How To Train a Kitten To Use a Litter Box

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So your kitten is home (ah, so sweet!), but that’s actually when the “work” begins! Looking for how to train a kitten to use a litter tray? What you need to do to get them into the habit of it, and not making any unwanted mess?! Then here’s our step-by-step guide for how to litter train a kitten – plus, what to do if it’s not working!

How Hard Is It To Litter Train a Kitten?

So the good news is, litter training a kitten shouldn’t be too difficult; especially if you get him / her at the right age, after they’ve had enough time with their cat-Mum.

When you buy most kittens, it’s usually after 8-14 weeks and the breeder will usually say whether your kitten is already litter trained or not. (By this point, they most likely will be!)

See, kittens generally tend to learn how to use a litter tray in the first few days; becoming fully litter trained within the first four weeks. (Especially if they have their cat-Mum to learn from, on top of the things you do with them too!)

However this guide on how to train a kitten to use a litter box is for:

  • Those who have the kittens from birth. (I.E. Your cat was pregnant and your kittens are now just days old… cute!)
  • You take on a kitten that isn’t fully (or consistently) litter trained.
  • Or, you’re looking for how to litter train a kitten as you’ve just brought a new one home and are getting him settled into a new environment. (Which also means – getting him used to his new litter tray spot, too!)

What Is The Fastest Way To Litter Train a Kitten?

Now, when it comes to litter training a kitten, you may – understandably – be looking for the fastest way to do so.

The thing is, it’s not about doing anything in particular, differently. It’s just about repeating the same practices (or ensuring the correct things are in place) until your kitten starts to learn and understand it for themselves.

So what is the process exactly? How do you litter train a kitten? Well…

how do you litter train a kitten

How To Train a Kitten To Use a Litter Box

For how to litter train a kitten, the process is as followed.

1) Position The Box Wisely

The first step to litter box training is proper placement of the box itself.

Most cats prefer a quiet, private space, that’s easy to reach. This also works well for you, as it’s not like you’d want it smack, bang in the middle of your living room either!

It is also wise to choose a spot that is far from your pet’s food and water, as cats usually prefer not to eliminate in the same area where they eat. (Some cats will even refuse to use a litter box if it is too close to their dishes!) Similarly…

2) Give Them Choices

Whilst you’re weighing up your cat litter box, it’s also super important to be aware that they should actually have more than one! Say whaaat?! I know, I know. And it’s not actually to “spoil” your cat… It’s fundamental.

See, think about it:

You may not always be there to clean their litter tray straight away; right? But even for you – would you really want to use your toilet, if it had already been used, but not flushed?! Kind of grim, right? Well, cats are the same…

Cats tend to prefer to separate their liquids and solids in two different trays, which is why the accepted guideline is you should always have one litter box per cat… plus one extra box. 

So for example:

  • One cat will need two boxes.
  • Two cats will need three boxes.
  • Three cats will need four boxes.
  • And hats off to you if you have four or more cats! (Just kidding, but you get the gist.)

Without knowing this information however, you may find there’s more “accidents”… Only it may not just an accident; it could be happening as you’re not providing the right “facilities” for your furry friend!

So if you get it right from the start – you will have far more luck training your kitten to use the litter box from there.

NOTE: If you’re living in a multi-story house, make sure you have a litter box on each floor. I mean, the closer the better when you “need to go”, right? So make it easier for your cat too!

These things should always be considered when looking at how to train a kitten to use a litter tray. What can you do to make it simpler or easier for them?

3) Show Them The Box As Soon As They Arrive

Okay, so you’re all set up – you’ve got your litter boxes, there’s enough of them, and they’re placed strategically. (Nice work!) What next when it comes to how to train your kitten to use a litter box? Well…

If you’ve just brought them home from a breeder, it’s also a great idea to show it them as soon as they arrive…

So put them in their dedicated cat room, let them get out the cat carrier in their own time, but as they start to explore, encourage them over to the litter box so that they know what it is.

If they don’t go into it themselves, carefully place them in the litter box so that they can sniff and examine (and see if they need to go to the “toilet” whilst they’re at it too!)

Pawing or digging the litter is a good sign. If they don’t do this, run your fingers through the clean litter to demonstrate the pawing action for them.

Do the same thing once they’re introduced to the whole house, so that they become familiar with the permanent position that the cat litter tray(s) will be in and what it is… Then try not to move this after that, to avoid confusion.

(They don’t want to have to be hunting around for the “toilet” every time they need to go, do they?!)

getting a kitten settled into a new home

4) Place Them In The Litter Tray

Once your kitten has started to settle into their new home, you can also help to train them to use the litter tray by placing them in it when they’re likely to want to use it. 

This is often once they’ve woken up from a nap / sleep, or after meal times. In fact, it’s not unusual for cats (and particularly kittens) to “need to go” immediately after.

