kitten back to health before they’re ready for a new home
- Insecurity—Kittens from large litters or cramped shelters may grow up fearful and distressed. They need to be trained and socialised separately before being adopted. Signs of stress in kittens include:
Once the kitten is doing better, let them spend another week with their mother to get the necessary emotional support. When they get adopted, ease the transition by letting them carry an item of attachment (like a toy or a blanket) to their new home.
Most kittens find it hard to sleep peacefully in a new bed because they’ve been used to bunking down with their mummy and littermates. The scent of an item from their old home would calm their nerves whenever they experience trouble sleeping or are overwhelmed by their new surroundings.
My doting mummy may not be near, but my super-teddy makes all the bad feelings disappear.
Source: Philippine FITAMANT
How to care for a kitten once they’re separated from their mother
Once a kitten is separated from their mother, it’s up to their new parents to make them feel at home. Kittens warm up to new environments better when you fulfil their basic needs:
- Affection and attention—Kittens don’t enjoy being alone for too long. Depending on your schedule, consider spending 15–45 minutes interacting with them every 3–4 hours, at least for the first few weeks
- Mental and physical stimulation—Kitties need mental and physical exercise every day. Here are some activities they appreciate:
- Chasing lasers, catnip mice, etc.
- Solving food puzzles
- Climbing on cat towers (you can install them in a spacious living room or your garden)
- Playing fetch or learning tricks outdoors
- Nutrition—Kittens need a high-protein diet based on lean meat and fish (more than 50% of their daily food intake) to feel full and maintain healthy eating habits. Most cat parents make the mistake of feeding only dry food to their kittens, but kibbles are usually high in carbs and have subpar nutritional value. Regular consumption can lead to odd cravings for unhealthy human food items like cheese, bacon, and sausage. Dry food can also cause addiction in kittens, making them indifferent to wet food. Over time, the lack of wet food in their diet will make them prone to obesity, diabetes mellitus, bladder stones, and UTIs
What is home? A snug place with tamed humans and Untamed food!
Image (c) Untamed
Try wet food from Untamed—it feels like home to kitties!
If you want your kitten to settle in effortlessly in their new home, welcome them with grain-free wet food from Untamed. Our gently simmered gravy and jelly meals are healthy and delicious. Your kitten will forget about the stress and lick their plates clean every time!
- Prepared with human-grade whole meat—We use lean meat and fish in our dishes, including:
- High in protein—Our meals contain up to 63% proteins, double the amount that average products offer. The proteins will help your kitten:
- Gain their ideal weight
- Develop properly
- Have healthy teeth and fur
- Allergen-free—Untamed is prepared with hypoallergenic ingredients because kittens typically have a sensitive stomach that can be distressed by common allergens in cat food (like corn, dairy, beef, and even food colourants and taste enhancers)
- Easy to digest—Our steamed meals are soft and easily processed by the feline digestive system, preventing common gastrointestinal issues like diarrhoea, vomiting, gagging, constipation, and regurgitation
The fussiest kittens adore Untamed because we don’t use meat derivatives, organ digests, bone meals, sugar binders, and vegan or milk proteins. Take our TRY NOW quiz to order the taster pack at the best rate!
Kitties should grow up in a world of love, compassion, and lean meat!
Image (c) Untamed
Untamed supports kitties at any life stage
Get your kitty started on Untamed, and you won’t have to worry about switching to a new food ever again! Our high-protein, low-carb, and low-fat dishes nourish adult cats and senior felines. When served in suitable portions, Untamed can help obese or malnourished cats stabilise their weight.
Our products have been favourably reviewed by cat parents all over the UK. Check out what they say about the benefits of going Untamed:
The Untamed effect!
Week 16 and up
My mummy will always be my hero, but my hooman is no less. Thank you for caring!
Image (c) Untamed
Be ready for your kitten—order Untamed today!
You can buy our cat food online anytime and get the goods the next day with zero shipping fees. Here’s how it works:
- Take our TRY NOW quiz
- Select the products
- Place the order
If you’re into smart shopping, we also offer a convenient monthly cat food subscription plan. Our subscribers receive a tailor-made meal box containing their kitties’ favourites around the same time each month. You are free to:
- Modify the contents of the subscription box
- Tweak or cancel a delivery
Untamed values the ethical production of cat food, so you’ll receive our products in 100% recyclable packaging. We also:
- Keep our operations carbon footprint neutral
- Use dolphin-safe and sustainably caught seafood
- Stick to cruelty-free meat