Tricks to teach your cat to use the litter box

Getting a new kitten or cat can be an exciting time. However, one of the first things you’ll need to do is litter train them. Teaching your cat to use the litter box properly will save you time and frustration in the long run. The good news is cats have a natural instinct to eliminate in loose, sandy areas. With positive reinforcement and patience, you can teach them to use the litter box.

Choose an Appropriate Litter Box

The first step is setting your cat up for success by providing an appropriate litter box. Your cat should be able to easily get in and out of the box. For kittens or smaller cats, start with a shallow box. Bigger cats need a box large enough for them to comfortably turn around and dig. Place the box in a quiet, low traffic area of your home so your cat feels comfortable using it.

Introduce Your Cat to the Litter Box

When you first bring your cat home, confine them to a small room with food, water, toys, bed, and a freshly cleaned litter box. Scoop your cat up and gently place them in the litter box, moving their paws in a digging motion so they associate the box with elimination. Do this every few hours, especially first thing in the morning, after meals, and just before bedtime. Cats like to keep a clean litter box, so scoop daily.

Use a Litter Your Cat Likes

Cats can be picky about litter textures. Clay, clumping, paper, pine, wheat, and corn are common options. Try a few to see which your cat prefers. Using scented litter or adding baking soda can help draw your cat back to the box if they start eliminating elsewhere. Avoid scented litter for kittens as this can deter use. Deep litter also encourages digging.

Reward Proper Box Use

Catch your cat using their litter box and reward them with calm praise and pets. You can also give treats. This positive reinforcement connects good behavior with a reward in your cat’s mind. Avoid punishing bathroom accidents. Yelling or rubbing their nose in it will not teach box use and can create stress and anxiety.

Maintain a Clean Box

Scoop solid waste from your cat’s litter box daily. Empty, wash, and refill the box with fresh litter once or twice a week. Cats dislike dirty boxes and may start eliminating elsewhere if their box isn’t kept clean. Use gentle, unscented soap and hot water when washing. Avoid harsh chemicals or cleaning products near your cat’s litter box space.

Add More Boxes if Needed

Some cats prefer to urinate and defecate in separate boxes. If your cat isn’t consistently using their one box, add a second in another location. You’ll need one box per cat in the household, plus an extra. This reduces competition and gives each cat options. More boxes also allow you to better monitor health and usage.

Be Patient

Not all cats will take to their litter box right away. With consistent positive reinforcement and removal of deterrents, most cats can learn to use their box properly. Never punish bathroom accidents. If litter box issues persist beyond a few weeks, consult your veterinarian to rule out medical causes. Some may benefit from prescription anxiety medications.

Troubleshooting Common Litter Box Problems

If your cat is eliminating outside their litter box, there are a few common causes to consider:

Medical Issues: Urinary tract infections, diabetes, kidney disease and other conditions can prompt inappropriate elimination. Schedule a vet exam to rule this out.

Dirty Box: Scoop waste daily and change litter regularly. Cats dislike using dirty boxes.

Stress: Changes in routine, new people or pets, construction noise and other stressors can cause “accidents.” Help your cat feel relaxed and comfortable in their environment. Consider anti-anxiety medications if stress is ongoing.

Aversion to Litter: Try different litters until you find one your cat likes. Hooded boxes, liners, scents or textures could be deterrents too.

Box Location: Place boxes in quiet, low traffic areas. Make sure boxes are easily accessible. Senior cats may need boxes on each level of the home.

Competition: Multi-cat homes need one more box than the number of cats. This prevents one cat from blocking another’s access.

Healthy cats instinctively use litter boxes. By starting litter training as soon as you bring your new cat home, rewarding them, and keeping boxes extremely clean, you can avoid inappropriate elimination issues. Pay attention to your cat’s litter box habits so you can catch problems early.