Have you recently added a kitten to your family?
Dr. Judy Morgan DVM recommends that kittens remain with their mothers until they are a minimum of eight weeks old, and preferably 10. According to Dr. Morgan, at 10 weeks, kittens' hearing and eyesight have developed, they've learned to play and groom themselves, and most importantly, their mothers will have separated from them through the natural weaning process.
Unfortunately not all kittens get quite enough time with their mothers. Here are four indicators that your new little family member might have been weaned too soon.
1. Poor health.
Kittens rely on their mother's milk for essential nutrients and antibodies. A mother cat will gradually wean her kittens when they are about eight weeks old. However, if kittens are removed from their mother before this juncture, they lack key nutrients and antibodies critical to their growth and health. Consequently, orphaned kittens or those weaned too soon are more prone to illness and more likely to experience stunted growth.
According to Hannah Shaw, the Kitten Lady, kittens weaned too soon need regular bottle-feedings with a special formula, and even with this extra care, might still not get the antibodies and nutrients they need to be healthy.
2. Aggressive behavior.
Newborn kittens learn social skills and behaviors from their mother and litter mates. Kittens that don't spend enough time with their families before they are removed don't learn things like how to play and interact appropriately.
This lack of social learning can result in aggressive behaviors, such as excessively rough play, that hinder a kitten's ability to adjust to its new environment and the other people and animals in it.
3. Fearful behavior.
Shyness and timidity are also potential indicators that a kitten was weaned prematurely. Part of what kittens learn from their mother and litter mates are social cues related to how to interact with humans and other animals.
4. Difficulty settling in to a new environment.
A mother cat not only provides her kittens with vital nutrients, but also teaches them how to be cats. Kittens learn everything from how to play, to how to groom themselves, to how to use the litter box, from their mother. Kittens removed from the litter environment too soon fail to learn many of these basic cat behaviors, which makes adjusting to a new environment that much harder.
According to Dr. Morgan, "Some kittens that are weaned early will become 'blanket nursers' or will suckle on strange objects."
If you're concerned that your new kitten might have been weaned prematurely, the best thing to do is consult your veterinarian. The doctor can examine the kitten, give you an accurate idea of its age, and educate you about how to look after it properly, particularly if it was weaned early and requires a little extra care.
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