Teach your kitten to use the cat litter tray as soon as you bring them home.

Cat Litter Box Training: Teaching Kitty Where to Go

Cat litter box training should start immediately upon bringing fluffball home, before you’re surrounded by suspicious stains and smells! Getting in early will save you from washing poop and pee from furnishings and carpet *cringe*. Plus, it will increase special bonding time with your feline friend.

When friends come over to visit for the first time, they might ask you where the bathroom is. Save kitty having to do the same (by toileting in the wrong places) by showing them where the litter tray is the moment they arrive.

Cat litter box training for a kitten

First, you need to motivate your kitten to use their litter box. Do this by showing them where the box is and gently scratching the litter with their paw. This brings out the reflexive digging and covering up of pee and poop instinct in a cat.

Litter tray training can succeed quicker if you keep your kitten’s environment smaller while they’re getting the hang of it. This makes it easier to locate the litter right away when needed. You can do this by keeping kitty in a single area or room of the house until they’ve tried and tested the box a handful of times.

You may want to move it from there afterwards or make it a permanent location. Just be aware the area will end up with a kitty aroma plus bits and pieces of litter. Plan ahead for the least viewable mess and smell…

Tips and tricks

You can also:

  • Take your kitten to the litterbox after meals
  • Do the same when they’ve just woken up
  • Ditto for any crouching or sniffing behaviour
  • Show them where the litter box is in new new room you introduce them to

Once your kitty’s used the box once, they’ll begin associating toileting with its smell. Which means they’ll (hopefully) continue to return to that sacred spot when it’s time to go.

Conversely, if they toilet in the wrong place, this can start a negative cycle you’ll then need to help them unlearn. Which is why getting it right from the start is so important.

Teach your kitten to use the cat litter tray right away so they don't up using a cushion or laundry to bury their poop.

How to pick the best cat litter box

When you start toilet training your kitten for the first time, use a shallow tray that’s easy to access for little legs. Avoid getting anything with doors or lids as these can be intimidating or hard to navigate for a kitten.

At this stage you can even use a DIY open cardboard tray, like the ones you get with fruit and beverages. Or a cardboard box lid because the sides are lower than a conventional litter tray. This means a little kitten can just walk right into their toilet area with no hassles.

It also makes life easier for you because you can just pick up and throw away the entire tray, contents, and all.

Once kitty has the general idea of the litter box principle you can move onto a more conventional litter tray from a pet store. These come in different depths and some are open, some have doors and others have covers. While the open one continues to be the most popular, it’s up to you and your meow.

The main thing is that it must be long and wide enough for kitty to turn around easily. If it’s too small, you might end up with unwanted drops (or more!) outside the perimeter of the box.

Choosing the right litter for your cat

Avoid clay based and scented litters for kittens because these could harm their tummy if eaten. A plant or paper based litter is your safest bet at this stage, plus they’re the best choice for the environment.

There are two main principles to litter: clumping and non-clumping. Once you’ve tried out each it’s a matter of preferences based on ingredients, cost and biodegradability. And of course, what works for your cat.

Ingredients in cat litters range from clay and minerals to plant matter like wheat, corn, or pine, as well as synthetic crystals from silica.

If your furry friend seems to be having any trouble using the litter box, then they might just be sensitive to the litter type or texture. Swap out your type of litter and see if it makes a difference.

It could be your kitty just needs smoother, smaller or less smelly litter.

How many litter trays do I need?

When your cats are grown, you’ll need one litter box for each cat, plus potentially an extra one if you want them to have a choice of toilet. Some people say a cat only needs one, while others think more are needed. Perhaps start small and go from there – the fewer trays the better if you can manage it.

Ideally, while your kitty is still learning to use the litter tray, you’ll have one box in one room. That way they don’t end up running around trying to find the box and going somewhere else. This is where DIY cardboard boxes we mentioned can come in handy.

Place the litter tray in the corner of the room as cats like to toilet in ‘privacy’. We’re not sure what the science behind this is. Or if it’s simply a home décor preference for where the toilet should be located.

While your feline friend is still a kitten, you should avoid clay based and scented litters which will harm her tummy if she eats them.

How do you change cat litter?

Cats are stylish, and by stylish we mean clean. They have the same objective as we do. To keep away from pee and poop once it’s on the outside of our bodies. So, if you leave their poop in the litter tray, they’re going to look for somewhere else to poop. In short, you need to keep the litter tray fresh (even though they’ve buried the treasure).

Here’s how:  

  • Check the litter box daily after mealtimes and scoop out any clumps right away
  • Replace all the litter once a week
  • Clean the box with a gentle unscented soap and mild bleach and water solution
  • Dry the box thoroughly before placing new litter

A great trick to spruce up the litter box is adding a sprinkling of baking soda under the litter. Baking soda helps keep things bacteria free and absorbs smells.

However, if you try this and kitty stops using the box then it’s not their personal preference. Also, your cat might stop using their box if offended by the soap you cleaned it with. Or if the bleach mixture is not diluted enough. Tough crowd. Welcome to cat parenting.

Reward not punishment is key

You may have heard that reward not punishment is key for both cats and dogs and this is true. Once your kitty goes in the litter box, show them affection, and tell them how proud you are.

Your kitty will associate the behaviour with good feelings, and they’ll want to repeat the exercise when they’re ready. (If you’ve got a new pup rather than puss, here’s a guide to toilet training your puppy.)

This kitten won't go in the cat litter tray because it hasn't been cleaned and still has old poop in it.

Why are cats so independent?

Perhaps one reason why cats have a reputation for independence is that many use the litter box without much direction. The principle of covering their duties up with sand, soil or any other loose matter is natural for cats.

As a result, they usually get the litter box principle without too many mishaps.

Given this happens because of cats’ instinct to cover up pee and poop, don’t leave laundry lying around. Or your cat may use this instead, unless they’ve learnt where the correct place is.

If this sounds like an old housewife’s (furry) tail, read our Love your Pet Day article. You’ll find the evidence you need under the ‘cheekiest ways our pets love us’ section.

Pet insurance for your pawsome pet

They say cats have nine lives and always land on their feet, but that’s not always true. Give you meow a soft landing with cat insurance. If she gets sick, hurt, or injured you can give her the medical attention she needs without fussing about costs. Your first month’s free when you buy your policy online.

Cat litter box training – over to you

Have you got any tricks for cat litterbox training up your sleeve that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.

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