Most kittens will learn to use a litter box from their mothers. They don’t necessarily learn to use the tray. Rather, they learn where their “bathroom” is. Cat, like most animals, will tend to use the same spot for their waste. However, if your cat has left its mother before learning this or you’ve taken in a stray you may need to more actively do some cat litter training. Cats inherently dig and bury their waste. After you get your cat to know where this is meant to happen, it shouldn’t take too much effort for it to figure out how the whole thing works. However, there are some steps you can take to make this an easy process.
Choosing The Correct Litter Tray
The best litter tray for your cat is a large one. If the litter box you choose is too small, your cat will most likely decide to go elsewhere. It’ll feel that the box gets dirty quickly and won’t want to use it. The box should be big enough for your cat to lie down in, though it probably won’t be doing this! As a kitten, this might seem quite huge in comparison, but as it grows, you’ll have to replace the litter tray and this may cause issues with retraining. Best to get a big one to start off with. For kittens and elderly cats, you want a box with low sides that's easy to get in and out of.
To Cover or Not To Cover
Covered litter boxes have their advantages and disadvantages, like everything else. It all comes down to your cat’s preference.
- Covered boxes gives your cat some privacy when using the litter box.
- The covering mostly contains the smell of the litter box
- If you have an indoor cat and small home, it hides your cat’s toilet from guests, both as your cat goes and afterwards.
- It can be difficult to get your cat to go into the enclosure to start with.
- Large cats may struggle to turn and move around in the confined space.
- Covered boxes are larger, taking up more space.
Location Location Location
Cats can be quite picky about where they’ll go to the toilet. It’s a careful consideration of distance from food and sleeping areas as well as ease of access, cleanliness and how likely it is to be disturbed. So set up your cat’s litter box somewhere far away from where your cat eats, sleeps and plays. Make sure it’s accessible and not behind a closed door, and somewhere that your cat won’t be disturbed. Try to avoid noisy laundry rooms or rooms that have a lot of people coming in and out. This will disturb your cat as it tries to use the litter tray.
If your cat is new to you home, it may go into hiding for a few days until it feels safe. Put a litter box near the hiding space so it doesn’t have to go far. Having an extra litter box anyway isn’t a bad idea, especially if you have more than one cat. Often cats are pretty territorial about where they poop.
Using The Right Litter
There are so many types of litter that we can’t possibly go into them all here. What’s important to remember is to chose one that your cat likes and stick to it. Cats can get very picky about their litter and changing it can result in a regression of the litter training.
Try to choose one that is dust free so that it doesn’t irritate your cat’s lungs. For kittens, try paper litter so that it’s soft on their paws and doesn’t clump. This will also discourage your kitten from eating it or playing with it.
Introducing Your Cat To The Litter Box
When you start kitten or new cat litter training, make sure it knows where the litter box is. Put it in there and let it dig around. If it hops straight back out, repeat this on hour or two later.
It’s also important to learn your cat’s schedule. Most cats will use the litter tray after they wake up, after playing or after eating. Once you know this, you can take your cat to the litter tray immediately following a nap so that it learns this is where to go at these times. Try also playing with your cat near to the litter box and then putting it in there afterwards.
Most kittens learn to dig and bury from their mothers, but if your kitten hasn’t picked this up yet you get the joy of taking on this role. Show it how to dig in the litter by doing it with your finger so that it can copy you. You may even have to do this to bury some poop so that your cat understands that this is what’s meant to happen. Don’t make your cat do it by holding its paw and digging as this may stress the cat out and make litter training much harder for both of you.
If you're trying to change litter boxes there are a few things you can do to transition your cat from the old one. Firstly, put the new litter tray next to your cat's existing one until your cat gets used to it. Mix some of the new litter with the old and fill both trays with it, then stop scooping the old tray. Cats prefer clean litter boxes, so they'll start favouring the new tray. When they use it exclusively, it's time to throw the old one away.
Dealing With Pooping Outside The Litter Box
The most common reason that a cat will stop using a litter box is that it finds the box unclean. I know some cats that will only use a litter box once and then go on the floor rather than re-use it. They can be quite particular about their toilets, just like people. Make sure that the litter box is cleaned out frequently and regularly and topped up often with fresh litter of around 3cm in depth and change it completely around once a week. Don’t clean the box with strong smelling chemicals or anything that contains ammonium.
If your cat is still not using the clean litter box or has suddenly started going elsewhere, remember that your cat may be feeling stressed or have a medical issue that’s causing it to do this. Be patient with your cat. Don’t yell or make a fuss or you may cause further stress and make the problem worse.
Things you can do:
- When you see your cat using an area that is not the litter box, immediately pick it up and put it in the tray. Make a fuss of it in there so that your cat associates it with going to the toilet and with good reactions from you.
- If your cat leaves its poop outside the litter tray, put it back into the tray rather than into the bin. This way, your cat will smell its waste in the tray and start associating it with being there. Make sure that you also clean the area that your cat used thoroughly to remove the smell from there. This will deter your cat from using that space again.
- Put undesirable smells or textures in the place where your cat pees, like aluminium foil or orange peels. This will discourage your cat from going there as it will be unpleasant to its senses.
- If your cat continues to use a different spot to its litter tray, put its food there. Most animals have an inherent impulse to keep their waste and food separate and cats are no different.
- As a last resort or if you’re litter training a kitten while going out to work, confine the cat in a room with the litter tray. Make sure that the room is large enough for the cat to play in, has a warm place to sleep and access to water and the cat will be happy enough there while you’re out. Place the food and bed at one side and the litter tray at the other. Your cat will want to eliminate as far from its food and bed as it can in that confined space so the litter tray will start looking like a pretty convenient spot.
If your cat is tending to consistently urinate on cold surfaces like in the bath or on tiles, this is a sign or urinary tract or kidney infection. Take your cat to the vet immediately if you see this habit forming.
Cat litter training requires patience and encouragement. It is a natural process for your cat and it should pick it up quickly, but there are many things you can do to help your cat out. The best thing to remember is to reward instead of punish and make it a stress free as possible. Good luck.