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Kittens in a litter box

Source: Flickr, Sam Daniels

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. Before reaching four weeks of age, mother cats help kittens use the bathroom — or you’d use a damp washcloth or cotton ball to help. Sometimes, the little ones aren’t the only ones you might have to teach. Adult cats have the chance of needing to be re-trained on how to use the litter box, but this could be due to health problems.

👉Read this guide on how to care for kittens younger than eight weeks old.

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. Don’t fret; we’ve got you. Follow these steps and your kitten will be ready to go to the bathroom in no time.

Five kittens in a row in grass

Gather your supplies

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, 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.

In addition to litter, you’ll need to find the right litter box. As 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 most 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.

Kitten smelling a flower

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.

Kitten sleeping on a throw rug

Patience and positivity

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.

👉 When cats of any age don’t go to the bathroom regularly, this can lead to problems like UTIs and diarrhea.

Tips for kitten litter box training

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.

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.

If there are too many clumps or previously soiled areas, your cat will not go because they won’t feel they can adequately hide their waste. It is best to scoop daily, even if you only have one cat. Cleaning the box once a week should also help with this.

Location, location, 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. If you have multiple floors in your home, putting at least one box per floor is also helpful. Having litter boxes in different locations will help reduce accidents.

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. Especially if you have male cats already established in the home, you will not want him marking and claiming all of the boxes and keeping your new kitten from using them.

Distraction-free. 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. Quiet, small rooms will help your cat be comfortable when going to the bathroom.

Litter box accidents and older cats

Litter training kittens is important, but older cats can develop issues with using the litter box for many reasons. Some are behavioral, such as cats marking their territory , or stress-related because of changes in their environment. Paying attention to your cat’s body language and using products with special hormonal diffusers and sprays such as Feliway can help.

Outside of these reasons, 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.

  • Urinary tract infection: Blood in the urine, straining to urinate, and excessive licking of the genitalia are all symptoms of a possible UTI in your cat. Getting them to a vet as soon as possible is very important. UTIs can lead to kidney and bladder stones that can cause extreme pain and possibly even death due to obstructions or severe kidney infection if left untreated.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Please remember, if you have a cat that suddenly starts having accidents or issues, please take them to the vet. Nothing may be wrong, but that is not a chance anyone wants to take. Early vet attention and prevention can help stop many health issues from taking root.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to litter train a kitten?

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 do I do if my cat stops using the litter box?

Make sure that you’re keeping your cat’s litter box clean enough for them. A clean box is very important to your cat. If the litter box is not dirty, it may be best to visit the vet.

My new cat was a stray and won’t use a litter box.

You could help your cat become more comfortable with the litter box by taking their poop from the floor and putting it in the box. This will help them associate their scent with the box and let them know it is safe to use.