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How Can I Train My Kitten to Use a Litter Box?

Stephanie Dube Dwilson
Most kittens will learn to use their litter box pretty easily.

If your kitten won't use a litter box, what do you do? No matter what age your cat is, it can be troubling to see him struggle to use the litter correctly. You only want the best for your kitten, so of course, you want to make things right. Thankfully, there are several effective strategies that can help. You just need to get to the bottom of what is causing the aversion in the first place.

Some Kittens Need to be Trained

Some kittens instinctually dig and cover their pee and poop, while others learn from watching their mothers.1 If your kitten doesn't fall into these categories and never used the litter correctly, she may need a little push in the right direction.

Start by feeding your kitten on a schedule, so her litter box times become predictable. Kittens often need to use the litter fairly soon after eating and after waking up in the morning or from a nap. During her "scheduled litter times," keep your kitten in a small room, like a bathroom, with the litter box. (Very small kittens might be kept in a gated area or small room all the time unless supervised.)

Once there, put her in the litter box. After she uses the litter, gently hold her paw and scratch the litter to show her how to cover it. Give her lots of gentle pets, praise, and a treat. This can build positive associations that last a lifetime.

Watch your kittens to make sure they don't try to eat the litter. If they do, you might want to temporarily use something safe on their stomachs, as recommended by your veterinarian.

Clean Any Accidents Thoroughly

If your kitten has litter accidents outside the box, it's important to clean thoroughly. You want to use a cleaner designed especially for cat pee, rather than a regular household carpet cleaner. An enzyme-based cleaner, for example, can help break down the uric acid in cat pee, removing the smell. This makes it less likely that your cat will be drawn back to that spot again and again.

When cleaning pee, try to soak up as much as possible at first. Most cat-cleaning products recommend spraying thoroughly and letting it sit for at least 10 minutes. You may have to do this several times. If your kitten peed on the carpet, you might need to clean underneath it. Take care to avoid using ammonia-based products, as this might attract your cat back to the spot.2

Consider using Wee-Wee Cat Urine Eliminator and Odor Destroyer to eliminate new or old stains and discourage repeat accidents. If the accident is on fabric or carpet, Wee Wee Cat Carpet and Fabric Stain and Odor Destroyer is another good option. You can also use the Comfort Zone Spray & Scratch Control Spray as a spot treatment to help calm your kitten in those places she tends to pee outside of the litter box.

Try Varieties of Boxes, Litter Types, and Locations

Cats can develop an aversion to using their litter for different reasons. Some may not like the feel of a particular type of litter on their paws. A long-haired cat might need a crystal litter that doesn't stick to his paws. A kitten that spent time outdoors before coming home with you might have learned to pee and poop in the dirt, so he might gravitate to clay litter with a similar texture.3

The location can also make a huge difference. If the litter box is near an area with a lot of traffic or if it's next to a noisy washing machine, your cat might not want to use it as much.

Even the type or shape of the litter box can make a difference. Some cats don't like stepping over a box with a high side; consider cutting out an entrance so your cat can just walk into the litter box. Other kittens don't like litter boxes with covers, and some will only use boxes with covers. If the litter box is too big or too small, this can also cause problems. Even the depth of litter can make a difference. Try different types of boxes and litter to see which your kitten prefers.

Watch for Health or Stress Issues

If your cat or kitten once used the litter just fine and now is suddenly spraying or pooping in the wrong places, the problem could be health- or stress-related. Visit your veterinarian to make sure health issues aren't causing the problem. If you get a clean bill of health, look for the stress-related sources in the next section.

Intimidation Within the Home

A kitten that feels intimidated or in competition with other household cats might start spraying outside the box, leaving poop uncovered, or even leaving poop right outside the entrance of the box. Sometimes intimidation from a dog can cause these issues too.

If you have two cats, it's possible that one was pounced on by the other while leaving the litter box, and now he associates fear with the box. Helping your intimidated cat feel more confident might help. Give him more items to "own" around the house, like cat trees to climb, window perches, and beds. The more territory he has, the more confident he may feel. Ensure you have one litter box per cat, plus an extra box, so cats aren't competing for space. And play with your cats (and dogs) a lot, so they don't take out pent-up energy on each other.

Intimidation from Outside

Your cat or kitten might also stop using the litter box if she can see or smell a stray cat wandering around outside, and it's stressing her out. In that case, draw the shades at dusk and dawn or even set up a motion-activated sprinkler outside to chase the strays away.

Calming Diffusers Can Help

If your kitten feels stressed, she may take it out on her litter box. Comfort Zone diffusers can help with the stressful feelings. They release an odorless vapor that mimics your cat's own calming pheromones to help your kitten feel safe, happy, and calm. The Comfort Zone Calming Diffuser can help with urine spraying and stress, while the Comfort Zone Multi-Cat Diffuser is designed especially for homes with multiple cats. Put these in rooms where cats spend the most time, including rooms with the litter boxes, and your cats' "e-meow-tional" well-being will start to improve. (Make sure you're cleaning the litter box frequently! An unclean litter box can cause stress for your cat.) Instead of a diffuser, consider snapping a Comfort Zone Calming Collar around your kitten's neck to keep those calming aids with her wherever she goes.

There are many reasons why a cat or kitten won't use the litter box. The good news is that a little investigation can often uncover the source of the problem. Trying different locations and types of boxes and litter, along with calming aids, can help entice a cat to use the litter box again.

1. Banks, T.J. "5 Shortcuts for Litter Training Your Kitten in Record Time." Petful, 16 November 2015, https://www.petful.com/behaviors/litter-training-kitten/.

2. PetMD Editorial. "How to Clean Cat Urine." PetMD.com, 19 February 2014, https://www.petmd.com/cat/care/how-clean-cat-urine.

3. Banks, T.J. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/litter-training-kitten/.

Category: Cat Behavior | Comfort Zone