When can kittens leave their mother?

Posted by | Mar 5, 2016 |

Even though separating a kitten from her trusted mother can be one of the most heart-wrenching experiences ever, sometimes it is necessary, as you may be giving the kitten for adoption. But do you know at what age should this happen?

When can kittens leave their mother?

Author Amira

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I’m Amira, founder and editor at Cattention.

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Kittens can leave their mother by the eighth week and by this time they would have developed socially, physically and emotionally. But at this age, they still have valuable skills to learn and they also have to receive their first vaccinations. So the best time for them to be separated from their mother is at 12 weeks.

To really understand when kittens can be separated from their mother and their littermates, we should be aware of the timeline of the kittens’ development. There are also some important social benefits on why you should not give them away so early and keep the kittens with their mother for a longer period.

Let’s discuss the kittens’ development first.

Kittens taking nap together

Kittens’ development

Even though the newborn kitten is deaf, her eyes are shut, and she has no teeth, her sense of smell is already highly developed very soon after her birth. During this period, the mother cat stays with its litter almost all the time to keep the kitten’s body temperature warm enough and to keep them safe.

The little kitty relies completely on her mother for the first two weeks, and after this time her eyes and ears will finally open, and her sight and hearing will start developing. Her baby teeth also start coming out by the second or third week. Upon reaching her fourth week, she will learn how to walk, how to play with other kittens and how to cover her waste.

Between the age of four and eight weeks, the lovely kitten’s vision becomes clear, all her baby teeth appear and this is the time when she will start eating a small amount of soft food in addition to the mother’s milk. This is a very important socializing time also, as the kitten’s play with her littermates become harder, and she starts to act like an adult cat including exploring the world and showing aggression.

By the time the kitten reaches her third month (from week eight to twelve), her temporary blue eye color will transform to the permanent adult color, and her 28 deciduous teeth will start falling out and continuously will be replaced with the 30 proper teeth when she reaches the age of five months.

During the second half of her first year, this adorable kitten will reach her sexual maturity, and her personality traits will be fully developed between the age of one and two years.

Now that we are aware of our four-legged friend’s development, let us take a deeper look into the important social benefits which she gains while staying with her mommy and her littermates.

Kittens' development


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Social benefits


In the kitten’s life, it is very important that she can stay with her mother until weaning is fully completed. The only nourishment your kitten will receive in the first month is from the milk of her mother, and she will start eating soft solid food soon after that, however, she is still mostly dependent on the mother’s milk. During the next four weeks, the amount of mother milk’s intake gradually decreases, while the solid food given to her should increase.

The beloved one will continue weaning until she is eight weeks old and by the time she is ready to leave her mother she will eat only solid food. Feeding her with different types of food, this time, will help her having an excellent eating habit throughout her life. Although nursing should end at the age of eight to ten weeks, sometimes it takes longer and will end only by the time of twelve weeks.

As natural weaning and the way of ending nursing are an important part of a kitten’s life, giving your kitten away too early can affect her overall physical development.

Kittens with their mother

Learning the basics to be a cat – what your kitten has to learn from mother cat


In the very first month, the fury kitten can hardly take care of herself, and she needs to be in constant touch with her mother and her littermates to stay calm. Even the second month is extremely sensitive and very important stage as this period will determine her final personality throughout her life.

During this period, the little one should be able to learn the proper cat behavior from her mother, including eating, practicing body language, using the litter box, and staying safe.


One of the most important aspects of a kitten’s behavior is grooming and even though we think adult cats do this naturally, it is actually a result of learning from the actions of their mother, who grooms them right from day one.


The little furry friend also must learn some valuable life lessons from her mother. Catching prey is an important feline action, and teaching hunting skills to the kitten is a must from her mother, although she might not even be in a need of doing so in her entire life.

Kittens hunting

Social skills – what your kitten has to learn from littermates

Between five to six weeks your kitten needs to interact with her litter buddies and hone the skills she will need as an adult. Playing with littermates is an important learning tool which teaches kittens about coordination of their body and socialization with other cats.

To avoid behavior issues as an adult cat, it is wise to keep your kitten with her littermates minimum until the week ten or even twelve as their play becomes more characteristic, rough and aggressive within these weeks. Common behaviors include pouncing, biting, scratching and chasing. By indulging in such acts, she will be able to truly learn how her actions can cause pain to others and how to limit these actions. Even though she may never have to hunt, this kind of tough play helps her to gain the confidence and ability to be a talented hunter.

Kittens playing with each other


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Behavior towards Humans

Kittens born in the wild, away from human interference tend to be slightly aggressive towards humans as they probably see us as a threat. Such kittens will often hiss and be quite agitated. The best way to avoid this is to interact with the kitten in her early age, between weeks of two to eight.

The way and the amount of handling a kitten receives will determine whether she becomes familiar with people who is comfortable with being picked up and enjoy people’s company. You can easily achieve this by lifting and gently stroking her for a bit (maximum for two minutes) and then placing her back. Keep in mind that you are lifting her from her place of security and it is natural that this will only scare her. But by repeatedly interacting with her (a few times a day), she will begin to realize that you are not a threat, and a sense of security and trust towards humans will develop.

Kitten handled by human


Kittens are susceptible to a variety of diseases, and their immune system needs time to develop. While they receive all essential antibodies from the mother by drinking milk, during later stages of their life (after weaning) they will need something to protect them against infectious diseases. It is advised to have your kitten vaccinated by the age of eight weeks even if your furry friend is indoor only. In general, kittens get three dozens of vaccination at three or four weeks apart until their age reaches 16 weeks.


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Kitten enjoys adult life

All the points mentioned above are essential to prepare the kittens for their future life. They need to take the time to learn and stay with their mother and littermates, otherwise taking them away so early can lead to serious behavior problems like aggression or antisocial attitude.

By now, I hope you know exactly when kittens can be separated from their mother and reasons why you shouldn’t give them up earlier.