A tiny little kitten that is only a few weeks old is very cute and it is very tempting to take it straight home with you. In Spain I often encounter the view that the younger the kitten is when it is adopted, the better it will bond with its human parents. I am not sure that this is true, but as a result, kittens are often requested for adoption at 4-6 weeks of age. There are, however, some big advantages to waiting until the kitten is a little older before adopting it.
The more time that a kitten stays with its mother, the better. Kittens will usually start eating wet and/or dry food from about 4 weeks, but they will also still be taking milk from their mother until they are about eight weeks old, at which time they should be properly weaned. This is good for them nutritionally and helps them to grow up as robust and healthy kittens. Of course many of the kittens that come to APROP don’t have a mother, so our brilliant foster team have to stand in for mum with substitute milk. Even in these instances, most kittens are not being weaned off substitute milk until they are at least five weeks old, and sometimes older.
Young kittens can become sick very quickly and often will die without specialist care and treatment, even after they have been weaned onto solid food. That is not what you want when you take your new best friend home with you, so it is better to let them grow up a bit before they start their new adventure with you and give them the best chance of a long and healthy life.
The other major benefit for letting kittens have more time with their mother or siblings is behavioural. Kittens need to learn how to “cat” – how to communicate, interact and play properly. When a kitten plays too rough or perhaps bites its mother or sibling, they will probably either walk away or cry. In this way the kitten learns and understands appropriate behaviour.
Kittens that grow up from a young age without either their mother or other kittens to learn from can be aggressive. They don’t always understand how to play gently or interact properly with cats or humans.
By waiting to adopt a kitten until it is about eight weeks old you are more likely to have a healthy and behaviourally well adjusted kitten that will grow up to be a much loved member of your family.