Cats and kittens are wonderful additions to the home. They bring a great deal of love and joy to their owners; however, just as with any pet, they need time, attention, and care to ensure they grow up healthy and well-adjusted to their surroundings. Litter box training is an essential part of this, particularly if you are taking in a stray, older, or feral cat. While kittens usually learn from their mother, the move to a new home can even cause the best trained kitten to forget where they are supposed to go to the toilet. When this occurs, you must know how to effectively train your cat or kitten to use their litter box. Before we look at the five steps that are guaranteed to litter train your cat, let’s look at some other key aspects of litter box training.
Choosing the Perfect Litter Box
One of the main reasons that cats refuse to use their litter boxes is because they are too small. If your larger cat is uncomfortable in the litter box, they will not use it; it is better to choose a bigger box than you think your cat needs. Not only does this give them more room, but it also stops your cat from thinking it is full after only one use. Also, think about access to the litter box. Small, elderly, or cats with mobility issues will manage much better with a low sided box. If your cat struggles to get in or out of the litter box, they are more likely to relieve themselves next to it.
Choosing between a covered or an uncovered cat litter box is another important decision. Covered litter boxes provide your cat with additional privacy, which can be useful if you have multiple cats or other pets. A covered box also helps keep the litter from spreading over the floor around it. However, covered litter boxes can be restrictive for larger cats and can trap odors. If you don’t keep on top of the odors, then this will reduce the chances of your cat using the litter box. For more options, check out our detailed reviews of self-cleaning litter boxes and cat litter mats.
Choosing the Right Number of Litter Boxes
Most animal experts endorse having at least one litter box per cat in your household, plus one extra. However, if you have a larger house, it can be useful to have more litter boxes so that your cat does not have to travel too far to find one. This is especially important for kittens and older cats who may not be able to hold their need to relieve themselves. Placing one box on each level of your house is a good place to start.
Choosing the Right Location for the Litter Box
Your cat’s litter box needs to be easy to find and easily accessible. If your cat needs to hunt for the box, then it is likely to relieve itself somewhere it finds more convenient. The location should provide your cat with a degree of privacy and should, therefore, not be areas that experience high traffic and where it will be continually disturbed.
Most cats will not relieve themselves near where they eat, so it is important to place the litter box away from where you place their food and water. Also, avoid placing the box close to other strong smells. Cats use their sense of smell to find their litter boxes, and other smells could mask the box or confuse your cat, increasing the risk of them leaving their waste in other areas of the home.
Maintaining Your Cat’s Litter Box
While your cat uses their sense of smell to locate their litter box, if it is too smelly, they will not use it. However, maintaining your cat’s litter box is about more than just cleaning out old litter. Choosing the right cat litter is just as important as making sure it is clean. Clumping litter is often the best choice; as well as generally being preferred by cat’s it makes it easier to clean. Experts also recommend avoiding litters that have added deodorizers or perfumes as these can cause allergic reactions.
Using the right amount of cat litter is also important. If there is not enough litter in the box, your cat may refuse to use it as they are unable to bury their waste. However, too much litter will cause it to spill or be kicked out of the box, leaving you with more mess to clean up and spreading the smell of your cat’s waste. This could result in them relieving themselves next to, rather than in, their litter box.
When it comes to cleaning, remove solid waste at least once a day. If you have more than one cat, then twice a day is advisable. The litter box should be thoroughly cleaned and washed once a week. Use gentle soap and warm water for cleaning; avoid harsh chemicals that could leave residue smells or traces of the chemical as these can deter them from using the litter box and potentially even harm your cat. Once clean, thoroughly dry the litter box before filling it with fresh litter.
5 Guaranteed Steps to Litter Train Your Cat
Now that you have the perfect number of litter boxes in the right locations and filled with clean litter, how do you train your cat to use them? Here are five guaranteed steps to training your cat to use a litter box. Remember though, as with all pets, cats need time and patience. You may find that you need to repeat steps or return to earlier steps if anything disrupts your training.
