Photo credit: Strike a Pose Photography
Written by Lynette Nicholson, founder of Nicholson Rescue
Weaning kittens off a bottle can be an easy or a difficult task, depending on the individual kitten. Some kittens are very happy to start eating on their own off a plate with little prompting or encouragement, and others will turn their noses up and demand the bottle.
Here are some tried-and-tested tips for getting kittens off the bottle:
- At about three weeks of age, when the kitten starts getting teeth, put a small amount of kitten mousse in the bottle. Fill the bottle to the 20ml mark with clean water, add about a quarter of a teaspoon of kitten mousse into the water, and stir it in very well so that there are no lumps. Then add the scoop of kitten milk formula as directed and shake up well.
This helps the kittens to start getting the taste of the mousse, and not just the milk. You may need to make the hole in the teat slightly larger to ensure that the thicker liquid can come out easily when the kitten sucks.
- Over the next two weeks, you can start to slowly increase the amount of mousse that you add to the bottle, but the consistency should always be liquid enough for the kittens to easily drink.
- Kittens start getting teeth at around two to three weeks old and, just like human babies, their gums are itchy and sore while teething. You may find that a kitten starts biting the bottle teat when you’re trying to feed. Don’t be alarmed. There are two possible explanations for this.
Firstly, the kitten may just need a few bites to alleviate the discomfort on its gums. Or secondly, it may be a sign that the kitten is getting frustrated as not enough milk is coming out. Try increasing the size of the hole in the teat and see if the kitten drinks better.
- At four to five weeks of age, you can start putting a kitten milk-and-mousse mixture down on a “plate” for the kitten. If you don’t have kitten mousse, you can also soak kitten pellets in warm water (never in boiling water, as this can sometimes destroy some of the goodness in the pellets) until they’re soft enough for you to mash them up into a paste.
Use a very flat plate or Tupperware lid as a dish. Small kittens cannot and do not know how to put their mouths into a dish with a rim yet. I use the lid of a 2l ice-cream container. It’s big and flat and works very well.
- You’ll need to show the kittens where the food on the plate is. You can put a bit of food on your finger and let them smell it and then guide them to the plate of food. You can also put a little bit of the food in their mouths. Some kittens will start eating straight away, and some will walk through the food and still want the bottle.
This is the transition phase. You may need to feed on a plate and also feed with a bottle until you’re certain that the kittens are getting enough food by eating on their own. Some kittens start eating the hard little pellets straight away and prefer that to the mousse and milk mixture.
- You may need to “be cruel to be kind”. If you’ve been bottle-feeding kittens, they’ll see you as their mom and source of food, so you need to break that association. To try and do this, you need to place the plate of food down for them and walk out of the room or area. This can be tough, but it needs to be done. Stay out for about 20 minutes and then go back in and assess whether the food has been eaten or not.
We definitely don’t want kittens to go hungry, so if there’s no progress, then feed with the bottle. Eventually (and it may take a week or two), they’ll eat on their own.
- The kittens’ intake of milk should be reduced over time. By about six weeks, they no longer need the kitten milk.
Weaning kittens off the bottle can be a stressful time, as you want to make sure that they’re getting enough to eat. To put your mind at ease, you can weigh the kittens every day or every second day to ensure that they’re not losing weight.
Have a lot of patience over this period and don’t be too strict on the kittens. Each kitten is an individual and will make progress in their own time.
About Nicholson’s Rescue
Since 2013, Nicholson Rescue has been helping cats in need in the Johannesburg area. The privately funded organisation takes in kittens and cats and places them in foster care while looking for loving homes for them. They also advocate for sterilisation in order to reduce the number of cats in need. Follow Lynette Nicholson on Facebook for more information about the many gorgeous felines available for adoption and the Lynette Nicholson’s Kitty Rescue Support Shop, which raises funds for their work.