Vet Greg is here to talk you through the next critical phase in your kitten’s life. In part 2 of the series (you can read part 1 here), we will guide you through the process of taking care of kittens aged 4 weeks and upwards.
Kittens of this age, are becoming much more adventurous as they learn to use their legs! However, it is important to remember that they still require lots of tender-loving care to ensure they grow into healthy, well-rounded adults.
How to take care of kittens without a mother
Wherever possible, it is best for kittens to be brought up by their mothers (also known as queens). This ensures they receive the correct nutrition, socialization, and care they require. When you take on a stray or abandoned kitten, you often don’t know its’ background. So, it is essential that you seek the advice of a professional veterinarian before you dive into 24-hour kitten care!
The advice given below can be applied to all kittens (with or without a mother). However, these guidelines are particularly beneficial when raising orphaned kittens. You can check out this article for advice on when you should hand-raise kittens.
They still need a clean, warm environment to live in
Kittens at 4-8 weeks old are starting to explore their environment. However, you still need to provide them with a warm bed or nest. Young kittens remain sensitive to the cold until they are at least 8-weeks of age. So, you should continue to keep the surrounding temperature between 20-22°C until then. In addition, you will now also need to provide your kitten with a safe space to explore and play. A child’s playpen is ideal! Make sure there are no objects that your kitten can hurt itself on and ensure that no other animals can get into the pen.
Kitten weaning: what should they eat?
Kitten weaning starts around 4 weeks of age. They should be slowly transitioned from an all-milk diet to a completely solid diet over a period of several weeks. You can start by putting their milk into a shallow bowl and encouraging them to drink from it. A good tip is to place a little of the milk on their lips to stimulate interest.
Over time, you can add a small amount of wet kitten food to the milk. Then gradually adjust the ratio of wet food to milk until your kitten is just eating solids. At this point, you can start introducing kibble too. However, you may need to soak it to begin with. Remember that kittens of this age still need feeding regularly – small amounts 6-8 times a day are ideal.
What food has the right nutrients?
Nutritional imbalances in your kittens’ diet can lead to detrimental developmental issues. This is a common problem amongst kitten caregivers as their needs are complex. A young kitten requires adequate protein and calcium to aid bone development, but too much can also cause health issues.
You should feed your kitten a commercially available wet food that is specifically designed for kittens. Reputable cat food producers are legally required to provide complete, balanced diets. Home-made diets are not recommended as they run the risk of causing imbalances that may be difficult, or even impossible, to correct later in life.
You can also purchase specific weaning diets that can be extremely helpful when feeding kittens at 4-weeks old. Royal Canin has developed ‘Babycat Mousse’ which is a great option for weaning kittens. Once kittens reach 8-12 weeks, they can be transitioned onto normal kitten food.
Keeping your kitten lean
It is important to keep your kitten lean It is important to keep your kitten lean in the first few months of life, to reduce the risk of future health problems. High body fat has been linked to a number of diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Be aware that desexing (also known as neutering & spaying) reduces the number of calories your kitten needs to grow.
Kittens are very susceptible to infections which can lead to tummy upsets and diarrhea. For this reason, you must ensure that all equipment is regularly cleaned and disinfected.
Changing toileting needs
From 4 weeks old, kittens should be ready to use a litter tray. Start by placing them into the tray and gently stimulating their bottoms with a damp tissue or piece of cotton wool. This will encourage them to associate the litter tray with toileting. Leaving a small amount of soiled litter in the tray will also remind them what to do. Ensure the litter trays are always readily available, hygienic, and not too high-sided!
Between 4 and 12 weeks old, kittens enter a period of socialization. Anything they learn or are exposed to in this period will stay with them for life. So, it is a great time for them to explore the world. Exposure to an array of environmental stimuli during this critical period will help your kitten grow into a well-rounded adult. It will also reduce the risk of behavioral problems developing later in life.
Kittens should be exposed to a variety of sights, sounds, smells, people, and animals in a safe environment. This will teach your kitten to be more accepting of new experiences as an adult. For example, this is a great time to (carefully) introduce a puppy so that both animals can learn to accept and tolerate each other.
From a veterinary point of view, it’s a good idea to get kittens used to being touched all over. So they don’t become too stressed when handled. You should also play a variety of sounds to your kittens, such as fireworks and vacuum cleaners, to get them used to sudden noises. Make sure you play the sounds quietly at first so you don’t scare them!
Socialization is especially important if you are raising single and/or orphaned kittens, as they lack the vital experiences provided by the mother and littermates.
Common health issues in kittens at 4 weeks old
From 4 weeks old, kittens should become increasingly energetic and confident in their activities! Kittens with health issues can deteriorate very quickly so you should consult with a vet as soon as possible if you are concerned.
Some things to keep in mind as your kittens grow:
- Weigh your kittens regularly: This is a great way to monitor their health. Happy kittens will gradually and consistently gain weight as they develop.
- Regular worming: All kittens require regular worming from 3 weeks old, which is typically done every 2-4 weeks.
- Vaccinate your kittens: It is recommended for kittens to receive their first course of vaccinations at around 6-8 weeks of age, to protect them from nasty viral diseases.
If you are unsure of the procedure, your local veterinary clinic can offer more tailored advice.
The 4-8 week stage of rearing kittens is a big commitment for a carer but it can also be incredibly rewarding. During this period, kittens will become increasingly confident and playful as they start to explore the world. So, you can really begin to see your efforts paying off!
That said, you should seek veterinary advice as soon as possible if you have any concerns and stick to reputable sources of information. Good luck!