Studies on weaning have been conducted for years on many different species. Early weaning has been linked to a number of behavioral problems that include shyness, aggression, oral fixations such as sucking, excessive grooming and anxiety. Up until now, however, no one had ever examined how it affected cats. According to new research conducted at the University of Helsinki, our feline friends fair no better than other animals taken away from their mothers too soon.
Here in the States, many dogs and cats are weaned between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks. But in other countries, including Finland, the recommended age for weaning is 12 weeks. That’s double to a third longer than here at home. The delay is due to a concern about behavior issues. These include not only the problems mentioned above, but socialization skills as well. Previously, it had been thought 8 weeks was enough for cats to learn socialization among themselves before being sent to new homes.
Feline Behavioral Problems
The belief was that after that time social experiences had little impact on behavior, which probably accounts for the U.S. timeline. But, according to Professor Hannes Lohi’s research team at U of H, that’s not the case at all. In fact, their findings point to delaying weaning even longer than Finland’s currently accepted practice of 12 weeks. Doctoral student and team member Milla Ahola stated, “We found that positive changes in the cat’s behavior can occur after the currently recommended age of weaning, 12 weeks.”
Quality of Life of Cats
Professor Lohi feels that the study evidence, culled from previously recorded data on nearly 6,000 cats, points to the need for an additional two weeks of mom and sibling time before a kitten should be comfortably removed for adoption. That’s 14 weeks! The professor believes that this longer bonding time could have a significant positive impact on the well being of cats — and people — in the long run for an improved quality of life.
If you’d like to learn more about the results of the study and get better acquainted with the statistics concerning the percentage of cats afflicted by behavioral problems, you can review the information by clicking this U of H link.