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Cat smelling a litter box

The essentials

  • Try some different products — Explore different types of litter and litter boxes to find what your kitten prefers.
  • Litter box height matters — Kittens are small, so shallow litter boxes make it easier to get in and out.
  • Adult cats need re-training sometimes — Rescues and cats with health issues might need to be shown again.

Once your little kitten is four weeks old, you can introduce them to the litter box and the idea of litter box training. It’s a multi-step process that requires patience and positivity — but we promise it’ll be worth it in the end!

If you’re looking for extra support, you’re in the right place. We’ve put together this helpful guide to show you how to litter train a kitten while keeping the process as painless as possible.

When should I start kitten litter box training?

Litter box training should start when the kitten is four weeks old, as this is about the time they start weaning from their mother. Before this point, mothers take care of the kittens and help them learn to “go,” or you might help them with a damp towel or cotton ball if they’re weaned early.

A step-by-step guide to kitten litter box training

Most kittens will instinctively use the litter box. But, in some cases, they need you to show them how. Follow these steps and your kitten will be ready to go to the bathroom in no time.

1. Gather your supplies: Choosing your litter box and litter

It is important to remember that cats, both young kittens and adult cats, are known to be picky. There are many options for cat litter and boxes, from sandy or crystalline to clay-based. Cat owners will need to set up boxes with different types of litter to see what the kitten prefers.

Before we get into litter, let’s pick a box to fill. The most common box types include:

  • Covered boxes. This Catit AiRSiFT Litter Pan on Chewy is a great option for many, featuring a shallow pan, easy-access door, and a roomy design your cat will love.
  • Uncovered boxes. This Petmate open-style cat litter box might be a better choice for cats who are more skittish, or for kittens who are newer to the potty process.
  • Robotic boxes. While it seems pretty futuristic, there are a ton of robotic, self-cleaning litter boxes out there (and the option is getting more popular!) If you want a box you can set and forget, this is the box for you.
  • DIY boxes. If you’re not quite ready to invest yet, you could always go for a DIY solution. A shallow, flat box with short sides can be lined with a disposable bag and some litter for a simple potty-and-toss.

Not sure which litter box to choose? You could always ask your veterinarian’s opinion. However, a general rule of thumb, litter boxes need to be 1.5 times as long as your feline friend is from nose to the base of their tail. This size ensures they have the room to walk in, turn around, paw about, and eventually do their business.

While some owners will want an open box to make removing the pee or poop easier, there are careful considerations you have to make. If your cat wants privacy while doing the deed, an open-air box can make them uncomfortable and less likely to go.

From experience, most cats (my patients and own pets included) appreciate the bigger, open boxes. And my hooded/covered boxes aren't used as often except in the case of [smaller, younger cats]. My guess for the big box preference is that it is less smelly and cleaner, plus there is lots of room to turn when pooping. Cats are big on being clean, after all.

Dr. Erica Irish

Low sides on the litter box mean your cat can accidentally fling litter and excrement out of the box. However, with kitten litter box training, lower sides allow them to get in and out with little trouble. Lower sides will also be helpful if you have a senior cat suffering from arthritis.

2. Finding the right kind of litter

Your litter choice can impact your cat’s health, which is why it’s so critical to get it right from the start of your litter training experience. Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid options with chemicals and toxins.

Common litter options include:

  • Clay litter
  • Clumping litter
  • Pellet litter
  • Wood flake litter
  • Crystal litter

If you’re not sure which litter to choose, consider asking your veterinarian to weigh in. They can also advise on any allergy risks for your pet based on their specific profile of needs. 3.

3. Set up multiple potty spots

Just like a young child, your cat might not know they need to go until they’re about to “go.” To avoid messes, have multiple potty spots around the house; averaging at least one potty spot on every floor of your house. After you make that count, it’s best to throw in an extra one, especially if you have multiple cats. Doing this step pre-emptively can limit territorial behavior later on.

4. Kitten introduction

Once you have your litter boxes and cat litter picked out and placed around the house, it’s time to get your kitten acquainted with them. Show them where they are and let them get familiar with it, and then you can start by gently placing your kitten in the litter. They might begin instinctually pawing at or using the litter; you can inspire them to do this by running your fingers through it if they don’t.

Your kitten may not always use the litter at the first introduction, but practice makes perfect. In addition to showing them the box and how to use it, you can place your kitten in the box after they eat, drink, or wake up from naps to inspire them.

If they try to go anywhere outside the box, gently redirect them to the box to try to get them to go. You can try to keep them in the area for five to ten minutes, seeing if the mood strikes after these key points in their day.

5. Reinforcing good habits (and ignoring mistakes)

It is important to establish a positive association with the litter box and going to the bathroom. One effective way to do this is by rewarding your cat with their favorite treat as soon as they finish using the litterbox. This positive reinforcement will help them to associate using the litter box with getting a reward. They will want to replicate this success to get more treats.

Even when your kitten or older cat has an accident or misses the litter box, keeping a positive attitude is important. Punishing your cat or pushing their face into the mess creates more issues. This can traumatize kittens and adult cats, causing them to hide their waste or become fearful of you as the owner or going potty at all. Simply clean up the mess and reinforce that they use the litter box on the next try.

As you train, try to remain aware of your emotional state. Your cats can pick up on your emotional cues, which can directly impact their ability to emotionally regulate .

👉 Accidents do happen — and when they do, they should be cleaned with a pet-safe enzyme cleaner to erase the “scent”. Using this type of cleaner helps to prevent future accidents.

