How To Train Kittens To Use The Litter Box
Fun fact, did you know that most kittens instinctively know how to use a litter box once it has been shown to them? That is true in most cases. However, if you are caring for orphaned newborn kittens, then using a litter box is something that you may have to teach them until they get the hang of it.
Proper litter box training early on will help your kitten develop healthy habits for life.
Whether or not your new kitten knows how to use the litter box will depend on how it was raised by its mother. Kittens learn most of their behaviors from their mother over the first six weeks of their lives. If the mother uses a litter box, then the kitten will likely learn this before being adopted into a new home.
However, if the kitten was raised outdoors or was separated from the mother too early, it might have no knowledge of litter boxes or even proper elimination habits. This is where you come in and begin litter box training.
How To Choose The Right Litter Box
When you think about choosing a litter box for a kitten, it’s really important that you think about choosing a litter box for where they are at RIGHT NOW. Your kitten needs an easily accessible litter box, so choose something with low sides that it can easily step into.
It should be big enough for the kitten to turn around and go potty in more than one spot as well. My biggest recommendation is to get a cheap small plastic litter box.
Depending on their age and size, you may even want to start with a makeshift litter box. We used empty boxes that we cut to be the right size for our orphaned kitties.
When you’re trying to decide on a type of litter box, it is better to keep it as simple as possible. Covered litter boxes are probably not the best to get your little furbaby used to going to the bathroom.
In the beginning, it may be best to use an open box so you can observe your kitten in it. Once your kitten learns to use the box, you can always upgrade as they grow. As they grow, you may even decide to try covering a box to see if they have a preference. Some cats prefer the privacy of a covered box, while others dislike the closed-in feeling.
For reference, all four of mine LOVE litter boxes with lids, however when we had the little litter boxes when they were babies, they did not mind them at all.
If you have multiple cats, a good rule of thumb is to have one litter box per cat, plus one extra. It’s still a good idea to have two litter boxes if your kitten is the only cat in your home depending on the size of your house. If you live in a home with multiple stories, it is usually recommend to put a litter box on each level to prevent accidents.
How To Choose The Right Type of Litter
When it comes to choosing litter for your kitten, the type of litter you chose not only makes a huge difference for how they take to litter box training, but it can also be harmful. Harmful? Litter? Yes.
Think of kittens like babies. When babies are learning, they will put nearly anything and everything in their mouths. Kittens can do the same thing. Which means they can potentially eat litter.
Clumping litter is great because it clumps all the liquids into a solid scoopable mass. But if your kitten ingests it, it could clump in their stomach and cause a blockage.
To prevent this from happening, I like to recommend non-clumping litter until they are at least 8-10 weeks old.
When it comes to choosing the type of non-clumping litter, do you have some options. Unscented litter is best because perfumes can overwhelm your kitten’s sensitive olfactory system. You can also choose to go with a wheat or corn based litter, but I recommend starting with a basic non-clumping and seeing how your kitten reacts to it.
Another pointer that I like to recommend is when it actually comes to the OUTSIDE of the litter box. I like to put a little mat outside of the litter box to catch particles as your kitty steps out. You may also wish to get a mat to place outside the box to catch litter particles as kitty steps out. It keeps the floor clean, and I’ve caught my cats rubbing their paws on it to clean them off.
How To Create A Safe Environment
Another fun fact time. Do you know when animals feel the most vulnerable? It’s not nighttime. It is actually when they are going to the bathroom.
Because of that, you want to make sure you put the little box in a place where they feel safe. The litter box should be placed in a private yet accessible area of your home. Until they get used to the box, avoid any of those cabinets/litter boxes in one options.
Secondly, you also want to be smart about where you choose to place the litter box in their safe space. It is important that the litter box is not directly next to your kitten’s food or water bowls.
Kittens and cats naturally prefer not to eliminate near their food and beds.
Finally, it is still extremely important to keep the litter box clean. Cats are naturally clean animals. If their box is not clean, you may catch them having accidents in spots where they think are “clean” enough.
Scoop the litter box once or twice a day. Immediately clean up any accidents made outside the box and sweep up stray litter pieces regularly.
How To Train Your Kitten
When it comes to training your kitten to use a litter box, the best thing is emersion therapy. And I don’t mean that in the sense of making them LIVE in a litter box.
Instead, the litter box area should be all set up before you bring your new kitten home. I like to recommend that people create “safe rooms” for new cats to feel safe and comfortable as they transition to this new home of theirs. This can also really help with litter box training.
If you want to know how to set up a safe room, you can read about it here. But in short, the safe room should really have all the essentials your kitten needs to feel safe and healthy. There should be food, water, a litter box, and something for them to sleep on.
I usually recommend also putting an article of your clothing in the room so they start to get used to your scent.
For newborn kittens that you are potty training, you want to do something similar to what you would do with babies.
Right after your kitten eats or drinks, place it in the litter box and do this each time. You may even try scratching at the litter to show the kitten what to do. If you see your kitten sniffing or scratching the ground, place it in the litter box.
If your kitten is peeing or pooping in the room and not in the box, gently place it in the litter box. Do not scold or punish your kitten for eliminating outside the box. This will only make it associate the litter box with negative things and deter kitty from using it.
If your kitten uses the litter box, offer praise with petting or even a toy. Don’t scoop up the area right away; let the scent remain as a reminder to your kitten later. Repetition is the key to success as your kitten is learning new habits.
Heck, I still praise my cats when they use the litter box. I don’t know why…but I still catch myself doing it when they go potty and cover it up.
What To Do If Your Kitten has Accidents
When you’re reading this, it may seem really intimidate and a daunting process to teach kittens to use the litter box. Luckily, most kittens learn to use the litter box fairly quickly. So the training portion should not take a lot of time.
If you kitten is going to the bathroom outside of the litter box, you have some options to start mitigating that negative behavior. If your kitten has one or two specific areas in the house where it likes to eliminate, move the litter boxes to these areas.
Now, if you kitten is still having accidents even when you move the box, there could be another thing at play.
Take a step back and try and imagine you are a kitten.
Is there something about the litter box that would make our feline friend not want to use it? Maybe it’s a sound in the safe room? Or maybe it’s a smell? Or maybe they have a hard time climbing into it.
You may need to make several small changes before your kitten will accept the litter box. (Another reason to not spend a lot of money on litter boxes as you are litter training).
Remember, never punish your cat for accidents. You want to be consistent in moving them to the litter box, especially if you catch them in the middle of an accident.
It is going to be hard, but try not to get angry or frustrated. Animals can sense our emotions. So if we are angry as we are putting them in the litter box, they are going to associate the litter box with anger.
If you continue to have trouble, talk to your veterinarian, who can rule out health issues that might be getting in the way of litter box training and offer training suggestions.
Good luck! And you are on your way to a litter box training kitty! Yay!