Kittens, like all babies, grow quickly during their first few weeks. And, all stages of their development involve a process, including when kittens stop nursing.
Although kittens may appear not to be doing much when they are first born, their bodies are hard at work, rapidly processing food. Kittens don't have teeth at this point, so they must rely on nursing or, if their mother is not around, a bottle of kitten formula for their nourishment.
Food is a critical component of a kitten's development. In fact, a kitten will typically double in weight throughout the first week of its life and will continue to grow quickly, gaining about 10 grams every day, according to About.com.
Weaning is the process of transitioning a kitten from mother's milk (or, in the case of orphaned kittens, formula) to solid food. Kittens can begin the weaning process when they are around 4 weeks old, according to Dr. Shelby Neely, a veterinarian specializing in cats.
To begin the transition to solid food, Dr. Neely suggests teaching the kittens to drink a milk replacement (never cow's milk as it will upset their sensitive digestive systems!) in a shallow dish. As the kittens get better at drinking from the dish, begin to add a small amount of canned kitten food and mix until it's a smooth consistency.
It's important to use canned food specifically designed for kittens, as it contains a high amount of protein, which is critical to growth.
If a kitten is nursing, the baby can continue getting its mother's milk. If a kitten is bottle fed, the caretaker will want to supplement the smooth mixture with formula.
However, says the <a href="//www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/weaning"">ASPCA be sure to always offer the smooth mixture before the formula or nursing mother's milk so the kitten can learn to prefer the kitten food.
As the weeks go on, you can add pieces of dry kitten food and moisten it with water, according to Pet MD. This gradual weaning process should take a few weeks and, according to the <a href="//www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/weaning"">ASPCA, by weeks 8-10 the weaning process should be complete.
By the time kittens are weaned, they are growing strong enough to play and explore their world – on their way to becoming grown up cats!
By Caroline Golon