Kittens that are taken away from their mothers too early can suffer from a variety of psychological and health problems because they miss out on critical emotional, mental, and developmental milestones that occur at 6-12 weeks of age. The following are some common problems afflicting kittens that are adopted before 12 weeks of age.
Poor Immunity: A kitten’s immune system develops between 8 and 12 weeks, and a kitten less than 12 weeks old has not received its full set of required vaccinations. A mother cat’s milk provides antibodies that protect the health of her kittens.
If they are prevented from nursing before their immune systems have become strong, kittens are more likely to succumb to a wide variety of illnesses, particularly respiratory conditions.
Rushed Weaning: Kittens shouldn’t be weaned suddenly. Rather, weaning should be a gradual process in which they alternate between nursing and eating cat food, slowly increasing the amount of cat food consumed and decreasing the nursing time until nursing ceases altogether.
At 6-8 weeks of age, kittens are not ready to stop nursing. Usually, a mother cat will begin denying opportunities to nurse between 8 and 12 weeks of age, and thus the kitten learns to deal with frustration in a natural way. Kittens that are taken from their mothers too soon miss out on this natural process and are more inclined to develop behavioral problems as a result of low frustration tolerance later on.
Kittens taken before 8 weeks of age may suffer from diarrhea as a result of sudden weaning and a too-rapid shift to solid food. This condition can be life-threatening, as kittens will quickly become dehydrated and lose weight rapidly. Even if they don’t develop severe diarrhea, kittens taken too early often become malnourished and fail to put on weight.
Litter Box Problems: Litter box training usually occurs between 6 and 12 weeks, and this is also a gradual process. A kitten taken too early will either not be litter trained or may have inconsistent litter box habits. This, combined with the stress of losing its family too early, can cause a kitten to develop lifelong bad habits, such as avoiding the litter box completely or using it inconsistently.
Neurotic Behavior: While many people seek younger kittens because they mistakenly believe that an older kitten won’t bond with them properly, the reality is that older kittens have no problems bonding with new humans. A younger kitten may bond with a person as well, but it is often a neurotic bond in which the kitten is terrified of being left alone and needs to have its surrogate mother in sight at all times. Kittens adopted too young are more likely to suck on fabric, people’s earlobes, or their fur, and they tend to run and hide when they see unknown people.
Poor Socialization: Kittens are socialized between 4 and 14 weeks of age, and it is during this critical period that they learn which behaviors are appropriate. Kittens taken too early are more likely to be hostile and aggressive toward people and other pets. They often get along poorly with other cats because they have never learned to interpret feline body language, having missed out on the longer socialization process that they should have had with their families. Overall, they are more insecure and less tolerant.