Do you know at what age a kitten can leave its mother? When a breeder shows you a five-week-old kitten and says you can take him home right after you make the payment, would you believe? Well, this isn’t really a good breeder.
In standard conditions, a kitten can leave its mother at 12 weeks of age; it should never leave its mother before it is 8 weeks old. Wondering why?
There are three crucial aspects during the early life of kittens:
- The end of nursing must be gradual. Typically, nursing should end between 8 to 10 weeks of age. Sometimes, nursing takes longer and will not end until after 12 weeks.
- The socialization period is between 2 to 8 weeks. This is the time when kittens learn the most and mother and littermates must be an important part of it.
- Kittens play with their littermates actively until 12 to 14 weeks, when object play gradually replaces it.
Next, apply some basic mathematic with overlapping ranges. As you can see, when you consider all these aspects, 12 weeks is the best age to rehome a kitten. Now, let’s take a closer look at each.
Nursing must decrease gradually
Note that nursing is not only about the intake of food; it’s also about safety, communication, and learning.
Typically a farm of wild cat kittens get mother’s milk exclusively up to four or five weeks of age. At this time, the mother starts to bring prey home, lets kittens play with it and taste.
Thus, gradually they will receive more and more solid food and less and less mother’s milk simultaneously. In most cases, nursing ends when the kitten is 8 to 10 weeks old, but, sometimes, it may last for several months. At 12 weeks, the mother’s milk contains no significant amount of nutrients to the kitten.
The transition from milk to solid food is gradual. Not all breeders are aware of this and tend to either switch to solid food too rapidly or allow the milk intake to last too long.
Thus, from this point of view, 10 weeks of age, is the earliest safe age for a kitten to leave its mother. That is, at the time when the kitten has stopped nursing. If the kitten is still nursing at 12 weeks, something is wrong with the breeder’s strategy.
A kitten must learn a lot from its mother during the socialization period
The next important step of kitten development is an early life experience.
You’ve probably heard it is necessary to start any training as early as possible because younger individuals learn quickly. But, did you know, there’s also a period of extremely intensive learning, also called a socialization period? For kittens, it’s between 2 to 8 weeks of age.
During this period, kittens imprint the information they receive. Kittens learn about security, attitude toward humans, or how to use the litter box or communicate with cats, other pets and humans. Kittens learn most of this by observing their mother.
Any stress that the kittens are exposed to during the socialization period, may leave its marks throughout the whole life of the cat. On that note, changing homes is extremely stressful for a kitten. As such, we recommended that kittens younger than 8 weeks should not be rehomed.
Playing is a social learning tool
And last, but not least, kittens benefit a lot from being near their littermates. How? Play!
“So what?” some may ask. “I can play with my kitten, too.”
It’s not as easy. Play between kittens undergoes several complex stages and it is tough to substitute it.
What do kittens learn from playing with other kittens? Play helps to develop hunting skills and coordination. It is a valuable tool that promotes environment exploration, maturation of the nervous system, helps bond with other cats, and teaches that biting causes pain. The latter is important for cat owners since it teaches kitten not to bite.
We recommend littermates should not be separated until they are 12 weeks old. Of course, there is still a lot to learn after that age, as well. This is why we say, if you can, get two kittens from the same litter if it is possible and reasonable to you.
And so, above is why it is important to wait. We know, it is tempting to bring a kitten home at an early age. They are cute, after all. However, if you do wait (and good cat breeders will encourage you to wait) you will be pleased since your cat will grow up more confident and better behaved.