There’s no way around it: we love those adorable tufts of fluff, and the younger they are, the more adorable we find them. That cute little kitten, though, may not be ready to become your roommate. The ideal adoptable kitten is older than you may expect.
The best place for every kitten on Earth is with his mommy for the first 4 weeks. Kittens under 4 weeks of age literally cannot go potty without their mommies’ help. If you’re in the unfortunate position of rescuing a little fur ball this young, you’ll be acquainting yourself with a warm, damp washcloth or paintbrush to help your new friend do his business every 2 hours or so, day and night.
Mommy has the best milk in the universe for her kitties. This is all they should have in their tummies for the first 4 weeks, minimum. Around 1 month of age they may begin experimenting with solid food, but they still need some kitty milk until 8 weeks of age at the earliest, and some nurse longer. Kitten weaned before 8 weeks may exhibit odd behaviors — like suckling you or a blanket — for the rest of their lives. Even if being gnawed off and on forever doesn’t particularly bother you, the best choice for your new friend’s immune system and long-term health is natural weaning between around 8 and 12 week of age.
Though mom is best for the first 2 to 3 months of life, many cat experts believe there’s a socialization window between weeks 7 and 10 — a sensitive period when kittens can learn that people are their pals. They caution that if you miss this window, the cat may be afraid of human beings for life. Provided your new friend began life in a home, reputable breeding facility, or shelter situation, this shouldn’t be an issue because he’ll be familiarized with people even while being raised by his mom. Feral cats are a special case. If your prospective kitty was born in the wild to a wild mommy, your mileage may vary as far as getting him to come in from the cold and accept you as a friend rather than a potentially dangerous predator… but it has been known to happen — with good luck and patience on your part.
So what’s the final word on ideal kitten adoption age? Only Illinois, Michigan, Nevada and Virginia specify minimum adoption ages for kittens in state law: 8 weeks in Illinois; 8 weeks or with no more baby teeth, whichever is later, in Michigan; 8 weeks or weaned, whichever is later, in Nevada; and at least 7 weeks or adopted with the mother in Virginia. In the same vein, most animal shelters have an 8-week age minimum. Most breeders, however, insist 12 weeks is better, and some say as old as 16 to allow the kitty’s immune system, behavior and emotions to mature. Perhaps tellingly, most cat shows require kittens be at least 4 months old to compete, and the kitten class goes up to 8 months of age.
Of course, the best time to get kittens as far as your own life is concerned is when you have the time and financial ability to care of them. Be sure your life is stable and free of extra stressors, you have time to socialize and bond with a new pet and kittenproof your home, and you have backup funds to cover the inevitable illnesses and unforeseen expenses.