- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
When you get a new kitten, you want to acclimate them to their new home as quickly as possible. A big part of that process is litter training.
The good news? Litter training a kitten is typically a pretty straightforward process. “Most cats naturally want to eliminate in a sandy area such as the litter in a litter box,” says Jessica Char, cat behavior consultant and owner of Feline Engineering. “This works in an owner’s favor as many kittens don’t need much help being litter trained.”
But while most kittens go through the litter training process fairly easily, it’s important to address any litter box issues immediately—otherwise, it can turn into a more long-term (and messy!) issue. “Cats that have accidents outside of the litter box once or twice can develop a longer-lasting problem if it isn’t addressed promptly,” says Karen Reese, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, and Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer at Operation Kindness Animal Shelter in Carrollton, TX.
So how, exactly, do you litter train your kitten—and make sure they understand how and when to use their litter box from the get-go?
The first step to successfully litter training your kitten? Choosing the right litter box—and, in particular, a litter box that’s the right size.
“If your cat is having accidents just outside the litter box, it may be because the litter box is too small,” says Reese. “The litter box should be large enough that entire cat’s body can fit in the litter box without any body parts sticking out.”
Make sure the litter box you choose is large enough for your kitten to get inside and comfortably move around—and (if you don’t want to replace your litter box when your kitten grows into a cat) also has space for them to grow into. And if you have more than one cat? Give each their own litter box space. “You should also have one litter box per cat,” says Reese.
There are a wide variety of litter types on the market. Because every cat is different, if you want to successfully litter train your kitten, you may need to experiment with different types of litter to find the type they prefer.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, most cats prefer fine-grained litter, so that’s a great place to start. If your kitten doesn’t respond, try testing out different varieties (like a larger grain, clumping vs. non-clumping, or scented vs. unscented) until you find the litter type that works for them.
Choosing the right litter box and the right litter are important parts of the litter training process—and so is choosing the right spot for that litter box.
In order to successfully litter train your kitten, they need to feel safe and comfortable when they use the litter box, which is why location is so important.
So, what area of your house is ideal for your litter box? “Place your litter box in a quiet place away from loud appliances and heavy traffic,” says Reese. “Your cat should not feel trapped when entering and exiting their litter box.”
Wherever you decide to put your litter box, it’s important to make sure that your kitten has easy access to it at all times.
“The most common issue is that the kitten ends up too far away from a litter box and can’t find the box in time,” says Char. “When kittens are young, it is best to keep them confined to a smaller area, such as a spare bedroom or bathroom, when they aren’t supervised. This ensures they can always locate the litter box.”
If you are going to let your kitten roam freely around your home, you want to make sure they can get to a litter box wherever they are. Depending on the size of your living space, that may mean having litter boxes in different locations.
“Having litter boxes in multiple areas of the home is also important so a kitten can easily find a box when they need one,” says Char.
After you have all the pieces of the litter training puzzle (the right litter box, the right litter, and the right location), it’s time to start the active part of litter box training—and that means actively taking your kitten to the litter box.
“The best way to litter train your kitten is to take them to the litter box every few hours,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal vet in Texas and veterinary consultant for DogLab. “Your kitten will know what to do when you put them in the box.”
If your kitten seems confused by what to do with the litter box, not to worry—they might just need a bit of guidance. “Sometimes you may have to scratch in the litter just a few times,” says Ochoa. “Then they will understand.”
Even if you set up your home perfectly and you’re diligent about taking your kitten to their litter box every few hours, accidents may happen. And, if they do, you can make them work in your favor—and use them to make the training process easier.
“If your cat pees or poops in the house, take the poop or the towel used to clean up the urine and place that in the litter box,” says Ochoa. “Your cat will associate those smells and then start using the litter box.”
All of these tips are effective for litter training your kitten. But if their litter box is dirty, it doesn’t matter—your kitten is not going to want to use it.
“Many cats are very particular about the care and maintenance of their litter box,” says Reese.
If you want to get the most out of your kitten’s litter training, make sure to regularly clean their litter box. “Your litter box should be cleaned at least once per day,” says Reese.