On this note, you may be surprised to hear that cats usually go to the toilet 3-5 times a day, but kittens (who you’re most likely to be training) can go 4-12 times a day depending on their age. So ask yourself:

  • Have they just eaten?
  • Have they recently had a drink?
  • Or perhaps they’ve not long woken up?
  • If so… Pop them in their cat litter box, just in case!

You may also noticed them behaving like they need to go. So perhaps they look like sniffing around, or crouching in a particular area.

When this happens – again – if they’re not in their cat litter box, pop them in it, so that they can learn to go in there.

5) Reward Them When They Use It

Okay, so here’s a biggie when it comes to training your kitten to use a litter box. See, you want to associate “rewards” and “pleasure” to them correctly using the litter tray, so every time they do – praise them up!

Reward them with their favorite treat to create a positive association with the activity. For this to work, the treat must be given immediately after they have left the box so they associate the activity with the reward.

Similarly, speak to them; say well done! Fuss them; give them love! See, cats understand emotions better than you may think, and they certainly know when you’re angry at them

For this reason, if they don’t make it to the litter box at times – don’t shout or scream. Instead, just stay neutral, clean it up, keep a closer eye on them and then place them in the litter box next time they’re likely to go.

As we mentioned at the start – repetition (and reward) is absolutely key when it comes to training a kitten to use a litter box.

6) Keep It Clean

Another fundamental when it comes to how to train a kitten to use a litter box, is to make it a place they will be okay to go; and that means – keeping it clean!

We mentioned it above, but – would you want to go in a dirty toilet? Especially if you saw other options… Like a nice clean corner in the carpet for example! After all, kittens aren’t going to know the difference initially.

So when litter training your kitten (and continuing to keep them using that litter box moving forward), always keep the box as clean as possible. You don’t need to completely empty it every time. You only need to do this once-twice a week. But you should scoop out the “bad bits” as frequently as you can.

By doing this, you also reduce them getting litter stuck in their paws, or spreading the litter all over your home as they walk! (Messy, messy, messy!) So it’s just a core essential, all round.

My Kitten Is Not Using The Litter Box

“My Kitten Is Not Using The Litter Box”

If you find that your kitten isn’t using the litter box, first up… don’t panic! How long has it been? You may just need to be a little more patient. Is there any progress? What sort of behaviour is being displayed instead?

See it might be that:

  1. Your litter box is TOO hidden. Remember, cats also don’t like to feel cornered or trapped during toilet time. Can they still see out and around them, or does “toilet time” make them feel too vulnerable?
  2. Maybe the litter isn’t quite right. Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grain litters, presumably because they have a softer feel. Maybe you’re using a different litter to what they previously grew up with, which is why it’s taking them longer to adjust. Or perhaps there’s just not enough of it for them to be able to properly dig, which is why they’re going elsewhere.
  3. It could also be that there’s too many distractions! Kittens can have a short attention span. Are there toys next to their litter box? Is there too much going on? Try to keep them focused and their litter area purely just for “getting down to business.”

These factors may not come into it for every kitten. The best thing you can do is analyse their behaviour and brainstorm possible reasons. Try things, change things and see what helps.

What To Do…

When analysing why you kitten isn’t using the litter box, you may try things like:

  • Cleaning the litter box more regularly or thoroughly.
  • Adding litter boxes to different areas of the house & see if they use any of those instead.
  • Removing the hoods or liners from the litter box.
  • Keeping food bowls and bedding away from their litter box.
  • Closing doors to certain parts of your house when your kitten will be home alone, or when you’re asleep at night. (It may be that they’re getting too distracted in there!)
  • Opening doors to make the litter box more noticeable and accessible.
  • If your kitten tends to favour a certain spot, you may try to make that spot less appealing by placing their litter box, food bowl, bed, or treats there. Similarly, make sure you clean the area that they repeatedly go. Not only from a hygiene perspective, but so that it avoids confusion for your kitten if they think that that’s the place “to go!”)

If you’re still struggling to get your kitten to use a litter box, you can always ask your vets! That way you can check that your struggle to train them isn’t coming from other factors. (Like them being unwell for example.) But hopefully it isn’t that. I’m sure they are absolutely fine. It will then just be a case of your vet putting your mind at ease.

How To Train a Kitten To Use a Litter Box

Feel a little more confident when it comes to how to train a kitten to use a litter box? I hope so!

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, just drop them in the comments box below.

Feel free to also share your litter-training stories too. How hard have you found it? Or has your little one been #totallypurrfect getting used to it?! We’d love to hear!

how to train a kitten to use a litter box
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Ell is the Founder of Totally Purrfect & Cat Mom to Cody, The Maine Coon. Her areas of expertise lie in Cat Care, Enrichment & Training.

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