Weaning Kittens
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Weaning Kittens

Cats
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If your cat has recently had her first litter of kittens, and perhaps it's your first experience of helping these tiny bundles of fluff take their first steps towards growing up as well, you may be wondering what you can do to assist the transition from a diet of mother's milk to a more solid diet, a process known as weaning. Once your newly born kittens reach about three to four weeks old, they will be ready to start their gradual journey onto solid food - their mother's own bowls of food will be far too rich for them, and could cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea. You will probably need to encourage the kittens to try solid food, and one of the best ways to do this is by mixing small amounts of human baby rice or cereal (such as Farex) with enough evaporated milk to give it a consistency that can be lapped up, adding a little warm water to heat it very slightly as they have been used to warm milk from Mum. At first, your kittens may be a little confused about what they are supposed to do with this new substance put in front of them and will probably paddle in it and generally make quite a mess, but it won't take very long before they start to get the hang of it. You might be able to help the process slightly if you dip your little finger in the food, and then let them suck it off your finger - though watch out for small sharp teeth! You could also try smearing a very small amount of the food near their mouth or on their paws, and then when they start to wash it off they'll discover that you weren't trying to poison them after all! But don't force them to eat it - they'll get to it all in good time. Some of your kittens may not want to eat the baby food initially whatever you do, as they all develop at slightly different rates, the same as human babies. They will still be getting nourishment from their Mum, and it would only be cause for concern if you noticed that some of them were losing weight instead of gaining it, as weaning onto solid food usual means that they start gaining weight more quickly. Certainly by five weeks old, all of your kittens should be taking an active interest in more solid food. Once you start to wean your kittens, it's a good idea to try and feed them about four times a day if it's practical for you - breakfast, lunch, tea and bedtime. If you are out at work all day and aren't able to come home at lunchtime, maybe another member of your family can do the midday meal? But if not, the kittens will still feed from their Mum when they get hungry during the day, although this may slow the weaning process down a little.Make up enough food for the kittens to have a good feed at each mealtime, and ensure that the mother cat does not eat the kittens' food until her offspring have had enough. She may well not be interested in polishing off their leftovers anyway, and in which case, just take the bowls away. Don't leave it down in case they fancy a second helping later as it will just solidify quite quickly and not only become rather unattractive, but could also attract bacteria which might harm tiny digestive systems if they do decide to have another go. As soon as the kittens start eating solid food they will also produce substantially more faeces, and their Mum will see to it that they are litter trained as soon as possible as she will not want her bed to be soiled. You probably won't need to have much involvement here - she will gently pick them up by the scruff of their neck, and place them in the litter tray after their meal, so make sure you've got a small, low-sided tray near their living area. There may be one or two minor 'accidents' to start with, but she will soon have it sorted out!Gradually the kittens will become more interested in what their Mum is eating, rather than the special baby food, and by about six or seven weeks old they will be ready to move up another step in the weaning process. However, they will still enjoy the comfort of feeding from her from time to time, probably up until the time that they are old enough to leave home, and this is perfectly normal. There are a lot proprietary brands of cat food formulated especially for small kittens that are easily digested by tiny stomachs, although it will certainly help in the early stages if you can mash this up, and maybe add a small amount of warm water without making it sloppy. You could also try pilchards (with any trace of bones removed), or tuna, mashed up with warm water - the stronger smell will often get them interested in moving on. It's even possible to buy special dried food for kittens, although they probably won't be ready for this until they are about 12 weeks old, and it shouldn't be given as a substitute for wet food in the case of kittens, as not only could it make them constipated, it also cause them to become severely dehydrated as they won't be used to recognising their need to drink as adult cats do. .When your kittens eventually go to their new homes, make sure that you give the new owners a diet sheet that lists all the food that you know they like (and which doesn't give them a stomach upset), as a sudden change to a kitten's diet can cause digestive problems. A lot of breeders give new owners a few pouches of trusted kitten food so that the kittens have some familiar food as soon as they reach their new homes.

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