Litter Box Training: How to Get Your Kitten to Use One

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One of the benefits of owning a cat is that they are naturally very clean animals that can be easily trained to use a litter box, preventing the need for keeping them outside or dashing home over lunch to let them out. However, it is important to establish with your cat the litter box routine to ensure that you get off to the right start.

» You might be interested How to Keep Cat Litter off the Floor and Smells that Deter Your Cat from Peeing on your Stuff.

cat in a litter box

Litter Box Training a Kitten

Ideally the best time to start litter box training your kitten is when you first bring him or her home. Caring for you new friend can be a learning experience for both of you.

When you are first training, take your kitten at least once every hour into the bathroom and place them beside the litter box or in the box. If they don’t use the box in a few minutes, bring them back out and try again in another 30 minutes or so.

Keep the kitten in a small area such as a bathroom or other smaller room where there is nothing to crawl under to get out of sight and go to the bathroom. This will basically restrict your kitten to having to use the litter box, as it will be the only area where he or she can dig, which is a natural cat behavior before relieving themselves.

kitten in a litter box

The first few times your kitten uses the litter box he or she may not cover their waste and it is important to leave some waste material in the box, as the kitten will be alerted by the scent of their own waste that this is where they are supposed to go.

If you remove all the waste they are less likely to return to the same spot. After a couple of days with using the box correctly, you can start cleaning as often as you would like.

It is important to keep in mind that very small kittens will not be able to get in and out of a full-sized litter box. While they are very small you may want to consider using a cut-down cardboard box or a small tray with a very low edge on at least one side to make it easy for the kitten to get in and out of.

If he or she messes somewhere else in the house do not punish the kitten, they simply didn’t know where to go when they had the urge. Clean the area very well with a special pet urine compound that uses active enzymes to remove the odor. Don’t use ammonia based cleaning products as they can act to actually trigger the kitten to use the area as a toilet due to the chemicals in the cleaning compound.

Kitten being put in the litter box.

Common Problems

The biggest problems with cats or kittens messing in random areas of the house and not using the litter box are often due to human error and misunderstanding, not due to the cat. If you cat has started going to the bathroom outside of the litter box consider the following:

Once he or she has used the box a couple of times, it is then safe to allow them to come out into the rest of the house when you are there to keep an eye on them.

Remember that a young kitten may not think about going all the way into the bathroom to find the litter box if he or she can find a nice planter, a pile of papers or even a loose rug or a deep carpet they can dig in.

  • Is the litter box clean? A dirty litter box will not be desirable to a naturally clean cat, so they will avoid using it and find somewhere else. Some cats will not use a litter box if there a little bit of waste while others may tolerate more. 
  • Placing the litter box in a new area or an area that doesn’t offer privacy. Cats are very private when doing their business and need to be out of sight and in a low traffic area. 
  • Changing litter. Some cats are very particular about the feel and smell of the litter. Highly scented litter may be repulsive to the cat, so try going back to the litter you were using before. 
  • Multiple cats using the same box can be a problem. Some cats won’t use a box after another cat, especially a new cat, has used the box. You may need to have more than one box if you have more than one cat. 
  • Outdoor cats that become indoor cats may only want to dig in dirt and will use you plants exclusively. If this is the case, try adding a layer of dirt over the litter, then gradually cutting down on the dirt while the cat adjusts. It will be a bit messing in the beginning to clean, but will be worth the effort over time. 
  • Mechanical litter boxes. These new self-cleaning litter boxes can really frighten some cats, while other have no problems. If you have just started with one of these boxes, consider providing another box close by to help your cat adjust. 

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2 kittens staring into the litter box.

Options For Indoor and Outdoor Cats

There are a lot more options for litter boxes for indoor cats than there used to be. There are covered boxes that provide privacy plus prevent litter from being spayed all over the room, mats to collect litter outside the box and even the self-cleaning boxes mentioned above. If you have an active or energetic digger you may also want to consider the extra deep litter boxes that help stop some of the litter from being redistributed around the room.

New litter includes fully biodegradable litters which can be flushed down the toilet, clumping litters and odor controlling litters that make cleaning the box simple as well as natural wood litters that are odor and wetness absorbing.

2 kittens sitting in a litter box

Outdoor cats can also be trained to only use certain areas of the yard as the toilet area, rather than your flower beds and the neighbor’s planters. One simple way is to keep an area of the yard tilled so that it is soft and easy to dig in, and clean the waste material out of the dirt every week.


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Cat sitting by a litter box

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