So you just got that adorable new kitten, and now, it’s time to set up the house for your new roommate. That means you’ll need to begin litter box training. It’s not the most glamorous part of pet ownership, but it is arguably the most important. The last thing you want is litter box problems, so you’ll need to learn how to train a kitten to use a litter box.
That’s why this post is all about how to train your kitten to use the litter box. We’ll look at when to start litter training, the litter type you should use in the box, and what kind of litter tray will prevent those unpleasant accidents.
We’ll also explore what to do if your cat isn’t using the box!
Litter Box Training Supplies
First things first — here’s a list of the supplies you’ll need to properly litter train a kitten.
- litter box
- rewards (a cat treat, favorite toy, or dry cat food)
Cat’s Litter Boxes
That’s right, litter boxes, as in more than one. You should ideally have one more cat litter box than the number of cats you have.
That means if you have just one kitten, then you should have one litter box plus one more for a total of two. It’s important to put them in places that are easy for your kitty to find but that still offer some degree of privacy like closets or other cubby holes.
Remember that your cat’s natural instincts are to go to a place where they feel safe, and if the box is too exposed, they might not want to use it. Covered litter boxes are an option if you don’t have a good place to put the box in your house, although a 2012 study showed no consistent preferences among cats for covered versus uncovered litter boxes.
It’s also important that a litter box for kittens has low sides so they can easily access the litter.
The next important thing you need is kitty litter. There are a number of choices. If you’re short on cash, you can always use the less expensive non-clumping clay litter.
If money is less of a problem for you, then you can use the litter that has clumping clay. Clumping litter also has options for scented or unscented clay litter. While most cats are not very particular about the type of litter in the box, some do care, and you don’t want to start out with something they don’t want to use.
That’s why it’s better to start with the unscented litter. After your kitten is fully litter box trained, you can experiment with other choices.
Positive Reinforcement Rewards
The last thing you need is some kind of reward for when your little furry friend uses the litter box. This can be a special treat or simply a piece of dry cat food.
You might also play with your kitten with his favorite toys. This is another way to create positive associations with the litter box. Over time, you shouldn’t need to give them a reward so you can wean them off expecting some kind of treat.
How to Train a Kitten to Use a Litter Box: When Should You Start to Train Your Kitten?
If your kitten was born to a cat you own, you can start litter training a few weeks after birth. The kitten’s mother will stimulate the little fur bundle to eliminate, and initially, she will clean them up after they do. That’s why young kittens don’t need a litter box.
At around 4 weeks of age, however, their mother begins to wean the kitten, and that’s when you should start litter box training. If you have gotten a kitten that is already weaned, or if the mother is not around, you can begin litter box training as soon as you bring the kitten home. You can also train an adult cat to use a litter box.
If you’re bringing your kitten or cat home, make sure you have all the cat potty training supplies ready to go as soon as they arrive in their new home. It’s particularly important to get this training right if you’re bringing home an adult cat since failure to use the litter box is the most common reason for surrendering a cat to the shelter. In fact, it was a factor in 30% of the cat intakes in shelters.
Using a plant-based clumping litter with an attractant can help entice your adult cat to use the litter box. If you can start litter box training early, however, it’s usually pretty easy given that your cat is naturally inclined toward eliminating in cat litter or some other kind of loose granule substrate.
How to Litter Train a Kitten
To train your kitten to use the litter box, you want to first show them where the litter box is located. The best way to do this is to take them into the room where you have the box, close the door, and stay with them while interacting calmly.
Let them explore the room, and then, let them out into the rest of the house. Supervise their behavior, and when you see them engaging in certain cat behavior like sniffing, pawing at the floor, circling, or looking for a quiet area to poop or urinate, then calmly carry them or lure them back into the room where the litter station is located. That helps them remember where it is, particularly if you have a big house.
You normally won’t have to confine them to the litter box room as long as they can easily get to where it is and get in. If you have other cats, you want to make sure your new kitten doesn’t have to pass them on the way to the potty. You’ll also want to make sure your little furball doesn’t have to go up or down the stairs or jump up to a high place. It’s also important to make sure the door to the room is kept open so your kitten can have access whenever necessary.
When you see your kitten defecate or urinate in the litter box, be sure to give him some positive reinforcement like a treat, some of that dry cat food, or a little playtime with his favorite toy. This technique is very effective for new kittens, but what about new cats?
Housetraining a New Cat
If you’re bringing home an adult cat, then you need to get them to use the litter box as well. Often, a new adult cat was previously a stray or outdoor cat, so that can present some different challenges.
If you just have one cat, it’s usually fairly straightforward. Once you show him where the litterbox is located, his natural instincts take over and he uses it pretty readily.
