You’ve just brought home a lovely furball and you’re stoked to start a new life together…and then you step on the little “present” they’ve left on your new living room carpet.
What happened? Don’t cats just automatically use the litter box?
Well, not necessarily, especially if they haven’t had access to a litter box in the environment they lived in before you brought them home. They might not even know what that box full of fake dirt is there for.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to step around cat poop for the rest of your life. Cats are clever creatures and can be trained, at least when it comes to the potty. And we’re going to show you exactly how to train a cat to use the litter box.
Before we start, here’s a few things you should know about toilet training cats.
Tips on Toilet Training Cats
Watch before you start
Observe when your cat usually needs to go. Cats usually prefer to go after they’ve played, eaten or taken a nap. If you know your cat’s schedule, it will be easier to intercept the cat so you can direct her to the litter box instead of a rug or potted plant.
You may also notice that she has one “favorite” spot where she usually goes. This may be a good place to put a litter box if it isn’t going to be in the way. You may also want to put her food and water there because cats have a hardwired instinct to not want to go potty in the same area where they eat and drink.
Play with your cat in the area where you want her to go. This gets the cat used to having a positive experience near the litter box and increases the likelihood that she will want to go afterward.
Clean it up right away
You’ll want to clean it up quickly if and when she goes where she isn’t supposed to. This means not only getting rid of feces that’s outside the litter box, but also eliminating the odor and any wetness. Use a good enzyme cleaner to thoroughly remove the smell, this will let your cat know that this is not an acceptable place to go potty.
Stay open to experimentation
Don’t hesitate to make tweaks to your approach if you need to. If your cat just doesn’t seem to like one brand of litter, try another one. Ditto for the litter box. The point is to make going potty where you want her a relatively pleasant experience for your cat.
Training a cat to use a litter box is no walk in the park, but think of it this way – once you’ve done it, you won’t have to rub kitty urine out of any more of your stuff.
So be patient and no matter what, don’t yell at your cat. Ever. Cats don’t respond well to negative reinforcement and as every cat owner will tell you – they don’t easily forgive. Plus, screaming at a new cat will only make her afraid of you – not a great way to begin the relationship.
So now you know some tips and tricks, let’s find out exactly how to train a cat to use a litter box, shall we?
How To Train A Cat To Use A Litter Box
Fortunately, training a cat to go in a litter box is relatively easy as far as cat tricks go. Cats have an instinct to bury their waste in sand or soil so they don’t advertise their presence to a potential predator. Kittens learn to do this naturally by observing the mama cat.
Kittens are usually ready for litter box training when they’re around 3 to 4 weeks old so as long as your new cat is older than that, here’s what you can do to get him going in all the right places!
Location, location, location
The first thing you want to do is find the right location for the litter box. The place for the litter box should be separate from where your cats normally eat and drink and in a convenient place that doesn’t get a lot of human foot traffic.
Most cats – like people – have a thing for privacy, especially when it comes to the bathroom. So providing them a safe place away from socializing areas reduces anxiety for your cats as well as the chance that they will do their business outside of the box.
The box matters
The easiest way to successfully, effortlessly train your cat? Choose the right litter box. So what is the best litter box for your cat?
For starters, the litter box should be big enough for your cat to turn around in. If you have a kitten, account for the fact that she will grow when choosing a litter box.
If you have a dog who might eat the waste or a cat who really appreciates her privacy, you could choose a covered litter box, but make sure the covered litter box has ample room for your cat to turn around in. And also keep in mind that covered litter boxes trap odor inside and will need to be cleaned very regularly – cats are sticklers for cleanliness and often won’t go in a dirty litter box.
Got multiple cats or a cat that pretty much has the run of the house? You might consider getting more than one litter box to make sure they can find one quickly when they have to go.
Filling it up
You’ve found the perfect spot, you’ve got a great litter box…now what do you fill it up with? Choosing the right kitty litter is crucial but my god, there are so many types! And if you choose the wrong one, your cat won’t want to go in it.
Your cats are not necessarily being bad kitties if they just don’t like a particular type of litter. Cats usually like clumping litter that makes their waste easy to bury and won’t irritate their paws, which is why your vet might recommend not using a particular type of litter for a while if you choose to declaw your cat.
If you notice a kind of dust being released, this may be harmful silica that can get into your cat’s lungs and cause “farmer’s lung.” Sometimes cats don’t like scented or deodorized litters because it can cause allergies to flare up or irritate sensitive noses.
Once you decide on the right cat litter, you want to fill the box up just right. Use too much litter and you’ll have to clean up around the litter box more often because some of it will get kicked out. Too little litter will cause odor problems and can also make cleanup difficult. So aim for a depth of between two and four inches of litter and you’ll be good to go.
Show your cat how it’s done
No, you don’t have to go in it. Simply show your cat how to scratch around in the litter. If your cat hasn’t gone to the litter box with her mother, she may need to be shown that she can dig in it.
Luckily for you, the litter should be relatively clean at this point, so you can run your fingers through the litter.
Keep it clean
While you are training your cat to use the litter box, it may be acceptable to leave a little of the mess in the box so the cat can smell it and remember that this is his “toilet.” Otherwise, you should clean it out daily and remember to wash out the litter box about once a week.
This not only keeps the odor down, but reduces the risk of germs breeding and spreading to cause illness. Not to mention, a dirty litter box is one of the top reasons why cats do their business elsewhere. Remember how sensitive your cat’s olfactory senses are – she’s got 200 million odor-sensitive cells in her nose! We’ve only got 5 million in ours so if the litter box smells bad to you, just think how putrid it smells to her.
Also, keep in mind that cats are so very careful about covering their waste because they don’t want bigger predators to find them – a dirty, stinky litter box can make your cat feel exposed and vulnerable. So make sure it’s kept clean enough for kitty to use regularly.
Help! My Cat Keeps Going Outside the Litter Box!
Done all of the above and your cat is still refusing to do her business in the box?
If you’ve tried everything and your cat just won’t use the litter box, she may have medical issues that make it difficult for her to get there in time.
The only way to know for sure is to take your cat to the vet for a checkup. Sometimes a “bad habit” of eliminating where you don’t want your cat to might be a sign of a medical problem. Tell your vet if your cat has been going outside the litter box frequently or has discolored or bloody-looking urine.
Vomiting, diarrhea or weight loss may also be signs of a medical problem that could affect your cat’s elimination habits. If your cat meows around a lot before using the litter box, this may be a sign that she feels constipated, which can make going painful.
Taking care of any medical issues can clear up the whole going outside the litter box issue so pack up your cat and go see the vet. This guide will still be here when you get back!