Do I need to train my new kitten to use a litter box?

Most cats by nature use a soil type surface for elimination. By providing a litter box with an
appropriate and appealing substrate (material), most cats do not need to be trained to use it. At
about 30-36 days of age kittens leave the nest to search out a loose substrate for elimination. The
kitten learns specific areas and substrates to use by observation of the queen (mother). Although
some cats, especially those on their own property will dig and bury their wastes, many cats only
partly cover their feces especially if they are off of their home territory. Some cats do not bury urine
or stools at all, even on their own property and, for obvious reasons these cats may prove harder to
litter train.

Is there anything that I need to do to aid this process?

Initially it is best that the kitten be confined to a small area with an appropriate sized litter box. This
allows you to take advantage of a cat’s tendency to eliminate in a loose material. As long as the kitty
litter is easily accessible and is the only loose substrate available, very little effort should be required
to litter box train the kitten. About the only other indoor area that might be equally or more appealing
to some cats is the soil around houseplants. Ensuring that the cat is prevented from getting into
houseplants, except when you are around to supervise deals with this problem. Kittens, like dogs,
will need to eliminate after they eat, after they wake up and after play. At those times place the kitten
in its litterbox and praise her for elimination. A kitten does not need to be confined continuously, but
should be supervised to prevent accidents and frequently brought back to the appropriate
elimination location. A little of the urine or stool odor from previous elimination should help to attract
the cat back to the box. In fact, if the kitten soils in a location other than its box on the first attempt,
clean up the area thoroughly using a product that is designed to neutralize cat urine odor, and
perhaps even move a small amount of the stool or a few drops of the urine to the box to attract the
cat to that area.

What type of litter material should I use?

There are many types of litter materials available today. These include plain clay litters, fine
“clumping” litters, plastic pears, recycled newspapers, wood shavings and many others. Some have
materials added to control odor although scented litters may be aversive to some cats. The type you
choose is up to you. Since the kitten will first start eliminating by following the cues of the queen,
continuing with the same litter as used in the first home is helpful.

What size and type of litter box should I buy?

Initially, the size of the litter box should be determined by the size of the kitten or cat. A very small
kitten may need a box with shorter (lower) sides or a ramp for easier access. As the kitten grows, a
larger box is generally more appropriate. Some owners prefer litter boxes with covers on them. This
is acceptable if it is acceptable to the cat. You need to be sure that the cat can negotiate the
opening by stepping into it and that the cat is not too large to fit into the opening.

Where should I put the litter box?

The litter box should be placed in a location that is easily accessed by the cat, yet out of the way.
Try to avoid congested household areas. The cat should have some privacy and quiet to eliminate.
Laundry and furnace rooms are often used, but be sure that noise from household equipment is not
disruptive and aversive to your cat. Make sure that the cat does not get locked out of the room at a
time when it may have to eliminate. Try to put the litter box in an area that is convenient for you to
check on and keep clean. Do not put food and water bowls right next to the litter box. If there are
dogs in the home, then the litter box should be located where the cat can eliminate without being
bothered by them.

How often should I clean the litter box?

One of the most important factors in continued litter box usage by house cats is cleanliness. Cats are
very fastidious animals, and spend time each day making sure their coat, feet and face are clean.
One can assume that they would like a clean place to eliminate. The number of cats in the home and
litter usage determines the time between litter cleaning. Fecal material should be removed on a daily
basis, whether the litter material type is clumping or plain. Litter boxes should ideally be cleaned
each day, and except for the clumping types the litter should be changed and the box should be
cleaned out once per week. Remember that each cat is an individual. Your cat may like more
frequent cleaning of the litter box to maintain good usage patterns. Some cats dislike the odor of the
cleansers used to clean litter boxes, so rinse the box thoroughly after each cleaning. A number of
products are self-cleaning and this can be particularly appealing to some cats. However some cats
might be frightened of the motors and cleaning mechanisms.

How many litter boxes do I need in my home?

The number of litter boxes needed depends on the number of cats, the size of the home, the
temperament of the cat, and other pets in the home. When there are multiple cats, multiple pans
should be available in different locations, not all side-by-side in one place. Because there can be
varied interactions between individuals, multiple boxes in multiple locations allow housemates to
avoid one another if they so choose. Even for only one cat, two boxes may be appropriate
depending on the layout of the home and the individual preferences of the cat. Some cats prefer one
box for urine and one for stool. Some physical limitation may prevent a cat from climbing stairs and
so a box in the location the cat frequents is needed. In general, there should be at least one litter box
per cat, and some behaviorists advise one more box than the number of cats in the house.

What if the kitten does not use its litter box?

Should the kitten begin to eliminate in locations other than its litter box, first review the steps above.
Is the litter in an area that is appealing and easily accessed by the cat?  Is the litter box being
cleaned often enough?  Are there enough litter boxes for the number of cats?  Try and determine
what there is about the area that your cat is soiling that is so appealing to your cat. And perhaps
most important is there anything about the area, box or litter that might be preventing its use (or
scaring your cat)?  To determine the most appealing litter for your cat, offer two or more different
litters in the same type of box, side-by-side and see which one, if any, the cat uses most frequently.
Next, determine the type of litter box the cat prefers by offering two or more litter box types side-by-
side (each with the preferred type of litter). You can determine the cat’s preferred location by offering
the preferred litter box with the preferred litter in two or more locations and determining which one, if
any, the cat uses more frequently. If litter box problems then persist, additional guidance and
perhaps a behavior consultation might be required. (Also see our handout on ‘
House-soiling in cats’).

Cambridge VetCare
Animal Clinic, PA
Cambridge, MN