The Ultimate Guide for Litter Training a Kitten

So you’re planning to adopt a kitten, and have picked out toys, food and a soft bed. The next thing to sort out is the kitten litter box!

Fortunately, cats and kittens are naturally fastidious and rarely need to be trained to use a litter box. However, providing the right conditions will encourage appropriate indoor toileting in your cats.

Litter training cat
Litter training cat
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Learn how to successfully teach your kitten to use a litter tray.

Setting up the litter box

Choosing a litter box: do cats prefer open or closed litter boxes?

Choosing the right litter box is the first step. Most cats prefer open-topped litter boxes. This is because in the wild cats are both a predator and a prey species. Toileting is a vulnerable time that leaves cats open to predators, so they prefer to survey their surroundings when they go.

Where should I put my cat’s litter box?

Place the litter box in a calm, quiet environment without loud noises which might frighten your cat. In general, you should provide enough litter boxes so there is one per cat in the household, plus one additional. This means a single cat household will have two litter boxes and a two-cat household will have three.

In a multi-cat household, these boxes should be placed in different spots, as most cats are naturally territorial and will gravitate to certain areas.

What should I put in my cat’s litter box?

There are many types of cat litter available, including:

  • Non-clumping litter (e.g., recycled paper litter)
  • Clumping litter (e.g., clay cat litter)
  • ‘Natural’ litter (walnut or soy-based litters)
  • Crystal litter

Your choice will depend on the individual cat’s preferences, your lifestyle and other factors, such as environmental sustainability. Also, consider choosing a non-dusty litter – there is some evidence that dusty litter can worsen feline asthma.

How do I clean a litter box?

Cats favour a clean litter box. Depending on the type of litter, the litter box’s entire contents may need to be discarded as soon as it is soiled. Other types of litter require the waste to be scooped, with the entire contents changed at regular intervals. The cleaning of a cat’s litter box doesn’t require fancy cleaners or equipment. Just use hot soapy water to regularly wash out the litter box. Avoid strong-smelling cleaners when cleaning a cat’s litter box as cats can be sensitive to strong odours. Also, don’t use harsh cleaners or essential oils as these may be harmful to your cat. There are some self-cleaning cat litter boxes on the market. While these can be convenient, be aware that some cats will find the cleaning and drying noises frightening, so they aren’t suitable for all cats.

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Cat litter tray
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How to litter train a kitten or cat

When to litter train a kitten

Luckily, you don’t usually need to train a kitten to use a litter box, as they usually learn from their mothers. If, however, your new kitten is not litter trained, then start by showing your kitten the litter box. This may be enough – many kittens will naturally use the litter box once shown.

If this is unsuccessful, then you can litter train a kitten by placing them in the litter box after each meal. Gently encourage them to stay there until they urinate or defecate, and then reward them with treats or pats. Cats learn best with positive reinforcement – which means rewarding the kitten when they do the right thing. Never use punishment or other negative reinforcement methods.

How long does it take to litter train a kitten? Most kittens will learn to use the litter box by the time they’re 8 to 12 weeks old. However, if you have a 12-week-old kitten who won’t use their litter box, contact your veterinarian.

How to litter train an adult cat

Most adult cats will enter a household already litter trained. However, if an adult cat won’t use a litter box, it may be because:

  • They have a medical condition affecting their ability to use the litter box. For example, some older cats with arthritis find it difficult to enter a high-sided litter box, or squat in a tray that’s too small. Other cats may have a history of urinary tract problems that can cause an aversion to using litter boxes.
  • There is a behavioural cause – for example, some conditions such as anxiety can cause cats to house-soil outside their litter box.
  • They may have lived exclusively outdoors and do not recognise the litter box.

The first step is to consult your veterinarian who will conduct a health check and discuss potential behavioural issues. It’s important to rule out medical and behavioural issues first.

If these things are ruled out and you still need to litter train an older cat, you can try using outdoor substrates such as dirt or sand in the litter box to begin with. Once the cat is used to using the litter box, you can slowly transition them to commercial litter by mixing in increasing amounts of cat litter, while reducing the outdoor substrate.

What to do if your cat or kitten won’t use the litter box

If your cat or kitten won’t use the litter box it’s important to rule out medical or behavioural problems first by consulting your veterinarian.

If medical and behavioural causes have been ruled out, then make sure you’ve tried everything in the following list:

  • There are an appropriate number of litter boxes for the number of cats in the household
  • The litter boxes are placed in appropriate locations
  • You’ve selected a litter box and cat litter that suits the cat’s preferences
  • You’re not using harsh or strong-smelling cleaners that could deter the cat from using the box

It may help to create a sanctuary or small area – such as a safe, quiet room – and enclose the cat inside with their litter box. Then, when the cat does use the litter box, reward them with treats, copious praise, and pats to encourage them to use it again!

If the issue persists, seek veterinary advice.



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