Training a cat or kitten to use the litter box is not typically as tricky or time-consuming as housetraining a dog, but there is no guarantee that your new feline will come pre-programmed with this habit.
Follow these quick and easy steps to have your cat or kitten successfully eliminating in the box in a short time.
1. Old habits die hard with stubborn felines so it's best to only ask small changes of them at a time and consider their past habits. For instance, if your cat has been living outside, start with sand and dirt as their litter substrate. You can gradually replace the dirt with the litter of your choice until you have completed the switch. Similarly, if they have come from a shelter it pays to find out what brand of litter the shelter used. Begin using this litter in their new home at first; even if it's not the litter you want to use permanently, remember you can always change litters later.
2. Choose the ideal litter for regular use. There are many choices in the litter aisle of pet stores, but which is best: scented? Unscented? Crystals? Clumping? Pine pellets? Newspaper? The ideal litter is as dust-free as possible, unscented, absorbent, and easy to dispose of. The remaining decisions are up to you and your feline. Hint: If you plan to scoop daily (versus dumping the entire box of soiled litter), you may find that clumping litter makes removing the waste much simpler. If you are going to dump daily, you may not want to spend the extra money for a feature you won't use.
3. Choose the right litter box. Big or small? Enclosed or open top? As long as your cat or kitten can easily navigate into the box, buying a larger one is wise; after all, your kitten will soon grow into a cat. If the litter box is too small you may find yourself cleaning up messes. Cats who use too-small boxes often end up squatting with their bottom hanging over the side, leaving messes for you to pick up. If you are training a kitten, make sure at least one side of the litter box is low enough that she can easily climb in and out of the box. And as far as enclosed or open goes, many cats don't like enclosed litter boxes. While closed tops do slightly mask odors to humans, they intensify odors to your cat while using the box.
4. Place the litter box properly. Position the litter box in a relatively quiet area easily accessible to your cat. Keep it away from busy and loud areas. Cats do not like to soil the areas close to where they sleep or eat, so place the litter box away from food and beds. If the cat is new to your house she may go into hiding for several days, in which case you should keep the litter box close to her hideout spot.
5. Schedule and reward good behavior. Typically, cats often eliminate after a nap or after playing and eating. A kitten will likely eliminate more frequently than an adult cat. To encourage proper litter box use, bring the cat over to the box on a regular schedule. Encourage her to hop into the box and praise her when she does so. Once she steps inside or uses the box, reward her behavior with gentle petting, verbal praise, and even a tasty treat. Even if she does not eliminate, continue rewarding her to teach her the litter box is a safe, good place to be.
6. Got a multi-cat household? Make sure you have enough boxes. The rule of thumb is that you should have one litter box per cat in the household plus a spare. For example, a home with 2 cats should have 3 litter boxes. The boxes should not all be kept in the same room, either; one on each level or end of the house is best.
7. Keep it clean. It's crucial to keep your cat's litter box very clean or you may wind up inadvertently training your cat to avoid a dirty litter box. Scooping at least once a day is recommended, but some cats will do better if their box is cleaned twice daily. At least once a week, wash the box with water or a small amount of mild soap then dried completely and filled with new litter.
8. Never punish a cat for an accident. If you punish a kitten after an accident and then place them in the box, she may associate the reprimand with being placed in the litter box and will not want to go here. If you see an accident occurring simply put the cat in the box quickly. Never rub a cat's nose in a mess or bring her over to the accident and verbally reprimand her. The only result will likely be a confused cat that eliminates in hidden spots in an attempt to avoid punishment.
9. Experience a set back? Almost all cats will have a lapse in house training at some point in their lives. If you spot the urine on vertical surfaces this is commonly known as urine marking, which is not a litter box problem but a form of communication for cats. To a cat, marking helps keep unwanted individuals away-whoever and whatever those individuals may be - and creates an atmosphere of familiarity that makes your cat feel more secure. If your previously litter boxed training cat begins soiling outside the littler box, the first step is to bring your cat to the veterinarian to make sure there isn't a medical cause for the behavior.
House training a cat can be frustrating at times but it's worth it in the end. Don't give up! With these tips and some patience you too can have a happy cat and a clean home.