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Both first-time and seasoned pet parents can have questions about how to potty train a cat. Cats can be particular about litter type, litter box, and even the litter box location. Luckily, with the right supplies and a little positive reinforcement, cat litter box training is a simple task — and once a cat is comfortable with the litter box, using it will come as naturally as taking an afternoon nap.
Potty training a cat won’t happen overnight, but teaching them to use the litter box shouldn’t be too difficult. Cats instinctively want to bury their business to protect themselves from predators. While domestic cats don’t face many threats (aside from the neighbor dog’s nightly bark fest), this instinct will be a powerful motivator.
Kittens aren’t ready for litter box training until they’re 3 or 4 weeks old; before that, they need to be stimulated to go to the bathroom. By the time most kittens are up for adoption at around 8 weeks old, they’re ready to start training. Many have already learned the litter box basics from their mothers, but some may need extra encouragement from their new parents.
Cats like having a private litter box, so pet parents with multiple cats should consider buying a separate litter box for each cat and one additional litter box to protect against accidents. This will ensure each cat always has a clean litter box available.
When it comes to choosing a litter box, it’s best to do a bit of research. First, cat parents should consider the size. A kitten is better off with a smaller litter box they can easily access without assistance. A larger litter box can be purchased once they reach their adult size. A cat should be able to comfortably turn around inside the box.
Many pet parents like the idea of an enclosed litter box, and one study found that most cats show no preference between covered and uncovered litter boxes. However, some may be deterred by the stronger smell inside an enclosed litter box.
If a cat refuses to use the litter box altogether, it may be because it’s not neat enough. Cats are meticulous creatures and don’t like using a dirty litter box. Not only should cat parents thoroughly scoop all clumps from the litter box daily, but they should also completely change the litter at least once every two to three weeks.
Cats care about location, too! They might not need a great view and nearby shopping options, but they do need a well-placed litter box — or they might not use it. When choosing a spot for a litter box, pet parents should consider the following:
Noise level. Is the litter box next to a loud household appliance like a dryer or dishwasher? That noise might spook a cat and encourage them to go to the bathroom elsewhere.
Temperature. Heat can intensify odors, and that’s unpleasant for cats and cat parents alike. Steer clear of hot furnaces and devices like space heaters.
Proximity to food bowls. Cats like a healthy distance between their eating area and their litter box. Who could blame them? It’s best to keep the litter box out of the kitchen, too.
If the litter box is kept in a room with a door, make sure it’s accessible at all times.
Once upon a time, clay litter was the only option. Today, there are many other types of kitty litter to choose from. Determining which one works best for any individual cat can be a game of trial-and-error, but here are a few high-quality litter types:
Clay litter. Still the most popular choice, clay litter is well-known and widely available. People can choose from clumping, non-clumping, scented, and unscented varieties. Non-clumping litter tends to be cheaper but must be changed more frequently — at least once per week.
Pine litter. Many pet owners like that this type of litter is made from pine trees, so it has natural odor-fighting properties while remaining free of harsh chemicals. It’s also more environmentally friendly than clay litter.
Silica litter. Also known as crystal litter, this newer type of litter traps urine (and its scent) within beads of quartz sand. It’s biodegradable and said to last longer than the same amount of clay litter because there’s no need to scoop the urine.
Wheat litter. This type of clumping litter is an eco-friendly option made from processed wheat. It disguises odors and can be flushed down the toilet for added convenience.
Once a cat gets comfortable with a certain type of litter, it’s best to keep using it. Change can be confusing for them. If a switch is necessary, people can make the transition easier on their cats by gradually changing the litter over a period of time — say, two weeks.
When filling the litter box, less is more. Litter depth should rarely exceed three inches. Cats can be incentivized to use the litter box via litter additives. If a kitten doesn’t seem interested in the litter box, try sprinkling a small amount of catnip or mixing an herb blend into the kitty litter. Cats react strongly to smells and will be attracted to calming scents like calendula, sage, lavender, and echinacea.
Pet parents should keep it positive during cat litter box training. Cats don’t react well to criticism — even the constructive kind — and punishing bad behavior won’t be half as effective as reinforcing good behavior. During the training process, patience is paramount, and kittens need to feel supported and praised.
If a kitten starts going to the bathroom on the floor, gently pick them up and place them in the litter box. Once the kitten has finished using the litter box, provide them with affection or a fun reward. If consistent with well-timed rewards for using the litter box, a cat will develop a positive association with the activity and the object.
Note: If a previously litter-trained cat engages in house soiling (also called “inappropriate elimination”), it could be a sign of a urinary tract infection or another issue. If there’s cause for concern, pet parents can always chat with a Fuzzy vet.
When learning how to litter train a cat, cat parents need at least one trick up their sleeve: treats.
Cats are often food-motivated, so few things encourage their behavior more than tasty snacks. Timing is essential — give the cat or kitten a treat immediately after successfully using the litter box so that they view the process as a positive experience.
When it comes to choosing the right treats, cat parents should focus on quality ingredients, nutritional value, and their cat’s preference. These Fuzzy-approved cat treats will make cat litter box training a breeze!