Have you recently adopted a new cat or kitten and are trying to figure out how to train a cat to use the litter box? Or, maybe your cats have always used the great outdoors as the toilet and you’re not sure how to make this switch.
No matter the reason you found yourself here, I’ve got great news — litter box training a cat is usually very easy because this behavior comes naturally to most cats. You only need a few basic supplies, a little patience, and a willing kitty.
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You’ll need the essentials
This may be a little obvious, but it seems the best place to start are the supplies needed for success! Some of these items are optional and will come down to your preferences.
- Litter box
- Litter box liners (optional)
- Litter mat (optional)
In case you’re still needing any of these and are curious about what our current favorites are, here is our list below with links to each.
Litter Box Essentials
Frisco Cat Litter
I’m not sure a “perfect litter” exists. We’ve been using Frisco cat litter for years and it used to be close to perfect. After Covid, the formula changed, and it’s not nearly as good, but for the price, we’re still looking for something that beats it. Click here to learn more.
Jonny Cat Litter Box Liners
In my opinion, most litter box liners are so thin that they get shredded in a day’s time and cats don’t like them! Jonny Cat is what I’ve used for 20 years. They are thick enough to resist tearing longer and do make box cleanup easier. Tips: Use 2 instead of 1. If using in a jumbo box, slowly stretch the liner to fit. Stretch too fast and they will split. Click here to learn more.
Frisco Microfiber Litter Mat
We’ve tried a ton of different litter mats over the years. Some work pretty well and others are useless junk! These super soft, rug-like mats, are worth a try! Kitties actually like stepping on them (vs. just jumping over!) and they do catch well. However, cleaning the litter out does take a little more effort. Click here to learn more.
Natural litter box deodorizer tips
There are a lot of different ways people mask litter box odor. I completely understand you not wanting your home to smell like one big cat box, but remember that your cat has a very sensitive nose. Things like wall plug-ins and highly scented litter powders or litters can really harm your cat’s health.
Instead, try natural deodorizers like sprinkling and mixing unscented Arm & Hammer baking soda into the litter or adding these inexpensive odor eliminating bamboo charcoal bags in the area where your litter box is. These work great anywhere! We’ve also found that our air purifier is a God-send for pet odor control (and our health)!
How to train a cat to use the litter box
Now that we have all of our basic supplies ready, here are some simple steps to take and considerations to make for turning your favorite feline into a litter box pro in no time!
Create the purrfect litter box environment
In my Real Estate training, they liked to use the old saying, “location, location location.” Cats feel the same way about their toilet’s real estate!
- 🐾 Put the box in a quiet, well-lit, safe spot, away from their food and water
- 🐾 Avoid high-traffic areas, or near loud appliances like furnaces, laundry machines, refrigerators, etc.
Loud noises can spook your cat and heat-generating appliances like dryers make stinky smells worse. If you’ve ever visited a public restroom and walked right back out because of the sight or smell, you know what your cat is feeling! You don’t want a mess to clean up because the kitty toilet is in the wrong spot!
Blair de Jong, a cat behaviorist counselor for the ASPCA offers this advice, “Check out where your cat spends the most time.” When possible, place a box in or near this location.
Don’t forget that the box needs to be accessible at all times. If placed inside a bathroom or closet area, make sure the doors stay open. Just the other day, my husband’s co-worker, told the story of how he accidentally shut the bathroom door where the cat’s box was. Kitty decided the dog’s bed looked like the perfect spot to take care of business! 😀 oops!
Once you’ve found a spot that your feline prefers, stick with it. Sudden litter box moves for some cats can be stressful and could cause them to go where you don’t want!
As a general rule, if you don’t like going into the area where you’re thinking of placing the litter box (dark, dingy, smelly, or kind of yucky) — your cat probably won’t like it much either! Every cat’s personality is different. Some cats will refuse to use a box in a less-than-ideal location; others will do it, even if they don’t like it. Why not make it as nice as we can?
Time to add the litter
Everyone has a different opinion on this subject, believe it or not. Some prefer adding only a few inches of litter and topping off as needed for refreshing.
My preference (and my cats) is to dump the whole litter bag (or box) into the litter box. If I hold back any, it would only be to add in a little fresh for when the box starts getting near the time to do a whole new bag of litter. (For us, that’s usually every 3 weeks with 5 indoor cats)
This is one of those areas to explore what you and your cats prefer. There really isn’t a wrong or right way to do litter, as long as your cat has plenty to dig and cover up their business.
The type or brand of litter you and your cats prefer might change with time as well. For example, a lot of cat parents are finding they prefer all-natural litter like grass litter. They still clump, are eco-friendly, cat health-friendly, and cost about the same.
If you can, it’s best to find one that works well in your home and stick with it, just like the location of the litter box itself.
Does litter box size & type matter?
Yes, it does. I have personally seen cats peeing outside of their box only because the box was too small and they couldn’t squat completely and comfortably inside. Imagine you trying to use a teeny tiny baby toilet as a full-grown person! It just doesn’t make sense!
Even with my smaller cats, I have always opted for the large or jumbo boxes. It just gives them plenty of space to dig, turn around, and stand up. For larger cats, this is even more important.
