Figuring out how to train a cat to use a litter box is a top priority when bringing a new fur baby home. Besides the basic necessities of learning where their food and water are, a safe and clean designated place to relieve themselves is next on the list. If you’re a new pet owner, learning training basics will help you and your cat acclimate more quickly. In this article, we provide tips for litter training.
Let’s start by looking at why litter boxes are used and how long it takes to get your cat to use one.
Why We Use Litter Boxes For Cats
Why do we use kitty litter boxes in the first place? We train our dogs to go potty outside, why not cats? Well, some people do train their cats to go outside. However, there is both a convenience factor and a safety factor. Most people don’t leash walk their cats, but outdoor cats tend to live shorter lives than indoor cats.
For those wanting to keep their cat indoors, litter boxes are essential as they provide a designated and convenient area for them to urinate and defecate without having to go outdoors. They capitalize on felines’ instinctual behavior to dig and bury their waste in a hole. The litter box allows them to do this and cover up the waste with the litter, which simulates ground dirt or sand.
Litter boxes offer a hygienic solution, reducing odors and preventing messes throughout the house. They also facilitate health monitoring. For instance, you know if your cat is experiencing diarrhea or urinating more than usual. Overall, litter boxes ensure a clean and comfortable living space for cats while promoting the well-being of everyone in the household.
How Long Does It Take a Cat To Learn to Use a Litter Box?
The time it takes for a cat to learn to use a litter box can vary depending on the cat’s age, previous experiences, temperament, and health. In general, most kittens start learning to use a litter box around three weeks old by observing their mother. Most cats very quickly and naturally pick up the intent of the litter box, as it is the only place in the home they can fulfill their instincts to dig and bury their waste. But, it can take a single day to four weeks to train a kitten. An older cat that hasn’t been litter trained as a kitten may take up to six weeks or more to use the litter box consistently and exclusively on its own.
When introducing a new kitten or adult cat to a litter box, it may take some time for them to adjust. With proper guidance and consistency, cats can typically learn to use it rather quickly. Patience and understanding are key when training, as each cat may have its own unique learning pace and preferences.
What Age Should You Start Litter Box Training?
You can litter box train a cat at any age. While kittens can start around three weeks old, if you’re fostering or adopting a cat that’s not trained, you can start as soon as you take it home. The reason you want to wait until three weeks to start training kittens is that they’re starting to develop their motor skills and observational abilities. It makes it easier for them to learn from their mother and siblings if they have them.
Many kittens adopted out from shelters are at least 8 weeks of age. If you adopt a new kitten, it likely already has litter box experience and will simply need to be reminded where its new litter box is located.
How To Train a Cat To Use a Litter Box
When you train a cat to use a litter box the key, like with any teaching, is patience and consistency. Help your kitten or adult cat along the way with a calm demeanor and they’ll thank you for it. Let’s check out five tips for successful training.
1. Get a Litter Box (Or Multiple)
First, you’ll need to get a litter box. Or if you have multiple cats, get at least one for each. Sharing isn’t caring when it comes to litter.
Choosing the right litter box is key, but you might need to go through some trial and error to determine your cat’s preferences. As we discussed earlier in this article, your cat might prefer a walk-in box versus a step-over. You also want to make sure you get a size appropriate for your pet. It needs to be able to turn around comfortably in the box. So, if you’re litter training a kitten, realize it’ll grow and need more space eventually.
2. Choose Where to Place It
Choose a designated area in your house to keep the litter box, so your cat learns it’s there. If you switch spots, it may get confused or become defiant. Make sure to pick a location that is easily accessible for your cat and a room it’ll never be locked out of. Cats use the litter box day and night, so you want it to be able to get to the litter at all times.
When bringing a new cat home, it can be helpful to establish a “cat room” as part of its introduction to the home. You can put the litter box in the room, and if it makes sense you may also want to put food and water dishes in there too.
3. Introduce Your Cat to the Litter Box
The next step is to introduce your cat to the litter box. It’s helpful to set it in the box for the first time and move its paws in the litter to understand it’s diggable. Then, praise your cat when it pees or poops in the litter. You can pet and scratch it while in the box too, so they associate it with a positive space and soon a place to relieve themselves.
4. Observe How Your Cat Interacts With the Litter Box
Observe your cat during the training period and notice how it interacts with the litter box. This will also give you opportunities to praise it when it goes into the box. If your cat is peeing or pooping outside the box, something might be wrong. We get into that coming up, but just remember patience is key. Training can take a while and it varies from cat to cat.
5. Keep the Litter Box Clean
Keeping the litter box clean is crucial during training and beyond. Cats don’t like going in dirty litter. So, it’s extremely important they learn from the beginning that their litter will be clean for them to dig and do their business when they get in the box. Make it part of your routine to check and clean the litter box in the morning and evening.
Pro Tip: CES 2023 introduced the Whisker Litter Robot. It’s self-cleaning and WiFi-enabled.
What If My Cat Won’t Use the Litter Box?
If your cat refuses to use the litter box, it can be frustrating and concerning. There can be several reasons why it’s avoiding the litter box. It could be due to medical issues such as a urinary tract infection or constipation, which can cause discomfort while using the litter box. Unfortunately, cats associate the pain with the litter box and seek out other potentially more comfortable places to go. Or it could be arthritis or an injury that makes it challenging to step into the box. If you suspect your cat is going outside of the litter box for medical reasons, schedule a vet visit for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Other reasons for litter box avoidance can include stress, changes in the environment, a dirty litter box, or territorial issues in multi-cat households. Also, some cats don’t like a step-over litter box and prefer a walk-in one or they may like one with a lid. Many cat experts advise against enclosed litter boxes in multi-cat households as it makes for a perfect ambush situation, which in turn can make them feel too vulnerable to go potty in them.
To address the problem, start by ensuring the litter box is clean, easily accessible, and located in a quiet area. You may also want to experiment with different types of litter and provide multiple litter boxes for multiple cats. If your cat still refuses to go in the box, consulting with your vet may be needed.
What Type of Cat Litter Should You Use?
There are different types of cat litter and ultimately it’s a personal preference for you and your cat. Brands like Pretty Litter are made of silica gel crystals. It changes colors depending on blood pH levels in urine. This helps alert you to any potential health problems.
Other types of cat litter are made of clay and other minerals and can be broken into two broad categories: clumping and non-clumping.
Train Your Cat To Use the Litter Box the Easy Way
As you can see, knowing how to train a cat to use a litter box isn’t too difficult. Our tips will prepare you to help your fur baby succeed. Now, the only hard part is regularly cleaning the litter box.
Have you trained a cat to use a litter box? Share any additional tips you have in the comments below.
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