How To Litter Train A Kitten (Or Cat)
Litter training is actually a lot simpler than you may think.
If you’re a new cat owner and about to bring home a new kitten, you’re probably wondering how to train a kitten to use a litter box. As we learned from two veterinarians, it’s actually not that daunting of a task when you’re prepared with all the right supplies.
So, what exactly goes into litter training a kitten?
We talked to veterinarians Dr. Michelle Burch from Paramount Pet Health and Dr. Megan Conrad, who works with pet telehealth company Hello Ralphie, to learn how to litter train a kitten and what you’ll need to get your kitten ready for training.
When you can start litter training your kitten
Thankfully, litter training a new kitten takes a lot less effort and time in comparison to potty training a puppy. Plus, you can start the process of cat potty training almost immediately after bringing home your kitten.
“The majority of kittens will easily learn to use a litter box, since cats have a natural instinct to bury their waste,” Dr. Conrad told The Dodo. “Little ones will just need some guidance to get them using the box.”
However, when your kitten can use a litter box will depend on how old she is when you bring her home. Newborn kittens are stimulated to urinate and defecate by their mom’s licking, and she cleans them up afterward. But once they are about 3 or 4 weeks old, kittens begin doing their business on their own, and Dr. Conrad said that they can be introduced to the litter box starting at this point.
In most scenarios, kittens are adopted out at around 6 to 8 weeks old, so you won’t have to worry too much about this transition. “If you've adopted a kitten older than [3 or 4 weeks], it's generally a matter of just showing them where the box is,” Dr. Conrad said.
Choosing the best litter box
There are so many different types of litter boxes out there, from standard plastic versions to metal boxes to boxes that automatically clean up after your cat — you’re probably wondering which one is right for a beginner.
“I recommend using an open plastic litter pan,” Dr. Burch told The Dodo.
Furthermore, Dr. Conrad said it will help your kitten if her litter box is small and has shallow sides so that it’s easy for her to access. “Nothing covered, with a door or self-cleaning,” she said.
“If you have more than one cat at home,” Dr. Burch added, “I recommend having one litter box for each cat, plus one additional.”
Choosing the best litter
You’ve got the right box, but what about the best cat litter? Both Drs. Burch and Conrad agree that it’s best to use an unscented litter to start.
“After your kitten is proficient at using the litter box, you can try experimenting with different litters,” Dr. Burch said, adding that she recommends a clay clumping litter.
Dr. Conrad suggested that a pellet-type paper or wood litter may work great for your first-timer. She likes corn- and wheat-based litters, too. And for kittens younger than 8 weeks, Dr. Conrad said that a basic, non-clumping litter may be better for young cats just getting used to the litter box experience.
“After about 8 weeks of age, you should be able to switch to a clumping litter if preferred,” Dr. Conrad said.
Where to put the litter box
You and your cat will be on the same page about where to put her litter box — neither of you want her to do her business right in the middle of everything!
“I recommend placing the litter box in an area where your kitten has easy access and provides privacy,” Dr. Burch said. “Cats do not like to [do their business] in high-traffic areas as they do not feel safe and will choose an undesired location in the house.”
Dr. Conrad said that it might help your kitten learn to use the litter box if it’s placed near to where she sleeps and spends most of her time (though not right next to her bed or food).
And if you have to move the litter box at all later down the road, then do so gradually.
“I recommend moving the litter box little by little each day until you have transitioned it to the new location,” Dr. Burch said, adding that it’s helpful to put a new litter box in the new location. “Allow your cat to discover the new litter box and use it multiple times, then slowly decrease the amount of litter added to the old pan daily,” Dr. Burch recommended.
Learn how to litter train a kitten with these steps
According to Drs. Burch and Conrad, there are only a few major steps you need to take when training your kitten, and natural instincts will handle the rest.
Introduce your kitten to the new litter box
First, you’ll need to make your kitten aware that the litter box is there for her to use.
“Upon arriving home from adoption, I recommend showing the kitten the location of each litter box in the house,” Dr. Burch said. “Allow it to sniff and explore the litter and pan.”
Continue to place her in the litter box throughout the day
You’ll then need to teach her that she’s supposed to use the litter box when she feels the need to go, which often happens after mealtimes and naps.
“Take your kitten and place it into the litter box after meals, drinking or waking up from naps,” Dr. Burch continued. “I recommend observing your cat for signs it may need to urinate or defecate, such as sniffing or crouching, as a cue to visit the litter pan.”
Show her what to do
After placing her in the box, give her a few pointers on how to use it.
“You can scratch at the litter with your fingers, or even gently take their paws and scratch at the litter,” Dr. Conrad suggested.
Reward, reward, reward
Finally, when she’s done her business, she’ll need all the praise she can get to make her aware that she’s done the right thing.
“When your kitten uses the litter box, I recommend rewarding [her] with a small treat and using praise,” Dr. Burch said.
It’s also important to note that physical or verbal punishment should never be used when training any animal. Punishing can cause fear and emotional damage, which makes training (and building a trustworthy relationship) a lot more difficult in the long run.
How to clean the litter box
Once your kitten has gotten the hang of using her litter box, it’s up to you to keep it clean for her to use.
“Keeping the box clean is an important step in encouraging good litter box habits,” Dr. Conrad said, who suggested checking the box daily and removing any solid waste. A more in-depth cleaning should be done on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
You’ll want to have a sturdy litter scoop on hand to remove all the solid waste and urine clumps (if you’re using a clumping litter).
“When cleaning the litter box weekly, I recommend using mild soap and water or white vinegar and water,” Dr. Burch said. “I do not recommend using bleach, commercial disinfectants or harsh chemicals,” as cats can be super sensitive to chemicals and may have a reaction.
Dr. Burch said that if your cat has an accident outside of the box, “I recommend using an enzymatic cleaner to help eliminate the [smell], encouraging a cat to continue using that spot.”
Like any other command or behavior, training your kitten or cat to use a litter box takes a bit of time, patience and positive reinforcement. But with the right attitude and natural instincts on your side, your little BFF will have the hang of it in no time!
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