Our cats seem to prefer the covered (hooded) boxes, but this is not true of all! Our boy, Pips, is a “vertical pee-er.” When he pees, he doesn’t really squat. Instead, his backside is mostly upward, almost as if he were spraying (he’s not). This makes it difficult to contain urine in uncovered boxes.
If this is a problem for you and covered boxes don’t work in your home, take a look at the NVR Miss box. It has an easy entrance front and some of the highest side walls on the market, keeping both litter and waste in. It’s great for your litter kicker kitties too!
#1 Litter Disposal Storage System
Introduction, Consistency, and Reward
Introduction: I’ll be honest with you. In all my decades of being a cat mom, I’ve never had an issue litter training a kitten or adult cat. Their instincts are pretty strong and usually take over.
To introduce your cat to their new litter box, let them sniff and explore as much as they want. If they don’t get in on their own, gently place them inside the box. With mine, I like to take their paw in my hand and make a digging motion with it in the litter.
At this point, they may jump out and that’s perfectly okay! More than likely they will return to the box when they’re actually in need of it.
When litter box training kittens, the Animal Humane Society offers this advice, “Keep kittens in a small room with a litter box for a few days until they use it consistently.”
Consistency: If for some reason your cat doesn’t return to the box on its own after the first introduction attempt, be patient, and try again. Your consistency in helping them understand what you’re asking will quickly ‘start to click.’
- A good time to try placing them inside their new box is after meals, after a good cat nap, or if you see behaviors like squatting, sniffing, or circling an area.
Rewards: Cats are amazing; they make associations for everything, good or bad. When they do something and there is a reward or positive association with it, they’re likely to do it again.
Don’t be afraid to reward good behavior with their favorite treat, verbal praise, or some extra playtime with you and their favorite toy!
Be sure to have enough boxes in your home & keep them clean
Experts agree. The ideal number of litter boxes is one per cat, plus one extra, in different areas of your home. In multi-cat homes, this becomes even more important. Litter box competition, dislike of location, or even a negative association with one of the boxes is a recipe for a stinky home and unhappy humans.
If you have a home with more than one level, please be sure to have a box available on each level of your home for easy access wherever kitty is.
Scoop boxes at least once per day. Some cats are more particular than others about box cleanliness. Years ago, I had a boy named “Spud” and if there was even one tiny clump of waste left in there, he was going on strike! It pays to know your personalities 🙂
They’re doing us a favor by going to the bathroom in a box! The least we can do is keep it clean!
Helpful tip for sensitive noses
Are you the designated pooper scooper and have a runny or irritated nose every time you do? Try blowing your nose after you’re finished. Those fine dust particles get into your nasal passage and cause irritation or make you smell kitty litter all day, ew!
It can also be a sign that your litter is too dusty and it may be time to try a different brand or type of litter. If it’s bothering you, it might be bothering your cat’s sensitive nose too!
Do cats train themselves to use the litter box?
Actually, in many ways, yes! Our job is to guide them to the box, offer a little encouragement, and let their instincts do the rest!
Jordan Cassidy, DVM, PetSmart resident veterinarian explains, “Cats have an inherent desire to bury their waste in order to cover their scent from other animals.” When you offer them a clean, acceptable, safe space to do just that, they will take it from there!
When is it too late to litter train a cat?
Thankfully, it’s never too late. If you’ve adopted a senior kitty, there may be a few things to try differently. For example, they may need lower entrance boxes if they have mobility issues or arthritis which makes climbing over high boxes much more difficult without steps.
Like kittens, when training older cats for the first time, you may also need to confine them to an area or room with one or two litter boxes until they get used to the idea of using a litter box for their relief, instead of your houseplants, bedding, etc.
They say, “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks,” but old cats will do just fine! 🙂
How long does it take to litter train a kitten?
If your kitten is at least 3 weeks old, you can begin litter training.
How long should it take for your kitten to use the box consistently? That honestly depends. Usually, if the right conditions are met (like those above), the process happens quickly (within a few days) and rarely lasts more than 3- 4 weeks.
One of the greatest joys of cat parenting is just how easy it is to take care of them! There are no emergency 2 a.m. bathroom walks, they are excellent groomers, they can be kept happy indoors, give the best love, and they are good for lots of laughs!
Best of all, thankfully, it’s not hard at all to figure out how to train a cat to use the litter box, because, well…they usually teach themselves!
Here’s a recap of some important reminders:
- Find a location your cat enjoys and place a litter box in or near that area
- Have one box per cat, plus an extra one, and keep them clean
- Find a litter type that works best for you and your cat and stick with it
- Pick the right box type for your cat’s needs (low entry, high sides, hooded, etc)
- Try rewards for when your new furbaby uses the box as positive reinforcement
Congratulations! It’s that easy! You and your favorite feline are now litter box pros!
Any questions? Feel free to ask. I’m here to help if I can 🙂
Connect with me
I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Did you have any trouble litter box training any of your cats? If so, what solved the problem in your home?
Love & Healing Purrs,
How Do Cats Automatically Know How to Use a Litter Box?, Reader’s Digest