Do you know at what age can a kitten leave it’s mother? When a breeder shows you a five week old kitten and says he’s old enough to be rehomed right after you make the payment, would you believe him?
We already talked about places to look for a good kitten, and how to tell whether the breeder is a good one. In this article, we will explain you at what age can a kitten leave its mother and littermates, and how old he has to be to be re-homed. But we will not just tell you what this age is, but will prove it to you using explanations based in the development of kittens.
Normally kittens can leave its mother at age of 12 weeks, and it should never be before 8 weeks. Wondering why?
There are three very important aspects in the early life of the kittens:
- End of nursing must be gradual. Normally it should end between age of 8 to 10, or sometimes up to 12 weeks of age or even more.
- Socialization period is between age 2 and 8 weeks.
- Kittens are playing with their littermates actively up to age of 12 or 14 weeks, when object play gradually replaces it.
Those are three key cornerstones that tell us what is the age the kitten can leave it’s mother and littermates. There is also a vaccination point of view, however, the age of vaccination differs from country to country, and, in most cases, first vaccinations are given earlier than 8 weeks of age.
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of those three aspects we outlined above.
Nursing must not be ended abruptly, but has to be faded out gradually
We listed the end of nursing as the first. However, it really is hard to tell which of those is more important, because they are all necessary for kittens, but nursing is not only about the food, it’s about communication, learning how to communicate and safety.
Let’s take a look at how normally (in the wild) cats would stop nursing their kittens. Similarly, like it’s in most household catteries, kittens are introduced with a solid food at the age of 4 or 5 weeks. A mother would bring home dead prey and it in the presence of kittens, so they can observe it, and later, taste it.
Next, the queen starts bringing wounded, and later live, healthy prey, that kittens can try hunting skills on.
Simultaneously, as the amount of food presented to kittens increase gradually, there is also a decrease in mother’s milk intake. In most cases nursing ends at age 8 to 10 weeks, but, sometimes may last for several months. But at 12 weeks, milk contains no significant amount of nutrients.
The most important part, transition from milk to solid food is gradual and usually lasts between age of 4 weeks and age of 8 to 10 weeks. Not all breeders are aware of this and tend to, either switch to solid food too rapidly, or allows the milk intake as long as possible. Both situations end up being an abrupt end of nursing, which causes stress and anxiety in kittens.
So, from nursing point of view, a safe point for a kitten leaving his mother would be at around age of 10 weeks, or when he’s completely dropped weaning. If the kitten is still nursing at the age of 12 weeks, something is wrong with the breeder’s strategy.
It’s best if a kitten can stay with its mother during the socialization period
Next important part of the development of a kitten is his early life experience.
You’ve probably heard it is necessary to start any training as early as possible, because younger individuals learn a lot faster. But did you know there’s an also a period of extremely intensive learning, also called a socialization period? For kittens, it’s between the age of 2 and 8 weeks.
During this period, kittens literally “imprint” information provided to them. Whether it’s attitude towards humans, security, learning the litter box use, self grooming, communication to other cats, pets and humans, and many more. It all is learned during this period of age, besides that, most of it is learned by observing the queen.
Even, if the kitten is rehomed to a house where there is a cat from whom to learn those skills, studies have proved – kittens learn a lot faster when observing their mother specifically, compared to when they observe other cats.
Also, any stress that the kitten is exposed to during the socialization period (rehoming, for instance, is an extremely huge stress), may leave its marks throughout the whole life of the cat.
This results that it’s recommended not rehoming kitten younger that 8 weeks of age.
Playing with littermates is a learning tool for kittens
And last, but not the least, kittens benefit a lot from being near their litter mates. How? By playing with each other.
“So what?” some may ask, “I can too play with my kitten.”
It’s not as easy. Playing between kittens undergoes several stages and complexity of it develops as they grow up. It’s really hard to substitute it.
What do kittens learn from playing with other kittens? The play helps to develop hunting behavior, and motor coordination. It significant tool in environment exploration, encourages maturation of central nervous system, helps bonding and forming social structures with other cats, teaches the kittens what the pain is, and when their own actions cause pain to others.
Those are all important in the later life of the kittens. Besides that, they are not occurring simultaneously, but some are developing sooner, some later.
For example, if you’ve had a luck observing two older kittens playing, you should notice, it’s not easy to tell whether they are playing or fighting. This is when they truly learn how their action may cause pain to others and how to limit them. Normally, this kind of play occurs between the age of 10 to 12 weeks, and, if it is skipped, the future owners of the adult cat may not be very pleased.
And what can we extract from all the above?
Kittens have socialization period up to and age of 8 weeks, which, actually makes this age the earliest possible when the kitten can leave it’s mother.
Next, we have a mother queen nursing the kittens, which should not be ended abruptly, and could be done safely at around 8 or 10 weeks of age. Stating that the weaning process is carried out properly.
And, the last comes in kittens playing with their littermates, which is not just a play, but an important learning and developmental tool. Normally, playing between kittens cease at age of 12 weeks, when it’s replaced by playing with toys, and this comes to a thing that a kitten is best leaving its mother and litter mates at the age of 12 weeks at earliest?
But, have you considered getting an adult cat instead of kitten? It’s not do or don’t, because both, adult cats and kittens, have their own advantages and disadvantages, as you can read in our next article of the series about getting your first cat.