Tips for Potty Training Your Kitten

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on January 8, 2019
Posted in Parent Help

One of the reasons some cat owners prefer feline friends over canine companions is because they are much more self-sufficient. They clean themselves regularly, mind their own business for most of the day, and most importantly, take themselves to the bathroom whenever they need it.

But have you ever wondered how cats learn how to use a litter box? It doesn’t happen magically overnight; however, cats do tend to have an innate understanding of when and where it’s appropriate to “go” from an early age.

If you just got a new kitten and are trying to encourage it to prevent household messes, here are some helpful tips on litter training it.

How kittens learn to use the litter box

By nature, cats will seek out a sandy or granular area to urinate and defecate in. This is what they do in the wild, and thus is what is natural for them indoors, too. This is why we use kitty litter and a box to replicate these kinds of materials as closely as possible.

From birth, cats will usually learn how to use the litter box by mimicking their mother’s actions. This is part of the reason kittens should not be separated from their mothers at an early age. By watching their moms use the litter box, kittens will begin to do it on their own, too.

However, if you’re raising a kitten who was separated from its mother at birth, the training process will likely require some more attention and patience. Place your kitten’s food, water and litter box in a small room to encourage the kitten to use the box. Each time the kitten uses the box, reward it with treats and praise until it begins doing it on its own regularly.

Additionally, watch for signs that your cat is about to use the bathroom while litter training. Squatting and other behavioral routines may indicate the need to urinate or defecate. Once you know what to look for, keep a close eye on your kitten and direct it to the box when it shows the signs.

Once your cat uses its litter box on its own, move the food and water to a new location. Generally, cats prefer to keep these areas separate because they (understandably) do not want to defecate near their food.

Tips for encouraging good litter box behavior

Aside from watching for behavioral cues and rewarding your kitten for using the litter box properly, there are a few things you should pay attention to when litter box training to avoid accidents and keep your pet happy.

  • Choose the right kind of litter: Some cats will have a particular preference for what litter they use, while others will not care at all. If your cat is not willing to use the litter box, it may not like your particular litter and you should try a new type to gauge its reaction. In general, clumping, unscented litter is a good baseline. Scents may irritate your cat or cause allergic reactions to perfumes and chemicals, and clumping litter is often more comfortable for your cat to use and easier for you to clean out.
  • Litter box placement matters: Keep the litter box in an accessible area that is easy for your cat to get to. Don’t place it in a small closet or very enclosed space, but don’t keep it in a well-trafficked or noisy area, either. Also, place one litter box per cat on each level of your home, so your cats always have an easily accessible box no matter where they are. Once your cat uses the litter box on its own regularly, avoid moving the box. Changing litter box location once your cat has established a routine might cause it distress and lead to more accidents inside the home.
  • Cleanliness is important: Cats can be very finnicky about their litter boxes. Many cats will refuse to use the litter box if it is too dirty, resulting in a mess somewhere else and a very irritated cat. Don’t forget to clean the litter box out daily, even if it looks relatively clean.
  • Wash it out: Scooping out waste and replacing the litter is not enough to keep your cat’s litter box clean. Around once a month, if not more often, empty the litter box completely and wash it out with warm water and mild soap.

If your cat is using the litter box correctly and suddenly begins having problems urinating or defecating outside the box, make sure the litter, box size or location aren’t problems, then examine if your cat is under stress or is ill. Physical and psychological health problems can cause your cat to have litter box problems.

In the case of kittens, though, a little patience and attention is all your cat should need to get used to using the litter box fairly quickly.

Read also: Can Your Cat Tell When You’re Sad?

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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