How to Litter Box Train Your Cat
Just as you weren’t born knowing how to use the toilet, neither was your cat! When you were a kid, you had to be taught that the toilet is where you are meant to go.
So your cat or kitten needs to be taught that the litter box is where they go. And it can take some cats a while to litter train. Indeed, it is the most common cat behavior issue that cat parents will deal with.
If your cat is slow to learn, there is a chance there could be a medical, emotional, or behavioral issue interfering. Be sure to take your cat to the vet if you think something is wrong.
For the most part, all cats generally need to litter box train is a little help and patience from you! Follow these tips and best practices for the best results.
Pick the Perfect Litter Box Spot
Cats like privacy when they do their business. Find a spot that is private, quiet, and convenient for your cat. A covered litter box can feel too confining for some cats, while others appreciate the added privacy.
If you have a kitten or a larger home, it is a good idea to have more than one litter box available for them to use. Spread the two or more boxes apart throughout your home. If one box goes mostly unused, you’ll be able to cut down to one or perhaps test out another more optimal spot.
With more than one cat, you will need to provide each cat with their private litterbox. In addition to one litterbox each, it is recommended that you put one additional box out to prevent territorialism and ambush attacks.
Choose the Right Size Litter Box
Cats and kittens are unlikely to use a too-small litter box where they feel trapped or uncomfortable. A litter box should be one and a half times your cat’s length. This roughly works out to three times their kitten length, from nose to tail.
We have an article to help you learn ‘How to Measure Your Cat’. If you’re still not sure, then simply pick the largest litter box. You can’t go wrong with extra room.
Select the Best Litter for Your Cat
As a rule, soft, small-grained litter with the consistency of soil or sand is preferable. Of course, cats can be quite picky and might prefer certain types of litter to others. If your cat seems reluctant to use their litter box, try a different brand or consistency of litter.
Once you find the right type, stick with it. If you’re not sure, a good way to test is to put out several boxes with different litters. You will quickly discover your cat's preference.
Since kittens are still learning about the world, they tend to put everything in their mouth, much like human children. A natural, pellet-shaped litter can be a good idea for kittens while they’re still litter box training. Preferably, this litter should have no clumping properties and be fragrance and chemical-free.
Keep the Litter Box Clean
You don’t like using a gross, smelly toilet, right? Neither does your cat! Since they are meticulous groomers, cats prefer to stay clean. And that makes a dirty litterbox extremely unappealing.
Make sure you regularly scoop out waste daily. The litter ought to be changed every 1-2 weeks and the box should be thoroughly cleaned, too.
When you refill the litter, a few inches of depth is sufficient. Do not fill the litter to the top. Experiment with the amount of litter you put in since this is also an area where cats can be selective.
If you can change your cat’s litter on a regular schedule, this will help to reinforce good litter box using habits in your cat. They will come to anticipate clean litter with regularity. This predictable, pleasant change in an important part of their life will deepen their trust and bond with you.
Bring Your Cat to the Litter Box
Get familiar with your cat's behavior and learn to recognize when they need to relieve themselves. After meals and naps, get in the habit of taking your cat to their litter box.
Teach your cat to cover their excrement as their feline parent would. Usually, their mother would do this for them and they would learn by watching. Since you are taking over this role, it is a great opportunity to bond with your cat.
Once your kitten or cat has gone, gently take their paw in your hand. Using their paw, scratch at the litter to help them cover their business as they would do in the wild.
Fencing In the Litter Box During Use
If you have put the litter box in a separate room with a door, close it behind your cat when you place them there to narrow their toilet options. Or, if you don’t have that option, section off the larger room where the litter box is placed. Once you have placed your cat on the litter box, place barriers around the litterbox to discourage your cat from going elsewhere to do their business.
Be Patient When Litter-Training
Potty training a human child can take a while. Give your cat the same love and patience they deserve. This is not behavior that comes naturally, but with patience, care and encouragement, it will come along eventually.
Choose Non-Toxic Litter and Products
All cat litter should be cat-safe, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check and set your own standards! When it comes to cleaning up after your cat, inside and outside the litterbox, we recommend non-toxic cleaners and household cat products across the board.
While your kitten or cat is litter training, you will likely have to clean up a few messes. Clean up immediately with hot water and minimal amounts of a non-toxic cleaner. An ideal proportion is 10 parts water to 1 part eco-friendly cleaner.
By sanitizing your cat's litter box and area regularly, you will create an environment where they feel comfortable doing their business. While products like Lysol can be extremely effective, they are also highly toxic and irritating.
There is a danger that your cat could ingest trace amounts if you are regularly cleaning up messes using it. So make sure you use safe, environmentally friendly, pet-friendly natural cleaners.
Reward Your Cat for Using the Litter Box
Whenever your cat successfully uses their litterbox, reward them! Through positive reinforcement, they will have an incentive to learn quicker. Play their favorite game, give them a treat, and shower them with affection every time they use the litterbox to reinforce good behavior.
Never Punish Your Cat
You must never punish your cat for failing to use the litterbox. This is likely to erode your cat's comfort levels by instilling fear. This will prevent your cat from bonding with you, which can lead to emotional and even medical issues. And it will make litter box training next to impossible.
Treat your cat the way you would want to be treated in the same situation. Patience and kindess go a long way!
Next Time: Toilet Training Your Cat
You may have seen cute YouTube videos of cats using human toilets. We even have a Toilet Training Set due to popular demand! Perhaps you're wondering how to train your cat to do the same thing.
Some vets discourage toilet training your cat for several reasons. However, there can be some considerable benefits to training your cat to use a litter box and a toilet. Stay tuned for our next article where we will discuss toilet training your cat!
BC SPCA (2021) “How to house train your cat,” BC SPCA, [online] Available from: https://spca.bc.ca/faqs/litter-train-cat-kitten/ (Accessed 24 July 2021).