Ah, the joys of litter box training…
Adopting a new kitten may be one of the most delightful experiences a person can have—the sweet cuddles, the awkward playfulness, the spontaneous naps, the doe-eyed stares, their curiosity and wonder, and, oh, the joys of litter box training! What’s that? You’re not equally enamored with the idea of teaching your kitten to use the litter box? Don’t worry, it’s not that hard—but it is essential.
Proper litter box use is one of—if not the—most important things you can teach your kitten. Elimination problems (going outside the litter box) is one of the most commonly cited reasons for giving up a cat. You can mitigate future problems by starting things off right.
Kittens raised by their mothers might already be litter box trained.
Depending on how you adopt your cat, it’s possible that your kitten will be trained before he or she arrives home. Mother cats who use litter boxes will start teaching their kittens how to use the litter box at roughly three-to-four weeks of age. If your kitten is old enough to leave its mother—roughly eight weeks of age—and has been raised indoors, your kitten is probably already litter box trained.
When should you litter train a kitten?
Some kittens will need your help learning to use the litter box, and understanding the circumstances can help you know where to start.
Stray or feral kittens may not be adequately litter trained. Though feral mother cats will teach her kittens to cover feces, these kittens will have no experience with litter boxes and cat litter. They may be used to going on dirt or leaves, which won’t necessarily translate to the indoor litter box.
Also, kittens who leave their mothers too early won’t be litter trained. Mother cats don’t even begin to litter train their kittens until they’re about three or four weeks old. If you’re caring for a very young kitten, you may have to take over some of the motherly duties.
How to litter box train your kitten
Litter box training can be a little messy and requires a lot of patience. Just remember that in the long-term, the positive associations you create by praising desirable behavior is more likely to result in success than negative associations created by punishing your kitten. The kitten is young and new to the world; whatever it learns in those early months of life has the potential to stick for a lifetime. Be patient, consistent, and gentle, and your kitten is much more likely to be successful.
Reduce the (potential) disaster area.
When you first bring your kitten home, limit the area where your cat can roam. Not only will this reduce the number of places where your cat might have an accident, it will also make your kitten’s new environment feel more manageable (in terms of territory). Inside the small area, you should have food, water, a comfortable place for your kitten to sleep, toys, and a clean litter box.
Begin by placing your kitten in the litter box (and then keep doing it).
Start by placing your kitten in the litter box, especially each time the kitten wakes and after meals. Simply set your kitten in his or her litter box and, in many cases, this will teach your young one where to use the bathroom. When they successfully use the litter box, lavish praise on your kitten to create a positive association with correct use of the litter box.
Be careful with kittens and cat litter.
Some kittens will eat small amounts of cat litter at first. While litter box training, you may want to supervise your kitten each time s/he has access to or uses the litter box. If you cannot supervise your kitten, you may want to avoid using clumping litter as it can cause intestinal blockages if eaten.
There are various reasons why kittens eat litter, including curiosity, but if the behavior persists, visit the vet to get it checked out. If suspect your kitten has eaten litter, it’s best to head to the vet right away.
Accidents: They’re going to happen.
When kittens are very young, accidents are bound to happen. The best way to handle them is calmly. Rubbing kittens’ noses in a mess and yelling at them is neither productive nor kind. When your kitten makes a solid mess, simply use a paper towel, pick it up, and place both the kitten and the mess in the litter box.
Once kittens associate litter boxes with going to the bathroom, you’re on your way. Avoid making elimination traumatic for your kitten, and you’ll be on a path to successful kitten litter box training.
General litter box rules apply!
Once some time passes and you begin allowing your kitten to roam your house, remember that the same general rules that apply to litter boxes for adult cats apply to kittens too.
- There should be one more litter box than the number of cats in your household: one cat should have two litter boxes; two cats should have three, etc. (If you have a self-cleaning litter box, you don’t need as many.)
- Cats prefer privacy when they use the litter box. Placing the box in a quiet, low-traffic area of your home will yield best results.
- Pay attention to your cat’s preferences. Some cats prefer unscented litter. Some prefer covered boxes. Some prefer automatic self-cleaning boxes that are always clean. When you find what works, your best solution is to keep using it.
- Large indoor houseplants—particularly ones on the floor—can be tempting to kittens. Either move them outdoors or to a room your kitten can’t access.