If you have other cats in the house, you definitely want to have numerous litter boxes. The research is clear that, in a multiple cat household, you need to have as many litterboxes as you have cats plus one more.
This is vital because cats in a multiple-cat household will establish a dominance hierarchy. Dominant cats — and this is also true for wild cats like lions — will not bury their feces while submissive cats will. It’s the way a dominant cat claims its territory.
Their poop might all smell the same to you, but the pheromones in it allow them to identify each cat’s waste. That’s why you want to have multiple litter boxes in multiple locations around your house.
Why Do Cats Soil Outside the Litterbox?
There can be a number of reasons why a cat would stop using the litterbox or soil occasionally outside the box. These range from medical problems to dissatisfaction with the litterbox location.
There are a number of medical conditions that can interfere with your cat’s normal urination and defecation. Urinary tract infections or inflammation can make urination painful and cause them to urinate more frequently.
If they’re urinating outside the litterbox, it may just be an accident because they couldn’t make it to the box in time. If your cat learns to associate the litterbox with pain, he might also then start avoiding the litterbox out of a desire to avoid the pain.
Other medical conditions can also cause more frequent urination. These include diabetes mellitus, kidney, and thyroid diseases that all cause your cat to drink more water which means they urinate more. Digestive problems can also make defecation painful and more frequent.
Problems with digestion can also decrease your cat’s control over his defecation. It’s also possible that age-related diseases could be interfering with your cat’s mobility or his cognitive functions. Problems like that can also make it more difficult for him to get to the litterbox in time.
Aversion to the Litterbox
Another reason your cat might not be using the litterbox is if he doesn’t like the box, the litter you are using, and/or the location of the box. If any of these things are unsatisfactory to your cat, he might start soiling in areas around the house.
They often choose soft surfaces like carpeted areas, beds, or clothing. They might also choose hard tile floors or even bathtubs. Many cats also are attracted to eliminating in the dirt of a potted plant. This will usually kill the plant, and the smell will be intolerable.
Your cat might also simply prefer another location — such as in that potted plant soil — and if he is using that regularly enough, he may stop using the litterbox altogether. There are a number of things you can do to prevent this.
What Can You Do to Stop House Soiling?
To address inappropriate house soiling, you need to act quickly because the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to get your cat to use the litterbox. The first thing to do if you have more than one cat is to identify who’s doing it.
You can separate your cats or ask your vet for a special non-toxic stain that you give them orally. It stains their urine so you can identify who’s responsible. For defecation, you can feed one cat a small piece (the size of a sesame seed) of a brightly-colored, non-toxic child’s crayon. The color will show brightly in the feces.
If the problem is urine, you need to make sure it’s not urine spraying. Cats spray to mark their territory, so watch your cat’s behavior carefully to look for signs of spraying. You can even set up a video camera for when you’re not around. If it’s spraying, that’s a whole other ballgame as far as what you need to do to stop it.
Once you know that it’s soiling versus spraying and you know who’s doing it, you can take that cat for a thorough physical examination to eliminate any medical problems as the cause. After doing that, the real work begins. You have to look for patterns to fix the problem.
Location, Surface Type, Box, or Rival Cat?
Is the culprit showing a preference for a particular surface type? You might be able to modify the litter to match that surface type if this is the case. If the preference is softer surfaces like carpeting, then buy softer, finer litter or put a piece of carpet in the box. On the other hand, if the preference is for harder surfaces, place a piece of tile in the box.
If the litterbox location is the problem, then try moving the box to where your cat is soiling. Once you get him using the box in the preferred location, you can begin moving it a little at a time until it’s where you want it to be. If your cat stops using it as your moving it, then move it back to where he last used it reliably.
If the problem is with the other cats in the household, you might need to move the box to a place where the submissive cat has an unobstructed view so he can see other cats coming or increase the number of litterboxes and their locations throughout your house.
You also want to make sure your cat has a clean litterbox and that you regularly replace the old litter with new litter. If you’ve changed litter brands recently and that’s when the problem started, you might need to switch back.
Finally, the box itself may be the problem. You’ll need a bigger box for larger cats, and you’ll want a box with low sides for kittens and older cats. It’s also a good idea to vary the type of litterbox. If you have one box that is covered, then don’t use a cover on the other box. Once you determine your cat’s preference, you can provide that style of litterbox throughout the house.
Final Thoughts on How to Train a Kitten to Use a Litter Box
It can be really frustrating when your cat doesn’t use his litterbox but don’t give up. A cat’s instincts are to use some type of loose granular substrate for elimination, so that works in your favor.
The trick is to train your kitten early, ensure there are multiple boxes, and provide a variety of types of both boxes and litter for your cat. You can have your cat and a fresh-smelling litterbox too!