Another question I often encounter is why do I send my kittens to their new home at 14-16 weeks of age, you can get one from a shelter at 8 weeks. Ethical and responsible Breeders are much different than shelters for many reasons, one of which especially when kitten season hits shelter needs to adopt out as many cats and kittens as possible. Furthermore, this is the national legal age limit a kitten can be sold or rehomed. Legal yes, but it may not be in the best interest for these gentle little souls.
So, let’s breakdown the importance of remaining with momma and litter mates for at least 12 weeks.
Most veterinarians typically are reluctant to spay or neuter a cat who is younger than 6 months of age. Some will spay/neuter as young as 12 weeks but require the kitten be at least 2-3 lbs in weight. Unfortunately, it is too risky rehoming a kitten unaltered. Bengals are very beautiful cats and for some that’s enough appeal to try and breed themselves. Despite a contract and promise of registration, sometimes this isn’t enough to follow through with the surgery. Breeding is not as simple as putting two cats together which often can result in back yard breeders who have little knowledge of proper husbandry and will sell inexpensive cats who are poorly cared for and often are not registered or screened for health concerns. This is detrimental to the breed and for those that truly are passionate, caring and know you cannot make millions off of breeding.
A second reason is many veterinarians can bully clients into combining a spay/neuter with a declaw including two paws or all four often offering discounts for doing so. We do not advocate for declawing in any shape or form and feel our new owners don’t need to worry about the costs or hassle of a pushy vet when it comes to spay/neuter surgeries or declawing recommendations.
Therefore, in short, the best policy is to across the board, spay and neuter our kittens before they go to their new home.
When kittens are taken from their mother to early they can suffer mentally, socially and physically.
Naturally weaned kittens are weaned by mom around 9-11 weeks of age however kittens can still nurse fully or take a sip until they leave to their new home. This is a gradual process. Its doesn’t happen overnight and it isn’t quick.
Although it does vary amoung litters, immunity wise antibodies from mom’s milk is known to cease around 12-16 weeks of ages. If kittens are removed from their mother they are more susceptible to illness at a younger age as well as unable to fight it off as easily.
Around this time the immune system of the kitten is starting to take over on its own. Again, this is a process. If the body isn’t able to be able to protect itself additional stressors like vaccinations, car rides, a new home and family can provoke illness and disease that is harder to fight than if their immune system were fully intact.
Weaning early or suddenly can also result in frustrations that may never resolve as young adults or adults. When naturally weaned, kittens learn to deal with their frustrations and mom teaches them to deal with them so that they are better able to cope with stressors they may encounter. Without this learning process behavioral problems later in life may result due to a low stressor/frustration tolerance.
Finally, health problems can develop. Rapid or quick switches to solid food from milk can result in digestive upset including diarrhea or even malnutrition.
There are numerous studies that show kittens that area rehomed at a young age are more likely to have behavioral issues including litter box problems, aggression and inability to adjust to change. With Bengals, especially this is very important to take into consideration. Bengals are not like domestic cats or other breeds. They are sensitive and can easily develop problems if they are not raised and cared for properly. Although we are more than willing to take back any of our kittens or cats if there is a problem and they face rehoming, but we would much rather prefer them to be socialized and prepared mentally and socially as much as possible to avoid these issues down the road.
The 6-12 week period is essential for emotional and mental development with many skills that only momma and a kittens’ littermates can teach them. Humans are great, but we don’t speak the same language as our feline friends. Kittens learn what is acceptable and not, as well as who trust and what not too trust. They learn how to interact with other cats and other animals as well. Without socialization and learning during this time with momma and litter mates we risk anxiety, fear and distrust which could affect bonding to their new families or adjusting to their new home.
At about 12 weeks the essential bond between momma and kitten begins to break. This isn’t a bad thing, this just means mom feels confident that her babies can begin to live and learn without her direct parenting. She feels her job teaching them is not as essential. Unnaturally breaking this bone before this time however may result in behaviors that are antisocial including running and hiding, being shy, fear as well as strange attachment to items such as toys, blankets etc. While us humans see this as cute, for a kitten this is not natural.
What about bonding? Some potential new owners worry that at 14- 16 weeks old, their kitten may not bond with their family. Cats and especially Bengals are not pack animals they can bond easily if socialized and raised correctly. If they are being treated right and loved endlessly, they have NO problem loving their new families. Despite popular belief kittens separated to early will not bond CORRECTLY or not at all. While a young kitten may bond with a single person, this bond however stems from being afraid to be alone. They may also try to soothe themselves by sucking on clothing, their human’s necks or ears as well as their own fur. Again, this may seem cute and harmless to us humans, but this kitten is trying to endlessly soothe themselves because they are missing vital coping mechanism they would have learned from their mother and litter mates.
Trouble also arises when it comes to the litter box. Momma usually helps teach kittens how to use the litter box around 6-12 weeks of age. This is another one of those gradual processes that takes time to learn and grasp. If kittens are not litter trained already, in addition to stresses of a new home and new people, kittens may have inconsistent litter habits and may develop inconsistent or other bad habits related to the litter box such as inappropriate urination or defecation that may last their lifetime.
Finally sending kittens home earlier than 14 weeks is heavily looked down upon not only by the ethical and responsible breeding community but our governing bodies as well. I would like to stay in good standings with both.
We understand this can be frustrating especially if potential owners are used to adopting a kitten at 8 weeks old from the shelter but after much research we feel this is in the best interest of our kittens and their wellbeing over their lifetime in their new homes. We hope that all our efforts, love and care allow our kittens to be fully prepared for their new homes and to love their new families!
*This information and text on this page is the sole property of Elysian Bengals and The Nutrition Code. Its use is strictly prohibited without the permission of Meghan Leah Waals