Potty training is one of the most important tasks any pet parent has to tackle. Though mishaps are inevitable at first, it’s an essential step in making sure your new friend feels comfortable, safe and cared for in her new home. If you’d like to learn how to litter train a cat, read on for expert tips and advice that will make this a much easier task.
1. Start with the right stuff.
Before learning how to litter train a cat, start by getting all the supplies you need to set up a specific potty training area for your cat. It helps to gather the basics before you begin training—or even prior to bringing your new kitten home. Be sure to get a cat litter box, litter box liners (to make tossing used litter easier and neater), cat litter and a scoop. There are many different types of cat litter, but the kind you choose is entirely up to you. Traditional clay-based litter clumps well and is easy to scoop, but some pet parents prefer entirely natural and biodegradable options, such as those made from cedar or other woods, walnut shells, recycled paper, wheat or corn, which can cut down on the amount of dust and debris your cat tracks around the house.
Optional accessories: Use a litter box mat to clearly define your cat’s bathroom space and catch spills. Air fresheners and deodorizers are great for obvious reasons. And a litter genie is a good idea if you don’t like making daily trips out to the dumpster.
2. Stay positive.
Never try to punish your cats for improper cat litter box use. Cats respond much more strongly to positive reinforcement than to punishment or yelling. In fact, if cats receive negative reinforcement, they will just become confused and scared and will try to avoid their angry humans altogether. And that can lead to even bigger litter box issues.
Instead of scolding your new kitty when she neglects to use her litter box, give her a treat when she uses it correctly. Never rub a cat’s nose in her mess or show her the mess to try to “teach” her that she went in the wrong place. Your cat will not learn from this, and instead might learn that going potty in general is bad. Be sure to clean the mess with a pet stain remover to discourage her from going in the same spot next time.
3. Provide the proper motivation.
Cats are highly motivated by one simple thing, and that’s food. When first trying to train your kitten to use her box properly, reward her with tasty treats to let her know that she’s performed the proper behavior. First, fill the box with about three to five inches of litter. Show your kitten the box. You can gently place her in the box, and even move her paw (or your finger) in the litter to demonstrate a natural digging behavior. This should be enough to give her the right idea about what it’s for.
Reward your cat consistently (and make sure all the humans at home do the same) every time she uses the litter box, so that she quickly comes to associate delicious treats with the behavior you wish to see.
4. Cut back on treats at the right time.
Of course, you cannot keep giving your cat constant treats. Too many treats equals a fat (and unhealthy) cat. Once your kitten begins regularly using her litter box, you will need to begin weaning her off of all those extra snacks. When your cat clearly has the desired behavior down pat, start to substitute some of those goodies for emotional treats; praise like “good kitty,” cuddles and pets, and favorite toys like a fuzzy ball or catnip mouse are all good rewards to begin swapping in for snacks.
5. If your cat still won’t use the litter box, rule out other problems.
It’s possible that, if your cat isn’t going in the box, there are issues to blame that are entirely out of her control. If while learning how to litter train a cat, your cat is constantly grooming and licking her genitals, she may have a urinary tract infection (UTI) or other medical condition. If you see this behavior, take your cat to your veterinarian immediately to rule out any potential infections or illnesses. But if your cat is struggling to go and nothing is coming out, you need to call an emergency vet immediately. A urethral blockage is a true emergency that can very quickly lead to death if not treated right away by a veterinarian.
If your vet has determined your cat is in good health and she still refuses to use her box, consider one of these other potential problems:
• The box isn’t being cleaned regularly enough.
• She doesn’t like the location (cats like small, cozy and quiet spaces, but the box should still be somewhere easy for her to access).
• She doesn’t like the type of litter. Try an unscented litter or a different type of litter.
• She currently associates the litter box with punishment.
These are the most common reasons your cat might refuse to use the litter box, but the good news is that they’re relatively easy to address. Sometimes, something as simple as moving your cat’s litter box to a more desirable location, cleaning it more often, trying a new kind of litter or, with time, getting your cat to associate something more positive, like treats, with her box, can encourage your furry friend use her litter box every time.