The most important factor regarding separating kittens from their mother is not to remove the kittens too soon. Young kittens are susceptible to illness, and they get some immunity against upper-respiratory problems and diarrhea from their mother. During the time with their mother, kittens also learn many valuable social skills. Don't remove them before 12 weeks of age if possible.
Wait until a kitten is 12 weeks old before you give it up for adoption. Any younger, the kitten might not be ready to be on its own. Kittens go through certain developmental milestones between 6 and 12 weeks of age. If they are separated from the mother before they are 12 weeks old, they could develop health problems, anxiety and stress, according to the Fanciers Breeder Referral List website.
Kittens start to wean around the time they are 4 weeks old. The weaning process is typically over when the kitten is between 8 and 10 weeks old. During the weaning process, kittens should be with their mothers most of the time, but you can gradually start preparing kittens for separation during the weaning period.
Put some kitten milk replacer in a shallow bowl. Dip your finger into the bowl and let each kitten, one at time, lick the milk replacer off your finger. Keep putting your finger closer to the bowl until the kittens realize the milk replacer is there.
Once the kittens are drinking the milk replacer, you can start adding gruel in the food bowl. Gruel is dry or canned kitten food mixed with kitten milk replacer to an oatmeal-like consistency. You gradually use less milk replacer until the kitten can eat food with no milk replacer.
At 4 weeks, you can help kittens become more independent to ready them for eventual adoption. Do this by separating the kittens from their mother every day, for just a short time at first, one or two at a time, and eventually all of them for up to a few hours per day. Make a special area for the kittens that includes a food bowl, a water bowl, a litter box and toys.
You and the mother cat both play important roles in socializing kittens to ready them for adoption. Kittens learn many important skills on how to be a good cat from their mother. They learn how to eat, play with their littermates, eliminate and groom themselves.
You should handle kittens regularly after they reach 2 weeks. Be sure to gently handle each one. From age 2 weeks to age 7 weeks is the prime socialization period for kittens. If your kittens have pleasant experiences with you during this time, they'll likely be friendly cats who enjoy being around people.