Last Updated on October 31, 2020 by Julia Wilson
What age should you adopt a kitten?
The optimal age to adopt a kitten is from ten to twelve weeks. By this age, the kitten should have had at least one of its core vaccinations and have been spayed or neutered.
Why should pet owners wait until the kitten is older?
Many new cat owners are keen to get their kitten as soon as possible, and as early as possible. After all, who doesn’t love a tiny little ball of fluff? However, adopting a kitten who is too young can have consequences which may last throughout the cat’s life.
- Kittens need their mother and littermates to teach them manners. As kittens will play with mum and their siblings, they learn cat socialisation skills. Picking up body language, boundaries and playing skills from the other cats.
- Kittens need time to build up a strong immune system. Mum’s milk is full of antibodies which help to protect your kitten from disease. Even after the kitten has started solids, he is still nursing from mum and getting the benefits of these antibodies.
- Kittens should not leave their home until they have had their vaccinations.
- Most breeders and cat shelters spay or neuter a kitten before it leaves for its new home. With shelters bursting at the seams with unwanted cats, taking this approach is the responsible way. Purebred breeders do not generally sell un-desexed cats unless you are a registered breeder.
Why do shelters adopt out younger kittens?
The age your kitten will be adopted out will vary between shelters and breeders. The RSPCA states that kittens can be adopted from 8 weeks. Shelters will generally adopt out kittens from the age of 8-10 weeks, once they have had their vaccinations and are old and large enough to have been desexed. Space and resources are always a factor for shelters, and the benefit of staying a good hope, with one on one care and out of the confines of a small enclosure outweigh the benefit of an extra two weeks with the mother and littermates.
Breeders keep kittens until they are 12 weeks of age and some will keep them until 16 weeks, especially the oriental type breeds such as Siamese. Most cat breeders prefer to wait until their kitten is between 1 – 1.5kg (2.2 – 3.3lbs) before desexing, so smaller breeds such as the Devon Rex, Burmese, Singapura may need to be a little older than larger breeds. Also, space and resources are not as stretched with the breeder compared to the shelter, and therefore the benefit of an extra two weeks with the mother and littermates outweighs the benefit of going to a new home.
What happens if I adopt a cat younger than ten weeks?
Possibly nothing, but it is not uncommon for a kitten who has been taken away from mum and adopted out too early to develop behavioural problems.
I adopted a very sad and lonely looking kitten at the age of 6 weeks who had behavioural problems his entire life. He had no idea how to socialise with other cats and was aggressive towards other household cats; he also had a time limit on how long he could be petted by humans. After a while I learned to read his body language and could avoid an attack (he would start to look bored, wave his tail and you could see him eyeing off an escape route), however many guests didn’t listen to my warnings and would rush in, stroke him and end up with a bloodied hand. He also sprayed his entire life (despite being desexed from an early age) and he never really took to people or cats.
Children and kittens
Factor in the age of children in the home too. Young kittens are fragile, and I don’t recommend very young kittens around toddlers who can inadvertently be a little rough. It is preferable to adopt a slightly older kitten if you have young children in the house to give them time to become a bit more robust.