Before learning how to litter box train your kitty, it’s important to set yourself up for success by getting the right supplies. Gather the basics prior to bringing home your new kitty. To start with, you absolutely need a cat litter box, and you may even opt for a litter box liner to make cleaning up a bit easier. Stock up on cat litter; it’s amazing how much you go through, and invest in a durable litter scoop (You’ll be thankful that you did!). I also highly recommend using a cat litter box mat to help reduce tracking, catch spills, and help to define your cat’s bathroom space.

There are many types of cat litter to choose from. Select the one that fits best for you and your kitty. Traditional clay-based litter clumps well and is easy to scoop. However, some cat parents prefer entirely natural or biodegradable options. Using cat litter made from cedar or other woods, walnut shells, recycled paper, wheat or corn, can even reduce the amount of dust and debris your cat tracks around the house.

It’s important to note that when kittens are very small, it is advised to not use a clumping litter in the beginning.  The concern is that the kitty may ingest some particles and the litter may clump inside the kitten’s body, causing gastrointestinal blockage. It’s best to avoid clumping litters until your kitty gets the hang of the litter box thing.

Litter Box Training 101

In general, litter box training is quite easy. Instinct will usually take over and luckily cats are intrinsically clean animals that prefer to bury their waste. First thing is to make sure your cat knows where to find the litter box. When you first bring home your new furbaby, confining your kitty to a small, quiet area with clean water, fresh food, and a clean litter box is important. This allows your cat to acclimate to their new surroundings at that their own pace.

It’s equally important for your kitty to develop an understanding and trust for their new environment. Even placing their paws in their new litter box at first will help them understand this is their new place to do their business. Make sure you leave the door to the room slightly ajar. This way once your kitty successfully uses the litter box and seems comfortable, they are able to come out and roam in their new territory.

It is recommended not to use a covered litter box during the training period. This style may complicate the process if they are not accustomed to it or they may be too little to enter this type of litter box. Instead, try using a shallow litter pan until your kitty grows more accustom to using their new litter box.

Keep Litter Box Training Positive

If your cat urinates or defecates outside the litter box, simply place the waste inside the litter box. The smell should help your cat find the litter box and teach them to use it in the future. Never rub a cat’s nose in their mess to show it’s in the wrong place. Your cat will not learn from this and instead may learn that going tot he bathroom in general is bad. Remember, cats respond much more strongly to positive reinforcement than to punishment or yelling. Try giving your kitty a treat when they use the litter box correctly to encourage that behavior.

Be sure to clean any mess with a pet stain remover to discourage your kitty from going in the same spot next time. Refrain from using any cleaners that contain any amounts of ammonia. Their urine contains ammonia and this could tempt your cat to urinate in the same spot again. Instead, use a product specifically designed for cleaning pet accidents. 

Pet enzyme cleaners work great if you get to it right away. If you don’t have any handy, reach into your pantry and grab some vinegar. Equal parts water and white vinegar or apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle works well. If it’s very pungent, you may want to use pure vinegar and saturate the area very well. Then rinse the area with cool water and dry with a clean cloth. Consider using some baking soda in the area using a brush to really get into the fibers of the carpet. You can easily vacuum up any excess.

Continue to spray or spread, rinse / repeat, or even better get a Bissel type carpet cleaner vacuum that sucks up the wet grime until you’re satisfied. Now, if you’re stepping into a situation where a cat has been urinating in the same spot for a while, you’re into the replacement stage unfortunately. It will have worked its way into the padding and plywood underneath the carpet and really should be replaced.

kitten sitting in litter box

Common Challenges When You’re Litter Box Training

Cats may refuse to use the litter box if something about it is unappealing to them. If your cat is still not using the litter box after a day or two, try the following:

  • After a meal, try placing them in the litter box and briefly scratch the litter with their paw. Don’t force your kitty to stay in the litter box; we want to keep the litter box experience positive.
  • Change the type of litter used. The type of litter may be unappealing to them. Most kitties prefer an unscented, scoopable litter. Many cat parents also prefer scoopable litters because they are easier to clean and help control odors.
  • Change the litter box location. The litterbox location could be unappealing to your kitty. Most cats prefer a quiet place with several escape routes. Try to keep your cat’s food dishes as far away from the litterbox as possible.
  • Clean the litter box. The litterbox could be too dirty. Scoop it out daily, add new litter as needed, and wash the box with baking soda or an unscented soap. Do a full litter change monthly or more as needed.
  • The litter box could be too small or there aren’t enough litterboxes. Especially as your kitty grows, their space needs may change. Also, it’s recommended to provide at least one litterbox per cat, and ideally one extra box.
  • There could be too much litter in the litter box (or not enough). Most cats prefer the litter to be about 1 to 2 inches deep.

Litter Box Training Still Not Working? There Could Be Other Problems!

If your house has become a giant litter box, don’t despair! There are many methods available to address and prevent your cat from chronic accidents in the house. Unfortunately, house soiling is one of the most common reasons why cats are abandoned or surrendered to a shelter. It’s important to know that cats generally don’t urinate and defecate all over their house out of spite. Rather, it’s because something may be lacking with your kitty’s emotional, physical, or medical needs being met.

House soiling is not common but could be how your kitty will communicate something is very wrong. If your cat begins to go to the bathroom outside of the litter box, your first call should always be to your veterinarian. Many medical conditions can cause a change in your kitty’s litter box habits. If your veterinarian examines your cat and gives them a clean bill of health, your cat may have a behavior problem that needs to be solved. Your kitty may need some diagnostic tests completed, like bloodwork or x-rays, to rule out other medical conditions before concluding the problem is indeed behavioral. If these tests come up negative for medical conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, bacteria in the urine, intestinal parasites, bladder stones, or arthritis, your veterinarian may ask about behavioral history or any environmental factors. Stressful situations can also lead cats to marking behavior or house soiling.

If you’re looking for some homeopathic remedies to help your kitty destress, there are some alternatives to consider like CBD oil or calming treats to help kitties mellow out a bit. These also have some other health benefits for your feline as well. Using a calming cat bed may just be what your kitty needs to relax, or some cats just love good old-fashioned catnip. Try some simple solutions to help them destress a little bit; but if you’re having a particularly hard time with your cat adjusting or misbehaving, there are cat behaviorists that can help. Do your research and see what would be a right fit for you and your pet.

cat sitting on top entry litter box

What Happens If Your Cat Has Developed a Surface or Location Preference?

What an unfortunate ‘surface’ of events. If you’ve ruled out medical issues and your cat is seemingly healthy but just prefers eliminating on a certain kind of surface or location, you’ll need to make that surface or its location less appealing. For example, if the location they prefer is in a dark area, try putting a bright light or, even better, a motion-activated light in the area. You can also make surfaces less pleasant to stand on by adding textures or sounds they do not like, such as placing upside-down carpet pieces, aluminum foil or double-sided sticky tape where your cat has soiled in the past. At the same time, provide your cat with extra litter boxes in acceptable places in case part of the problem is the location of the usual litter box. Try using multiple options of litter to choose from so you can rule that out as a deterrent. As mentioned before, clean accidents very thoroughly with a cleanser designed to neutralize pet odors.

If you are having trouble litter box training your cat, your veterinarian is a great source of information. They may have some helpful suggestions to help you and your feline purrsevere.


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