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When should kittens be weaned and when do they urinate on their own?

Our question this week was:

My foster cat had kittens 5 weeks ago, and they are still not eating kitten food – only nursing. I haven’t seen them use a litter box yet, either. I think mom is still taking care of their elimination. Of note, Mom was VERY ill with URI shortly after she came to me, and for the first few days of the kitten’s lives. I had to assist her in the birthing process as she was too sick. The kittens also got sick, but mildly and never stopped eating (as she did for 6 days). I hydrated her 2x a day. What is considered “normal” to wean onto kitten food and start eliminating on their own? They are growing, active and healthy. I suppose they could be using the big litter box and not the kitten one I have out.


Hi – thanks for your email. Your question is when do kittens generally start eating kitten food and eliminating on their own. If given the opportunity, many kittens will begin eating on their own (some kitten food) starting at 3 weeks of age. If they are nursing and don’t have access to kitten food, then they obviously won’t eat it. If they are 5 weeks old and the mother has been sick, I think you can start weaning them. To start them on some kitten food, get some KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer). Offer this in a saucer. Then pan-feed a thin gruel made by blending an approved kitten food with the milk formula (e.g. one part dry food with three parts formula or two parts canned food with 1 part formula). Gradually thicken the gruel using less liquid. By 6-weeks of age, many kittens will be eating dry food only (if this process is started early – as in around 3 weeks of age).

By 6 weeks, kittens should be offered an approved kitten food 4 times daily. Fresh clean water should always be available and replenished daily.

As far as when they can eliminate, the mother generally stimulates them by cleaning them. Kittens should be able to relieve themselves after three weeks of age.
If they are growing, gaining weight and seem healthy, things are probably good. Most kitten vaccine protocols start at 6 weeks of age. Let your vet examine them to make sure they are doing well when they get their first vaccine.

Also, make sure the mother is eating a very good quality food while nursing. It may be difficult for her to eat enough calories to provide milk for the kitten – especially if she has been sick.

An article that might be helpful to you is Caring for Orphaned Kittens. I know these kittens are not orphaned but this article has good information about weaning and caring for them.

Best of luck!

Dr. Debra

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