How to Litter Train a Cat – The Ultimate Guide

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Welcoming a new cat into the home is an exciting time for sure! However, one of the challenges in living with cats is getting them to use litter boxes. Many new cat owners ask how to litter train a cat.

The good news is that most of the time, it’s easy to train cats to use litter boxes. And far easier than it is to housebreak a dog.

How To Litter Train a Cat

In fact, often the hardest part of training is merely setting out a litter box since kittens usually learn from their mothers.

Cats tend to bury their “leavings” for reasons developed, nurtured, and reinforced by instinct.

First, in the wild, dominant large male cats mark their territory with their urine and feces.

To a human, it may all smell the same, but to a cat, each individual leaves behind a unique scent. Therefore, the cats that aren’t dominant have an incentive to “cover their tracks” so they won’t be run off or even killed by the dominant males.

Second, cats in the wild bury their defacations to keep larger predators from locating them.

These instincts have developed and sharpened over millions of years, and they’ve carried over into domestic cats.

However, sometimes getting a new cat to use a litter box is a little more challenging, so let’s go over some ways to help the process.

Here is everything you need to know about how to litter train a cat.

How to Litter Train a Cat: What You Need

Before you start litter training your cat, you’ll need a few things.

Litter Box

First, you need a litter box, of course. Since you should always create a “home base room” for a new cat, place the litter box there.

Make sure the litter box is located in a spot that affords some privacy. Every veteran cat lover knows that cats prize their dignity!

If you have more than one cat, consider having one litter box per cat. Sometimes they don’t like to share. And even if you have just one cat, it might be a good idea to have an extra litter box somewhere else in the house.

Be flexible and be prepared to try Plan B, Plan C, etc. A covered box may scare a cat. So might one without any cover.

Instinctually, the cat has to feel safe. After all, when cats were in the wild, urinating and defecating were some of the times a cat is most vulnerable.

Cats can also be finicky about location, so be ready to move the box somewhere else if the first spot doesn’t work out.

Also, clean the litter box on a regular basis. If the box is too smelly or messy, a cat may choose to do its business next to the box rather than in it.

A good rule of thumb is to scoop daily, change the litter when it’s no longer absorbing odors well, and give the box a soap-and-water scrubbing when you change the litter. Don’t use harsher chemicals that might linger and harm the cat.

Wondering what litter box to get? Check out our top 5 litter box picks.

Kitty Litter

Cats can also be picky about litter, and there are many varieties on the market.

Your best bet is to start out with a “regular” clumping litter, which most cats are fine with. But if your cat rejects that, start trying other options.

The Fresh Step Scented Litter is a good choice when first getting your cat’s litter box set up.

Toys and Treats

Whenever your cat uses the litter box during the training phase, reward them with a cat treat or a piece of dry food.

You can also try rewarding desired behavior with playtime, but this doesn’t always work since cats are notorious for deciding when they want to play!

As the cat begins to use the litter box reliably, gradually wean it from rewards.

Cats have a tendency to think they’re the smartest “person” around, and if they can play you, they will!

How To Litter Train a Cat

Litter Training a Kitten

Always make sure a kitten knows where the litter boxes are. And don’t move them unless the locations clearly are not working.

Cats frequently have to go after meals and upon waking from naps, so when you can, gently place them in their litter boxes at those times.

Also, watch for signs that they need to go: crouching, sniffing, or pawing the floor in a certain spot. If you see this, place the cat in the box.

Very importantly, don’t punish. As much as cats might think they rule the universe, or at least the household, they do not connect scolding and other punishment with pooping or peeing on the floor.

Instead, this is frightening and stress-inducing, and it usually is counterproductive.

Litter Training an Older Cat

It’s rare that an older cat needs litter training, but it does happen. For instance, the cat might have been an outdoor cat with no experience using litter boxes.

A change in environment or other circumstances can also cause a cat that previously had good habits to start exercising unwanted ones.

In the former situation, experts recommend filling a litter box with dirt since that is what the cat is used to. Over time, add more and more litter to the mix. In the latter, try the kitten recommendations and just remember to be patient and flexible.

Another good thing to keep in mind with an older cat is ease of access. Just like humans, cats experience their joints and their flexibility wearing down over time.

Ultimately, a litter box that a kitten has no trouble hopping into might be difficult or painful for an older cat to get into.

Cat litter

Final Thoughts: How to Litter Train a Cat

When you’re trying to figure out how to litter train a cat, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of being patient and flexible.

Cats are intelligent and unique, which makes them wonderful and challenging at the same time. Ride out the tough spots; your cats are worth it!

With these tips, you’ll be on the road to success in no time.