Kittens should be weaned at fourteen weeks. The current recommended weaning age is twelve weeks. I am told that kittens can be weaned as young as eight-weeks-of-age in the United States.
Early weaning increases aggression and stereotypic behaviour in cats. Early weaning therefore can cause cat behavioural problems. These include, shyness, stereotypic wool sucking, aggression and excessive grooming. A lot of people have heard about Pica which is another example of a cat behavioural problem possibly caused by early weaning. Sucking on their human companion is another example.
A new study from Professor Hannes Lohli’s research group conducted at the University of Helsinki reached the conclusion that the current recommended age of weaning of twelve weeks should be extended by least two weeks. They concluded that this would be a very cost-effective and easy way to improve the quality of life of domestic cats.
They concluded that the idea that the critical period of socialisation in cats ends by 8-weeks-of-age is incorrect and that “positive changes in the cat’s behaviour can occur after the currently recommended age of weaning, twelve weeks.”
Doctoral student Milla Ahola says that to raise the age of weaning to 14 weeks would be the “animal welfare act of the year”.
I think that the scientists who conducted the study believe that early weaning may cause behavioural issues beyond those which are generally accepted and therefore why not extend weaning by two weeks to protect against these possible lifelong problems.
An extensive database concerning 6,000 cats was utilised in the study. The survey/study decided that many behavioural problems are more common than might be expected. They say that more than 80% of cats in the study were reported as having mild behavioural problems. Serious behavioural problems were reported in a quarter of the cats.
Cats weaned at or under the age of 8-weeks-of-age displayed more stereotypic behaviour and aggression. When cats were weaned at adulthood they exhibited fewer such problems and cats weaned at fourteen weeks of age had fewer behavioural problems than those weaned earlier. Increased aggression correlated with stereotypic behaviour.
Weaning: I believe that in this instance weaning means to be removed from the mother’s care and become technically independent and to enter into the care of a human being who has typically bought the kitten.