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How old should a kitten be before they are adopted/purchased?

Kittens are dependent on their mother. For example, feral kittens wean by about eight weeks of age but often stay with their mother for several months ​[1]​. Domesticated kittens are routinely separated from their mother at a much younger age.

It is essential for cats’ physical, psychological and social development that they are not separated from their mother too early. Separating a kitten from their mother too early causes distress, and can have long-term negative effects on their health and behaviour. For example, cats who are weaned before seven to eight weeks are more likely to develop stereotypies (repetitive, compulsive behaviours) [2]​ and be aggressive towards strangers [1].

Waiting until a kitten is at least eight weeks of age before they are adopted or purchased will help to ensure that the kitten has had some opportunity for behavioural development, and has at least received adequate amounts of their mother’s milk for growth and overall health.

Several Australian states and territories have introduced minimum animal welfare standards that aim to prevent kittens being separated from their mothers too early.

State/TerritoryYes/NoName of relevant act/special conditions and requirements
ACTYesThe Animal Welfare (Welfare of Cats in the ACT) Code of Practice 2007 states that kittens are not to be removed from their mother younger than eight weeks of age and then only if eating solid food.
NSWYesThe Animal Welfare Code of Practice Breeding Dogs and Cats states that puppies and kittens must not be re-homed before they are eight weeks of age.
NTOnly pet shopsThe Guidelines for the Care and Welfare of Animals in Retail Pet Shops states that puppies and kittens under eight weeks of age must not be offered for sale in pet shops.
QLDOnly pet shopsThe Code of Practice for Pet Shops states that all animals offered for sale should be weaned and able to feed unaided.
SAYesThe Standards and Guidelines for Breeding and Trading Companion Animals states that prior to the transfer of ownership to a client puppies and kittens must be fully weaned and have been on an established diet for at least a week.
TASNoNo minimum standards to prevent kittens being separated from their mothers too early.
VICYesThe Code of Practice for the Private Keeping of Cats states that kittens must not be separated from the mother before seven weeks of age and not sold or given away before eight weeks of age.
WANoNo minimum standards to prevent kittens being separated from their mothers too early.

References

​​[1] Ahola, M. K., Vapalahti, K., & Lohi, H. (2017). Early weaning increases aggression and stereotypic behaviour in cats. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-11173-5

​[2] Borns-Weil, S., Emmanuel, C., Longo, J., Kini, N., Barton, B., Smith, A., & Dodman, N. H. (2015). A case-control study of compulsive wool-sucking in Siamese and Birman cats (n = 204). Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 10(6), 543–548. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2015.07.038

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Updated on February 6, 2023
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https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/how-old-should-a-kitten-be-before-they-are-adopted-purchased/

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