🚨 When cats of any age don’t go to the bathroom regularly, this can lead to problems like UTIs and diarrhea. Have them seen by the vet right away.

6. Keep good litter box habits

Even with these tips, you might find yourself having difficulty getting your kitten or older cat to use the litterbox. This is not always due to your cat not knowing how, but rather your cat’s preference and the set-up of your litter station.

Here are some tips to help troubleshoot if you are still having issues.

  • Pick the right location — You might find your cat reluctant to use a litter box if it is in a busy, high-traffic area of your home. The more private space for your cat, the better. Think about it from your point of view: do you want people walking in on you in the bathroom? Neither does your kitty.
  • Keep it clean — You and your cat might have a different idea of a clean litter box. If your cat is eliminating its waste near the litter box but not within it, you might need to change the litter and clean the box more frequently.
  • Give your kitten easy access — Make sure the litter box is easy to access, but also consider other cats. If you have more than one cat in the home, it is important to have one box per cat, plus an extra one.
  • Eliminate distractions — Loud noises like a washing machine in a laundry room can startle your cat and ruin their comfort level with the litter box. Also, keeping the litter box near your cat’s food and water will cause it to forgo one of the two necessities. Try to keep them separate so there is no confusion or conflict for your feline friend.

Troubleshooting litter box issues

The potty training process can have its ups and downs. Here’s our quick-start troubleshooting guide to help get you through the lows and back to the mountaintops.

Your cat is peeing outside of the litter box

  • They could be exhibiting behavioral issues. Some cats may do this if they are feeling worried or scared, or if they are removed from their routine.
    • The fix: Focus on giving your cat extra TLC and trying to keep things “business as normal” around the house can help them to get over this hurdle.
  • They could be marking their territory. Cats can appear to do this at random, or they may do it if they feel that their resources are threatened.
    • The fix: Make sure that there are enough potty areas, food spots, and toys around, especially if you have other cats. This reduces the competition and should limit the marking.
  • They might need a little extra support. Some cats benefit from hormonal diffusers or sprays (like Feliway sprays) to help them know where to go.
    • The fix: Implement a spray after connecting with your veterinarian. Then, monitor the cat’s behavior for a few days. You should be able to tell if the spray is helping them “go” sooner rather than later.

Your cat doesn’t make it to the bathroom, but they did before

Outside of the reasons mentioned above, we do want to note that health issues could be causing these sudden changes. It is best to take your cat to the vet to ensure there isn’t anything worse lurking under the surface.

Here are a few possible health concerns that can lead to potty troubles down the line:

  • Urinary tract infections. Signs of a UTI include the presence of blood in your cat’s urine, straining to urinate, and excessive licking of the genitalia. If you suspect a UTI, getting your cat to a vet as soon as possible is very important. Other urinary issues include idiopathic cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), pyelonephritis (kidney infection) cancer, and kidney or bladder stones that can cause extreme pain and possibly even death due to obstructions.
  • Cognitive dysfunction. Most closely resembling Alzheimer’s or dementia in humans, this condition happens when the brain functions of an older cat slow down with age.
  • Arthritis. Arthritis in a cat can lead to poor grooming habits and difficulty getting to the litter box. Medication, supplements, and therapy can help reduce the symptoms of arthritis, but it is best to consult your vet to get the best plan started.
  • Obesity. If your cat has packed on a few too many pounds, the extra weight can make getting around the house difficult and taxing. This includes getting to the litter box. This could lead to more accidents and serious health issues.
  • Obstruction. If your cat seemingly can’t pee, it could mean that they are dealing with an obstruction. This can cause severe issues if left untreated, so we recommend seeking veterinary support as soon as possible.
  • Pain. If your cat struggles to get to the litter tray or exhibits pain when trying to expel their waste, it could be a sign of something worse.

🚨 If your cat suddenly starts having accidents or issues, please take them to the vet. Early vet attention and prevention can help stop many health issues from taking root.

While litter box training can be difficult, it can be done over time — and the process and “I got it!” moment can be incredibly rewarding for both you and your feline friend. As you go through the process, remember to stay calm and collected, even if accidents happen.

Prepare by purchasing the right potty tools for your cat, and monitor their behavior to assess for progress. If you need extra help, your veterinarian can be a helpful resource to you through this process, keeping both you and your pet moving at a proper pace.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to train a kitten to use the litter box?

While most cats will take to using the litter box instinctively, others will require patience and perseverance on your part. You might have to put them in the litter box for several days until they understand what it is for, but kittens will generally be trained within a few weeks.

How often should I put my kitten in the litter box?

If your kitten has issues getting used to the litter box, putting them in after meals and when they wake up from a nap should help. However, it might be helpful to try other litter types if you’re not seeing progress with your kitten.

What is the fastest way to litter train a kitten?

Kittens often train at their own pace. However, many pet parents find luck using the cat campout method, sitting in the potty spot with the pet and placing them in the box over set time increments. You can also take a more “hands-off” approach to the training process, only sitting with your cat and pottying them after key points in their day — such as after mealtimes.

What age should kittens start litter training?

Kitties should be 4 weeks or older when they start the litter training process. However, you can train or re-train your cat any time past this point.

Are kittens hard to litter train?

It can be difficult to litter train a kitten. However, the process can be made easier with a positive outlook and a lot of patience. Prepare early on by speaking to your veterinarian, gathering supplies, and shifting your mindset. Both you and your kitten will feel the difference!