The majority of adult cats will find a sandy, gritty space to “do their business.” But young kittens may need some help in learning about proper litter box habits.
To help set your kitten up for success when litter training, there are a few things you can do.
Check out these cat potty training tips on when to start, how to choose litter boxes, what type of litter to use, how and where to place the litter boxes, and how to help your kitten learn to use the litter box.
When To Start Litter Training Kittens
During the weeks following a kitten’s birth, mother cats stimulate their kittens to defecate, and then they clean up afterward. Kittens do not need litter boxes during that time.
At around 4 weeks of age, you can begin litter training kittens by providing kitten-friendly litter boxes. Kittens start weaning around this time.
If you adopt an older kitten or adult cat, you can begin litter box training as soon as you bring them home. Before your cat moves in, you will need to set up the proper cat potty training supplies.
How To Litter Train Your Kitten Or Cat
Follow these steps to successfully potty-train your cat.
Choose A Litter Box
Choosing a litter box may seem trivial, but it actually makes a huge difference to your kitten.
Get The Right Size Litter Box
Small kittens may be intimidated by full-size boxes. Dr. Sally J. Foote, DVM, a feline behavior consultant (also certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants – IAABC), recommends kittens use a litter tray measuring 13 by 9 inches.
If your cat is older, or you have other adult cats at home, they will need full-sized litter boxes, while your kitten will need its smaller box to begin with.
Your kitten’s litter box will need to grow with it. The size of the litter box should be around one and a half times the cat’s height. As your kitten grows, you should increase the size.
Provide More Than One Litter Box
The number of litter boxes in your house should be greater than the number of cats. For instance, if you have two cats, there should be three litter boxes. If you have five cats, there should be at least six.
Uncovered Versus Covered Litter Boxes
Cats often prefer to use an uncovered box.
“Cats don’t want to get caught by a predator inside an enclosed space in nature,” says IAABC-certified cat behavior consultant Mieshelle Nagelschneider.
While many of her clients believe that their cats prefer privacy, she asserts that “cats don’t want to feel trapped” when using their litter box.
The choice between a restroom with or without a roof is up to your cat, says Dr. Foote, who has discovered that some cats prefer an enclosed restroom, while others prefer an open one.
Initially, Dr. Foote recommends giving your kitten a choice to see what they prefer.
Pick The Right Type Of Litter
Most cats prefer fine-grain litters, probably because they feel softer.
The preference of cats varies when it comes to clumping or non clumping litters. For ease of scooping, you might prefer clumping.
According to Nagelschneider, some cats won’t use a box with corn- or wheat-based litter because it smells like food.
Make sure you choose a litter that your kitten prefers by trying a few different types.
Choose Where To Put The Litter Boxes
Placement and accessibility of the litter box are important factors in encouraging your kitten to use it.
Don’t Hide The Litter Boxes
If the boxes are all stacked together, they are effectively one big box, which can cause problems if your kitties don’t want to share.
It’s tempting to hide litter boxes in closets and corners because we don’t want them to be visible, but this should be avoided. During toilet time, cats do not like to feel trapped or cornered.
Similarly, they’ll need some sort of light to see and find their litter boxes, so if there is no ambient light in the area where you maintain the litter box, Nagelschneider recommends using a nightlight.
Your kitten’s litter box should be placed in an area with few distractions, so they can concentrate on their job.
For kittens with trouble focusing, you may need to remove the option of having other “interesting” places to urinate.
Until your kitten masters using the litter box, keep them in a small room with no rugs or carpeting, and only a small amount of bedding.
Place Litter Boxes On Every Floor
At least one box should be on every floor of your house.
Make it easy for your cat to access the litter box. Nagelschneider says, “Don’t make them go down the stairs, through the playroom, through the cat door, and into the utility room.” Cats don’t want to go farther than we do to get to the bathroom.
When your kitten becomes an adult cat, putting a litter box up on a shelf or down many flights of stairs will be much harder for them to reach when they are older and arthritic.
Introduce Your Kitten To The Litter Box
Having selected your supplies and set up the litter box areas, here’s how you can help your kitten learn how to use the litter box.
Step 1: Let your kitten sniff each litter box and show it where they are located.
Step 2: Place your kitten gently in the litter box. It may be instinctive for them to paw at the litter or even use the litter box. Run your fingers through the clean litter to demonstrate the pawing action if they do not.
Step 3: If your kitten doesn’t use one of the boxes during the initial introduction, place your kitten in one of the boxes every time they eat, drink, or wake up from a nap, until they begin to use it by themselves.
Reinforce Good Litter Box Habits
Reward your kitten with their favorite treat when they use the litter box properly to create a positive association with the activity.
In order for this to work, the treat must be given immediately after they leave the box, so they associate it with the activity.
Do not punish or yell at your kitten if it makes a mistake. Use an enzyme cleaner to clean up the mess and do not react in any other way.
Keep The Litter Boxes Clean
After each elimination, scoop your kitten’s litter box. You don’t want your kitten to become averse to the box during the training process. Add some clean litter after scooping to maintain a depth of 2 to 3 inches for your kitty to dig in.
As your kitten gets older and uses the litter box consistently, you can scoop daily instead of every time your kitten uses it.
Every so often, empty all the litter from the boxes, clean the boxes, and fill them with clean litter. There will usually be a recommendation on the label of how frequently to change the litter for non-scoop litters.
Litters used by clumping cats only need to be changed out every week or couple of weeks, depending on how many cats are using them.
What To Do If Your Kitten Won’t Use The Litter Box
Try these steps if your kitten is having trouble with litter box training and peeing outside the box:
1. Evaluate your litter box setup carefully. Each kitten has slightly different preferences. Make sure that the litter boxes:
- Easily accessible
- Are located in quiet spots
- Are not hidden in a corner
- Are not being guarded by other cats
2. Change the litter box or type of litter. You may wish to get a new box (covered versus uncovered, or one with low sides) and place it nearby to see if your kitten prefers it. You can also keep the same box and only change the type of litter to determine if it’s the box or the litter.
3. Replace all litter more often and scoop more often.
4. Place pheromone diffusers close to the litter box. This will help relieve stress and make your kitten more comfortable. The diffusers, when placed in the room with the litter box, make kittens feel as if their territory has been marked.
5. You should take your kitten to the vet to check for parasites, urinary tract infections, and other conditions that could cause inappropriate elimination. Although rare, these conditions should not be overlooked.
Additionally, your veterinarian can help you troubleshoot litter box issues with your kitten. Most importantly, be patient! When you love, support, and pay attention to your kitten, it will learn these habits over time.
We hope this guide has helped you understand more about the process of litter training your kitten. Now, all that’s left to say is – good luck!
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