Cats will instinctively seek out a sandy, granular spot if they need the toilet. Kittens on the other hand, will need a bit of help with litter training to get the hang of proper toileting habits. If you are about to pick up your new fur baby, now is the time to start thinking about litter training.
For the first few weeks of life, the mother cat helps the kittens with toileting and she will also clean up after them. Around 4 weeks of age a mother cats starts to wean the kittens and this is an ideal time to begin litter box training. If you have an older kitten or an adult cat, you can begin litter training right away.
Below we have laid out 4 simple steps you can use to help your kitten or cat achieve litter box training success.
1. Choosing a litter box
- The right size – If you have a kitten, they may find a full sized litter box a bit intimidating, so begin with a small tray around 34 X 24cm in size. Kittens will also be best with a low sided box that they can easily get in and out of.
A full size litter box is fine for older kittens and adult cats. As a rule of thumb, the litter box should be about 1.5 times the length of the cat so that they have the ability to turn around. Cats have a natural tendency to cover their waste, so be sure to choose a box that gives them space to kick the litter about. A high sided box is great for keeping waste and litter confined to the box and off the floor.
- The right material – A heavy duty plastic litter box will stand the test of time and will make cleaning easier.
- How many? – It’s recommended to have a litter box for each cat, plus one. So if you own just one cat you should have two litter boxes, while two cats will do best with three litter boxes.
- Covered or uncovered? – In the wild cats, don’t want to risk being caught by a predator, in an enclosed space. This is also true when it comes to litter boxes. Cats aren’t necessarily after privacy, they don’t want to feel trapped when using their litter box, so an uncovered box would be ideal. Some cats however, won’t mind if the box is covered or not. So ultimately it comes down to your cat’s personal preference. If you are able to, you could offer them both types and see which they prefer.
2. Choosing the right type of litter
Some cats can be quiet particular about the type of litter that is used in their box and many tend to show a preference for a fine grained litter. While there are a number of litters available to choose from they are divided into two main types, clumping and non-clumping.
- A non-clumping litter is often less expensive and is typically made of clay or plant based ingredients such as pine, corn, wheat or wood. These litters are good at removing odours as they can absorb large amounts of urine. Sometimes baking soda or charcoal are added to further combat odour issues.
Once the non-clumping litter becomes saturated, urine can pool in the bottom of the tray and it can be difficult to remove a soiled section without changing the whole tray. Many cat owners that use non-clumping litter find that they need to change the litter and clean the box at least once a week.
- Clumping litters allow for any soiled litter to be easily removed from the box with a scoop, without the need to empty the entire box. This means that emptying, cleaning and re-filling with fresh litter can be done less frequently.
- Minimise the perfume – Don’t try to cover your cats scent with a perfumed litter as they can be repelled by strong odours. Cats locate their litter boxes by scent, so if he can’t smell it, chances are he won’t find it.
3. Litter box placement
Where you place the litter box can be crucial when initially convincing your kitten to use it.
- Cat’s don’t like to feel trapped – Keeping in mind, that cats don’t like to feel like they are being confined, avoid placing the litter box in cupboards or hidden away in a corner. Yes, a litter box in the open can be unsightly, but it’s where you cat will feel more comfortable.
When beginning training place the litter box where your cat feels most comfortable and gradually move it to where you would prefer it to be kept.
- Space them out – Avoid placing multiple litter boxes next to each other, as kittens can see this as one big box and may not be too keen on sharing this space with another cat.
- Minimise distractions – During litter box training, kittens can be easily distracted, so place the litter box in a quiet space, away from distractions. In the initial stages of training keep the kitten in a small room, that is free of carpets and rugs and has minimal bedding, so that they aren’t enticed to toilet anywhere but the litter tray.
- Keep it simple – Make it easy for your cat to get to the litter tray when the need it. Place litter trays in easy to access spots and if you have a multi-level house, have a litter box available on each level.
4. Let the litter training begin!
Once you are all set up with litter boxes in place, filled with your chosen litter, it’s time to show your kitten what it all about.
- Show your kitten the location of each litter box and allow them to familiarise with the box by sniffing it.
- Place your kitten in the litter box and hopefully they will instinctively begin to paw at the litter. This may in turn lead to them actually using the litter box. If they don’t paw at the litter, demonstrate the pawing action by running your fingers through the litter.
- Try placing your kitten in the litter box after eating, drinking and sleeping until they start using the litter box on their own.
- Reward appropriate litter box use with a special treat. This will help to create a positive association with the activity. It’s important to give the treat as soon as they leave the box, so that they know what they are being rewarded for.
- Mistakes will happen, so just calmly clean it up and do not yell at or punish your kitten as they may become discouraged from trying again. When a mistake happens, pick up your cat and place him in the litter box so that he knows this is where he should have gone.
- Once the litter box has been soiled, scoop out the waste and top up with fresh litter to maintain a depth of at least 5 cm. Kittens can develop an aversion to using the box if they feel that it is dirty. Once the kitten is older and consistently using the box, you can change to scooping out waste daily instead.
As with anything, litter training your kitten takes time. Be patient with them and support them through this learning curve. The majority of cats do learn to use the litter box. If they don’t, they are most likely avoiding using the box due to having a preference on litter box position or litter type or the cleanliness of the box. Use trial and error until you find what is right for your cat and these efforts will pay off in the long run.