Step 1: Learning Your Cat’s Schedule
Knowing when your cat is most likely to need to urinate or defecate is the best place to start. It means that you can guide them to their litter box, helping it become part of their routine. Most cats need to go after they have eaten, when they wake from a nap, and after they have been active.
Step 2: Spend Playtime Near the Litter Box
As most cat’s need to relieve themselves after playing, spending some quality playtime close to the litter box can help. It reinforces the link between finishing playing and toileting and allows you to direct or place them immediately on the litter box. This is extremely helpful for kittens who may not be able to hold their waste for long.
Step 3: Teach Them How to Use the Box
Kittens who have been taught how to use a litter box by their mother shouldn’t need this step. However, rescues, strays, and feral cats may have no idea how to use a litter box. If they are used to being outside and relieving themselves when and wherever they need to, then this step is crucial.
Start by carrying your cat to the litter box at the times they are most likely to need to go. This reinforces that this is the place to go. You may also need to show them how to dig and bury their waste. It is crucial that you do not grab your cat’s paw to show them as this can cause anxiety and even lead to them avoiding their litter box completely. Simply use your finger to scrape the litter and if necessary, scoop the litter onto the waste. Be patient, and they will catch onto the idea of digging and burying their waste.
Check out our guide on healthy cat treats for more info.
Step 4. Don’t Shout or Lose Your Temper
Shouting at your cat if they leave their waste anywhere other than their litter box is counterproductive. As well as increasing their anxiety and damaging your bond with them, you risk encouraging them to hide their waste where you are less likely to find it. Where they leave solid waste outside of the box it is tempting to throw it straight in the garbage; however, scooping it up and placing it the litter box can help to reinforce the link between the litter box and relieving themselves.
It is also important to thoroughly clean areas that your cat uses to relieve themselves outside of the litter box. Use an enzyme-based cleaner to break down the odors. Cats will use the same area again and again if they can smell their fecal matter or urine in that area. Try closing doors to rooms that they are favoring or placing their food on a spot they have been using. Cats won’t urinate or create waste near their food.
Step 5: Temporary Confinement
If you are still finding cat waste everywhere except in their litter box, consider confining them to a single room for a temporary period. You need to do this with care and ensure that your cat is safe and comfortable. Take note of aspects such as the variable temperature in the room.
Once you have a safe space, place their litter tray at one end and their food, water, and bedding at the other end. Remember to the room you choose to use must be large enough to separate their feeding area from their litter tray. Finally, if they still won’t use the litter tray, and you have eliminated other issues covered earlier, try placing some cat litter on the floor, if they relieve themselves on the litter, they may begin to associate cat litter with the correct place to go. Once the litter is placed only in the litter box, this association should continue.
During the whole process of training your cat to use their litter box, you should observe your cat carefully and look for potential medical issues that could be hampering training. If your cat is not eliminating waste in their litter box, check the rest of the house. If you cannot find any waste, then they may have an obstruction; this requires immediate veterinary attention.
If your cat is urinating elsewhere and is choosing cold, smooth surfaces, such as cement or tiled surfaces, they may have a urinary tract infection. This again requires veterinary care. The same applies if you find traces of blood in their waste, excessive cleaning or licking of the genitals, or your cat seemingly being in pain or uncomfortable after passing waste matter. Also keep an eye on your cat’s general wellbeing, lethargy, weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea could all be symptoms of larger problems that are affecting their ability to go in their litter box.
How Long Does It Take to Litter Train a Kitten
There is really no set amount of time for a kitten to be litter trained. Most kittens learn directly from their mother and may just need a little help remembering where the litter box is when they move to a new home. Older cats and those who have never used a litter box before will take longer and require greater patience. Of course, if there is a medical issue, then you need to get this dealt with first and then return to litter box training.
As long as you pay attention to the type, size, and position of the litter box; keep the litter box clean and give your kitten the privacy they need, then the process should be simple. However, as we said earlier, be prepared for accidents, have a good cleaner to hand, and be ready to try different things to help your cat feel comfortable with their litter box.
- Litter Training – Kitten Lady
- Litter Training Kittens 101: When to Start and How to Do It – PetMD