Training Your Kitten to Use the Litter Box
If you're the proud pet parent of a new cat, the question of how to litter train a kitten is probably foremost on your mind. It might relieve you to know that litter box training is typically a fairly simple affair. Many kittens arrive in their new homes having already learned how to use a litter box from their mothers, and even those who haven't are helped along by a strong instinct to bury the evidence after doing the deed. However, if your new kitty needs some pointers, the following steps should help.
Supplies You'll Need
To start your kitty off right on the path to developing good bathroom habits, you'll need a few supplies:
- Litter boxes: It's a good idea to have one more litter box than the number of cats who will be using them, so if this is your first cat, you'll want to start with two. Place them in areas that are easy to get to while offering privacy. If they're too exposed, your kitty might not feel safe enough to use them.
- Kitty litter: You'll find a lot of options, ranging from inexpensive non-clumping clay litter to high-end, eco-friendly options made from materials such as pine pellets, recycled newspaper and even wheat. While many cats aren't very picky about what type of litter you use, some cats are very particular and won't use litter if they object to the texture or smell. Your best bet is to start with a standard, unscented clumping litter, and then if you want to use something else you can experiment once your kitty's fully litter trained.
- Treats and toys: When you see your furry bundle of joy using their box, reward them with a cat treat or a piece of dry cat food. You can also use toys and praise to help create positive associations with using the litter box. Eventually, you'll need to wean them off of expecting a food-related treat every time they use the box.
How to Litter Train a Kitten
Follow these steps for how to litter train a kitten:
- Show them the boxes as soon as they arrive by setting your cat in them and letting them sniff and examine them. Be sure not to move the boxes once you've shown them, as to avoid confusing your furry friend.
- Set your cat in one of the boxes immediately following meals and after they wake up from naps. If you notice them behaving like they need to go, which might look like sniffing or crouching in a particular area, pick them up and put them in their litter box.
- Reward them whenever you notice they are using it. Praise them and give them a treat or a toy.
- Don't punish or scold your cat for accidents. Doing so will only lead to stress and anxiety, which may exacerbate the problem and make training more difficult. Cats do not associate punishment with the incident in question, so it doesn't help train them not to do it in the future.
Cleaning and Maintenance
It's important to take proper care of the litter box. Not only will this help eliminate the dreaded "cat smell" from your home, but it will also make using the box a more pleasant experience for your cat.
- Scoop the box daily to remove your kitten's deposits. Replace soiled litter as needed—typically when the litter stops controlling odor.
- Clean and disinfect the box when you change out the litter. Use mild soap and water, or a solution of water and white vinegar. Don't use bleach, commercial disinfectants or other harsh chemicals, which could be harmful to your cat.
- Use an enzyme cleaner to clean areas outside the box where your kitten has had accidents. This type of cleaner will eliminate the smell which, if left untreated, might encourage them to keep going in that spot.
Litter Training Older Cats
Typically, older cats will already be old hats at using a litter box by the time they come to live with you, but you may run into a litter box training challenge if the cat in question was formerly an outdoor cat. Even then, cats have all the instincts to help them learn quickly what a litter box is for. Getting them used to the litter may be the biggest challenge. In such cases, Vetstreet suggests filling the box with outdoor soil, to begin with. As your cat gets used to going in the box, gradually replace more and more of the soil with cat litter to give them a chance to become familiar with the new surface.
Troubleshooting Your Cat
Some cats, as mentioned previously, can be quite picky about the conditions under which they're willing to go. If your cat doesn't seem to be getting the hang of using the box, it could simply be that they don't like the size or shape of the box or the smell or texture of the litter. If the box is covered, they may find it too confining—or it may be that it feels too exposed and would prefer a covered box. They might also dislike the location of the box, or it may be that you simply need to scoop it out more often. You might need to experiment until you find the right combination of factors that makes them comfortable enough to use the box.
If you have an older cat, they may be dealing with joint pain or stiffness that makes accessing the box difficult for your cat. Consider whether the sides of the box might be too high for them to comfortably climb over, or whether they have to climb stairs or jump up on something in order to get to it.
Cats that have yet to be spayed or neutered might spray urine throughout the house in order to mark their territory, even after being fully litter box trained, suggests Petfinder. Often, being spayed or neutered tends to eliminate this behavior.
If your kitty uses the box consistently over a period of time and then suddenly stops, or does so inconsistently, there might be an underlying problem. Stress and anxiety can cause a cat to stop using the litter box, so consider whether there have been any major changes in their environment, and talk to your veterinarian. Often, according to the ASPCA, no longer using the litter box can be a sign of an underlying medical problem, such as a urinary tract infection, which could become serious if left untreated.
Now that you're armed with everything you need to litter train your new cat, you're well on the road to a happy, harmonious relationship with your family's newest addition. Once you've ruled out stress or health problems and you've tried everything else, if your cat still isn't getting the hang of it, you may need to confine them to a small area with the box, such as a bathroom or laundry room, until they start using it.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.