How To Litter Train A Kitten
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM September 07, 2019
Fortunately for us, most kittens are ingrained with instincts that make them naturals at using a litter box. However, some (especially younger kittens) may have a little trouble. There is nothing worse than bringing home a new little feline friend to love and having to spend your time cleaning up messes. Since litter box issues can be one of the main reasons that kittens are surrendered to shelters, it’s important to litter train them properly to ensure a lifelong, healthy, and happy relationship.
Things You Will Need Before Getting Started Litter Training a Kitten
It’s always a good idea to have these items on-hand before bringing that little bundle of fur home. That way, you can get comfortable with them yourself and have them set up and ready for their arrival. Just a heads up: there are many versions of all of these items out there, and I will try to explain the most common ones. But when in doubt, ask your veterinarian on the best litter training products.
- Litter box
It seems like such a basic product that it's easy to assume that one type should fit all cats, but that is absolutely not true. There are many different litter boxes out there to fit any cat’s many different needs.
When litter training a kitten, it’s important to take into account the size of your kitten. For really small babies, a litter box with lower sides might be in order to make it easier for them to climb into. As your kitty grows, you can get one with taller sides to better contain the litter. The area of the litter box needs to be taken into account as well. You want your kitty to have plenty of room to turn around without spreading a mess outside of the box when they do. As a general rule, get the biggest box you can fit in the space that you have.
- Covered or uncovered
Covered litter boxes provide a sort of safe haven and a little privacy for those picky eliminators. They can also concentrate the smell. For kittens, consider an uncovered litter box at first as they are easier to get into and give your kitten better views without making them feel confined. Let’s face it, kittens are going to want to play in the litter box more than you would like. When you are litter training, you want to encourage your cat to stay in the box as much as possible. A covered litter box may be less inviting and less fun for those furry little babies.
- Self-clean or you-clean
Self-cleaning litter boxes have really flooded the market lately - and with good reason. Litter box cleaning has to be the least favorite chore for all cat parents, so finding a litter box that does it for you is definitely a major win. For kittens however, self-cleaning litter boxes might be noisy and scary. The last thing you want to do is to make your new baby afraid of their potty area. Self-cleaning litter boxes may be best used once your kitten is a pro at using the litter box, so until then, get your litter scoop ready.
That’s right, litter box choices don’t end at the above. Next you have to look at the little extras, like non-stick or antimicrobial coating, corner shape, and material. All of these are completely up to you, your preferences, and what works best in your litter box space. When starting out with a new kitten, keep it simple. You can always tailor these little litter box extras later when your kitten is comfortable with using the litter box and you have a better sense of their litter box desires. You can learn more about the different types of litter boxes by reading our article here.
- Cat Litter
If you thought the choices in litter boxes were immense, wait until you discover all the different types of cat litter! Just know that the litter you choose now doesn’t have to be the one that you stick with, and you can easily change it up as you and your kitten see fit. But when starting out, it’s best to keep it simple. As a heads up, litter box training is going to be messy. Your kitten will want to explore and play in this newfound sandbox, so you’ll want a litter that is easy to clean up, won’t stick to tiny paws, and above all is accepted by your little fur ball. For tiny learning paws, it’s best to start out with finer textured litter. You might want to try non-clumping to help reduce tracking and mess until your kitten gets the hang of it. Scented or unscented? It’s your call, but some picky kittens may be put off by strong floral scents. You can learn more about the different types of litter by reading our article here.
One of the main keys to litter training a new kitten is cleanliness. Cats are clean animals by nature; that’s why they use a litter box. Keeping the litter box clean will ensure that they continue to use it. With that in mind, it’s typically easier to use small amounts of litter and clean the entire box more frequently. You want to put enough litter in the litter box so that your kitten has plenty to work with, but not so much that you’re throwing out a bunch of unused litter every time you clean. For most babies, a cup or two of litter is a great place to start, but more will be needed for large litter boxes. Scoop the box at least daily and completely wash it weekly. For better litter training results, you might want to consider scooping the litter box after every training session.
Still more decisions! These aren’t going to matter so much to your kitten, but are still things that may help make litter training easier for you. You’ll need a litter scoop that works well with the type of litter that you choose. For example, a fine textured litter will need a narrower slotted scoop. Also, look into ease of cleaning and sturdiness. Another great product is a litter mat to place around the litter box to help reduce tracking litter. Again, kittens are going to love to play in that fresh litter box. A litter mat will help confine loose litter to one general area to help prevent litter pieces from getting everywhere throughout your house.
The Litter Training Process
Most kittens are going to take to litter training like fish to water, especially if you go about the process in the right way. Start litter training as soon as you get your kitten home. Make sure the box is in a convenient location that is easy for them to find and far away from scary or noisy objects, like the washing machine. For the majority of kittens, all it takes is showing them where the box is and their instincts will take over. Others may need a little more encouragement and frequent supervised visits before they get it down cold. Don’t overdo it with the duration of these visits; they only need to last a couple of minutes or your kitten may grow to resent the box.
- Step 1: Introduce the litter box
Make sure you place the litter box in a location that is easy and convenient for your kitten to find. You also want to put it somewhere out of high traffic or noisy areas where there will be less privacy. Show your kitten where the box is and even put them inside of it. For those more hands-on pet parents, using your kitten’s paws to scratch in the litter a few times will help give them the idea. Then just let them go. Some may jump right out and that’s okay. Other kittens may play around and some may even get down to business. This whole process should only take a couple of minutes, and you can move on when you see that they’ve accepted the litter box.
- Step 2: Repeat, repeat, repeat
Continue taking your kitten to the litter box especially at peak potty times, like just after eating, just after waking up, or just after playing. You should also watch your kitten for signs that they need to go, such as sniffing, crouching, or starting to scratch. Being in the litter box at the right time will help ensure that they know what to do. You’ll need to repeat this step until your kitten is using the litter box regularly.
- Step 3: Reward
Whenever you get the chance, reward your kitten for using the litter box properly. This reward can be as simple as praise and affection or you can even give treats or toys. Just use anything that will that will help your kitten associate using the litter box with a positive experience.
- Step 4: Accidents happen
Even though your new baby may be using the litter box with relative ease, sometimes accidents still happen. In these cases, never punish your kitten. You don’t want to put any negative feelings towards going to the potty. Instead, clean up the accident with a good enzymatic cleaner to prevent odor spots and reinforce positive litter box experiences when they happen.
- Step 5: Experiment
Kittens are typically more flexible with the type of litter or litter box that works for them, but there are some kitties that might be pickier. For those little feline friends, you may have to switch up the litter types and textures (or even the litter box styles) until you find one that is suitable. Some picky kittens may like a litter box that is cleaner, so scooping after every visit may be required.
Litter Training Adult Cats
Adult cats should have this process down. But in some cases, litter box training might be needed for adult cats. An example would be bringing an outdoor cat indoors. The steps outlined above will work for adult cats as well, but you may find that older kitties are pickier. For kitties that refuse litter all-together, you can start by putting potting soil or dirt from outside in the litter box. Once your older kitty is used to this, you can start mixing in litter little by little until the box is litter only. You may have to try several different types of cat litter and/or litter boxes before you find something that makes your adult cat happy.
Litter training your kitten can be a messy process. But with a little foresight and patience, you can have your new baby using the litter box like a professional before you know it. This will leave more time for playing and snuggles and less time on your hands and knees with the enzymatic cleaner and scrub brush.