When kittens are 3 weeks old, they require milk from their mother or from a foster mother cat. If no nursing female cat is around, commercial kitten milk replacer makes an appropriate substitute. Kittens at that age are usually just about a week away from beginning the weaning process. It's OK to start weaning orphaned kittens at 3 weeks, however.
Commercial Milk Replacer Feeding
If a healthy female cat is nursing kittens, she can accommodate all of their nutritional requirements at 3 weeks old. If the kittens are orphaned, however, feeding them with a commercial milk replacer is necessary. These are available at pet supply stores. Not only do you need commercial kitten milk replacer to bottle feed kittens, but you also need designated nursers that are made specifically for the purpose of hand-feeding them. These nursers are bottles that are equipped with "nipples." They, too, can be purchased at pet supply stores.
Never feed kittens when they're on their backs as that could lead to aspiration. When you feed a kitten, put him on his belly and raise his chin. Take the nurser and massage its nipple over his gums and lips until he tastes the milk replacer. Point the bottle upward to ensure that he doesn't draw in any air. Confirm that the kitten is suckling by assessing how much formula remains inside of the nurser. Kittens generally cease suckling once they've had sufficient formula. Kittens at 3 weeks old need bottle feeding sessions in intervals of four to five hours, and overnight is no exception.
Mother cats typically start weaning their kittens at roughly 4 weeks in age. The process typically is over by the time they're between 8 and 10 weeks in age. Kittens usually are prepared for weaning once they begin chewing or biting on their bottles.
Getting Kittens Acquainted With Solid Foods
Introduce kittens to solid food by blending kitten milk replacer and canned or dry kitten food together. This will ensure that the taste is familiar to them. Using your finger, rub the blend by the kitten's mouth and allow them to lick it. After they're acquainted with this taste, they'll look for it themselves. You then can encourage the kittens to lap this gruel out of shallow bowls. Supervise them to ensure that they don't do so too quickly. Minimize how often you bottle feed the kittens as they begin consuming food more frequently from their bowls. Kittens generally should be fully weaned from kitten milk replacers once they reach 7 weeks in age.
As kittens get used to eating gruel, slowly lessen how much milk replacer you put in the blend. At the same time, gradually up how much kitten food you use. Once kittens are between 5 and 6 weeks in age, they should exclusively be eating slightly wet food. At this point, you can give them dry foods in tiny portions. Once they're between 8 and 10 weeks in age, they should be used to consuming dry kitten food. If you have any questions about nutrition and good kitten foods to feed your kittens, consult a veterinarian before you make any decisions.
Don't use goat's milk or cow's milk to feed kittens. If milk from a lactating cat isn't available, commercial kitten milk replacer is the way to go. Goat's milk and cow's milk don't have the required levels of protein, fat and calories that young kittens need to grow and thrive. These types of milk can also upset their stomachs and bring on diarrhea. This is because of their significant lactose levels.
- American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Weaning
- American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Newborn Kitten Care
- Alley Cat Allies: How to Care For Neonatal Kittens
- PetMD: Weaning Kittens - How and When
- Humane Society of Broward: Found Kittens, Now What...?
- Feline - Medicine and Disease Management; Jane Fishman Leon
- NYC Feral Cat Initiative: Bottle-Feeding & Care of Orphaned Kittens