Early weaning generally comes into play if you have been hand-raising kittens. Lets face it after four weeks of bottle feeding you are tired. Your Queen may have become ill or no longer wants to be the motherly type to her kittens. At 3-4weeks of age the kittens begin to chew on the nipples rather than suck, ruining many good nipples. Whatever the reason for necessity of early weaning, the tips below should give you hand in starting them off right.
If your kittens are not already chewing on kibble, the first step in weaning is to teach the kittens how to lap from a saucer or plate. This takes time, patience and is VERY messy at first.
I like to warm the saucer to help keep the formula warm while the kittens learn. I place the saucer with warmed formula (remember no microwaving formula) on a towel and then take a kitten and dip its mouth in the formula. You can also dip clean fingers in the formula and let kitten lick it off your fingers slowly lowering your fingers until kittens is lapping formula from saucer.
When dipping mouths into the formula, the first reaction is to snort and sneeze. They also may become frenzied as they smell and taste the milk but no nipple is forthcoming. They might suck on the edge of the saucer or run through the formula looking for the nipple. Repeat dipping the mouth in the formula until they get the hang of it, remember it may take several tries and days before it is learned. Try teaching them solo as opposed to with the whole litter, it becomes quite confusing and even more messy and frenzied. If time is an issue its okay to teach them all at once. Once they have it down it is wise to allow the kittens to feed together for socialization skills at feeding time.
For the first few sessions or until they get the hang of lapping from a saucer it will be necessary to follow up with a bottle-feeding. Though cautious tapering off of bottles induces more desire to consume from saucer. Consider the formula in the saucer a loss at first. It will go everywhere but inside the kittens. ?
Sneezing and snorting are normal during this process. They inevitably get their noses into the milk as well as mouths; it will improve as they learn to judge distance and lap. I have never had a baby aspirate during this learning procedure.
Have warm, moist (rung out) washcloths ready to wash them off when they are done “eating”, then towel them dry. Try to avoid any chill or draft during this time. When you are done washing them be sure they placed in a heated, draft free area.
Once they get the hang of lapping from the saucer you can stop or reduce the bottle feedings. Now you will have to be sure each kitten is getting adequate amounts of formula. If you are feeding more than 1-3 kittens it will be difficult to ascertain whom got how much, however a belly check should suffice. You will find that some get the hang faster than others and those kittens are at an advantage and might consume more and quicker than the others. It might be necessary to remove piglets and add more formula to the saucer until all are full (not overfull) and content. Generally speaking at this age, they pretty much stop when they are full and tend not to overeat once they are accustomed to lapping. Overeating can cause loose stools. If loose stools present, try reducing the number or amount of feedings in a day and see if it clears up, if it does not consult your Vet.
Depending upon the age of the kittens, once they have established good saucer lapping 3 to 4 times a day is generally all they require. You might want to be up a little late and offer a bed time saucer and up early for morning saucer. Your kittens usually will let you know they are hungry or not getting enough. But don’t rely on them, set forth a schedule and continue weighing them to ensure proper intake.
I like to add a bowl of dry kitten kibble to the nursery at the time of saucer training and a very shallow water dish. It is also a good idea to add a litter box, if you haven’t already. Be sure to check the kibble bowl frequently, as some kittens will use it as a litter box at first. If you find feces or wet spots in bedding or random about, pick them up or soak them up and place or bury in the litter box. If the bedding and floor are clean, the odor from the litter box and their waste should attract them to potty in the litter box rather than elsewhere.
Once the kittens have got a real good handle on lapping from the saucer, now its time to thicken it up. I like to use Gerbers ™ Rice Cereal. I start out with a thin slurry and gradually make it a light paste as they get used to it. During this time I also like to add a spoonful or two of Gerbers ™ baby meats (in the 2oz. Jars). In the uncountable years I have been using Gerbers meats, I have never ever once saw “onion powder” on the list of ingredients. It doesn’t hurt to check the labels though just in case. I prefer to use the chicken, lamb, veal, or turkey. I have not had any problems with the beef, but the ham is just to rich for them.
I also like to add vitamins to the slurry, Missing Link ™ or NuVet + ™ are great. At this time it is nice to add beneficial bacteria as well. Acidophilus or Probiotics ™ are good choices. These can be obtained from revialanimal.com or through health food stores.
Now your kittens should be eating this thick slurry very good with little waste but still messy!! After a few days of consistent eating patterns, I take a spare coffee grinder and fine grind some of the kibble and start mixing it into the slurry. (if they are not already eating kibble on own.)
Slowly decrease the rice cereal and increase the powdered kibble. As they readily take to this I decrease the grind on the kibble, slowly making it chunky. As they acclimate to the grind I reduce the formula, until the kittens are eating just kibble with Gerbers meats mixed in. At long last you can reduce the Gerbers meat and they are eating kibble all by themselves. I still use the beneficial bacteria and vitamins though.
I do like to see kittens get formula for at least 6 weeks if not 8 weeks. Even though they are eating kibble or solids, its nice to wean them gently off the bottles giving you an easier time and them more time on mothers milk substitute. I do not like to use canned food, as I just have not had much luck with it, especially the ground kind or what I like to call Kitty Spam. More often than not when using canned foods has loose stools or diarrhea ensued.
Once you have begun to add solids to the formula it is VERY important to keep fresh water available at all times. The kitten’s moisture intake is solely from the formula. Once solids are added and/or formula is reduced, the moisture requirements rise. Be sure the kittens are drinking water frequently. The water should be boiled or distilled drinking water.
There are many ways to vary this weaning process, you can use well cooked brown rice or barley, cooked ground chicken, game birds, venison, elk, turkey, lamb or goat and drippings from browning to make homemade stock (no salt please!), or buy canned chicken stock (no msg or salt).
If you use the above ingredients, it is wise to puree them at first and then reduce the puree as the kittens become accustomed to eating from the dish.
You can also precook or mix the weaning formula and freeze for longer store time and pull out and defrost what you need in a 12 hour period, heating portions as needed.
Any uneaten portions should be disposed of and not returned to main supply. It only takes a few moments to heat up some more, if the kittens need it and you have less waste and chance of spoilage or food poisoning. The same care should be given to handling the kitten’s food preparation as with your human family. Wash all utensils and cutting boards or preparation surfaces well! Kittens are not immune to salmonella and E. coli or other harmful food born bacteria and fungi.
This Protocol has worked well for me. Generally I have not had to go through this weaning process very often, only in stubborn cases. Most of my little ones start nibbling on the kibble at about 4 weeks.
As always consult your veterinarian before trying this with your kittens. It may or may not be the correct way for your kittens or situation.
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