A kitten that won’t use the litterbox is the most frequent concern kitten owners bring up to their veterinarians. Patience and persistence are your allies when training a kitten to use a litter box. You can get started once you have your litter box and other kitty litter must-haves.
If your kitten has spent the first few weeks of their life with a litter-trained mother, they may already know how to use the litter box. We recommend taking them to the box regularly, especially after meals or waking up. It also helps to limit how much access they have to roam and explore. This ensures the box(es) is close by as they’re training. As they become more consistent in using the litter box, you can increase their access to additional rooms. Ensure that your kitten can easily climb into and out of their litter box.
Observe your kitten for any indications they may need to go. Behaviors like nosing around in corners or squatting are a sign it might be time for your kitten to do their business. If you see this behavior, place them in their litter box. Reward your kitten when they do their business with praise and/or treats. Scoop the litter box daily to encourage continued usage.
The Do’s & Don’ts of Litter Box Training For Adult Cats
One of the first things to remember during cat toilet training is to never punish your cat for having an accident. Punishing an adult cat for failing to use the litterbox may worsen the problem since emotional triggers and stress likely caused them to stop using the litterbox in the first place. A few adjustments around the home will correct most instances of house soiling.
Ensure an underlying health issue is not the cause of the litter box dysfunction. A simple examination and urinalysis can eliminate health issues such as feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) as the cause. If your cats' water consumption has increased, ask your veterinarian to check for kidney or bladder ailments.
Intestinal parasites can cause a cat to lose control of their bowels—these can be treated with deworming medications. If left untreated, any of these issues can cause your cat to associate pain and discomfort with the litter box and make them even less likely to use it appropriately.
Marking or spraying is not the same as failing to use the litter box. Marking can be done by both males and females and is almost always on a vertical surface. The cat will back up to a wall or a piece of furniture with its tail twitching straight up. The cat will spray a small amount of urine and walk away.
If your cat has been given a clean bill of health and is not marking or spraying, try taking these next steps: Scoop the litter daily and fully clean the box one to two times per month—cats prefer to have a box free from clumps obstructing their use. Make sure you have enough boxes, too. We recommend one box per cat, plus one. Keep the litter box area separate from your cat’s eating area—most cats would rather not have their bathroom and dining room in a shared space.
If you’ve recently changed the type of litter you use, try switching back to what you were using before. If you haven’t changed types for a while, it might be time for a change. Most cats will use plain, unscented, clumping-type litter.
Cats prefer privacy when in the litter box, and don’t want to be startled while they are in the middle of using it. If a box is around a lot of foot traffic, or by something that makes sudden sounds (e.g., laundry timer), the cat may look to find refuge elsewhere.
Some cats prefer covered pans for extra privacy; others will simply not use a covered pan. Experiment with different styles to see what works for your cat. Make changes slowly over several days—not suddenly—to give your cat a chance to decide what they prefer. Again, try providing several litter boxes at the same time.
Anywhere your cat has soiled in the home should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to prevent your cat from associating that area with elimination. Don’t use an ammonia-based cleaner—cat urine is high in ammonia and the familiar scent will reinforce the association. You can also try covering the area with foil—cats don’t like how it feels on their paws and will avoid it.
For cats that are persistent in avoiding the litterbox, some medications can help—discuss these options with your veterinarian. Also consider working with an applied animal behaviorist to help develop a behavior modification plan specific to your cat.