Cat Training: How to House-Train a Cat

Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
By Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
Updated: 6/7/2024
Adult cat perched on top of litter box

Cats have a natural instinct to use the litter box. So if you have plans to house-train a cat, there’s no reason to worry. Learning how to house-train a cat is easy, and with the right steps and equipment, you’ll have your cat litter box trained in a few days to a few weeks.

In this article, we’ll outline all the steps for how to train a cat to use the litter box and address specific cases, like how to make an outdoor cat an indoor cat and how to litter train an older cat.

How Long Does it Take to House-Train a Cat?

The answer to this question depends on many factors, including your cat’s age, personality, preferences and past experience with litter box training. Some cats may take a few weeks to learn or relearn this behavior. The best advice is to be patient knowing that learning takes time.

Transitioning an Outdoor Cat to an Indoor Cat

When you transition an outdoor cat to indoor, the steps are the same whether your cat has been house-trained before or not. If your cat has been house-trained before, it’s likely that they’ll pick the habit back up again with just a few simple steps.

Start by confining your cat to a small room, like a bathroom. A small room will more easily help to facilitate their instinctual behaviors for eliminating in a substrate that they can easily dig and bury their waste. It will also train them to start going in a consistent location.

Set up the small room so that it’s complete with food, water, toys, a place to rest and a litter box. The idea is that your cat will eventually learn to live in this space with all their necessities, including a designated spot for elimination. Once your cat is using the litter box consistently, you can move them into a small room until they’ve fully transitioned.

How to Litter Train an Older Cat

House-training an older cat involves a few basic steps, but they do require preparation and consistency. For any cat owners dealing with the question of how to stop a cat from peeing in the house, these litter training steps will help break the cycle and establish a new routine. 

1. Buy an Appropriately-Sized Litter Box

Size matters when it comes to how to potty train a cat, because no cat wants to be cramped when doing their business. Make sure the litter box is large enough for your cat to stand in and fully turn around without bumping the box.

Many litter boxes come with covers or hoods. If you decide to purchase one, make sure that your cat can easily get in and out of the box without issue or obstruction.

Also, depending on the number of cats you have in your home, be sure to purchase one more litter box than the number of cats you have. This ensures that with cat toilet training, you don’t cause issues among cats that are already litter box trained by not having enough boxes.

2. Pick a Litter Type

When picking the right litter type for your cat, you’ll want to shop for a litter that your cat would most likely pick in the wild. At Purina, our research shows that cats prefer finer grained litter. Fine-grained or sand clay are both good options to start with.

While there are benefits to using silica or pellets, starting with a more natural clay litter is your best bet. You can transition them to different substrates later after training is complete.

3. Choose a Location Wisely

Location is a critical factor in how to litter train a cat. You’ll want to make sure it’s in a quiet place with few distractions. Avoid high-traffic areas, like the hallway, and loud areas, like the laundry room or kitchen. Make sure to keep the litter box away from your cat’s food and water bowls as well.

Once you’ve decided on a location, check to see if there are any barriers to the litter box. Litter box access should be as easy as possible. Any obstacles that may require them to maneuver with difficulty should be removed.

4. Place Your Pat in the Litter Box

While litter box training in a small space is effective, you can also give your cat their chance to experience the litter box by placing them in it. Look for opportune times to place your cat in the litter box, such as right after a meal or after your cat wakes from a nap. Gently place your cat in the box, and if they go, reward them with praise and a treat.

Whether you’re transitioning an outdoor cat to live indoors or litter training an older cat, be patient and consistent. Reward your cat with praise or a favorite toy or treat when they demonstrate good litter box behavior. Before you know it, house-training will be a thing of the past and a big accomplishment for both you and your cat!

For more expert tips on training your cat, explore our cat training page. And to explore cat training even further, get all the tips right on your phone by downloading the myPurina app


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