Do you have kittens that need to learn to use the litter box? Did you adopt a kitten who occasionally has litterbox accidents? Did you find a stray kitten and now need to introduce him to the concept of using a litter box?
If the answer to any of the above questions is “yes”, then keep reading.
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When Should You Start Litter Box Training Kittens?
Litter box training of kittens should begin at the same time you introduce them to kitten food. This is usually between the ages of 3 to 5 weeks.
Until a kitten starts eating food, they get all their nutrients from nursing. They also have all their toileting issues taken care of by the mother cat. The exception is orphaned kittens who are being bottle-fed and need their human “parent” to help with elimination.
Kittens will continue to nurse from their mother for many more weeks, but once they start to eat food, the weaning process has begun.
For more on weaning, check out our article: Weaning: How To Get Your Kittens To Eat On Their Own
Once you decide it’s time to offer your kittens food, you should set out litter boxes for them.
Not all kittens will show interest in food at the same time, and not all kittens will learn to use the litter box at the same time.
As long as the kittens are still mostly nursing, the mother cat will likely continue to clean up their waste. As they get older and eat more food, the mother cat will no longer help with elimination, and by 6 to 7 weeks they should be mostly weaned, and if not yet litter box trained should learn quickly.
What Type of Litter Box is the Best for Young Kittens?
The best litter box for training young kittens is one that is low-sided and easy for kittens to climb into. It should also be smaller than the adult-sized litter boxes.
One idea for a beginner kitten litter box is a tinfoil cake pan. It is the right size and can be thrown out when it is no longer needed.
A low-sided cardboard tray, such as the type cat food cans come in, is another idea for a kitten litter box. Or you could cut a small cardboard box down to size. Eventually, the cardboard will become pee-soaked, but at that time, you can simply throw the cardboard box away and set up something new. To prevent the pee from soaking through the box onto the floor, you can put a puppy pee pad under it.
If you decide to buy a litter box to use for training kittens, the ones found at the dollar-type stores are good options, as they are usually small and low-sided.
Large or covered litter boxes, as well as self-cleaning ones, should not be used until the kitten is much older.
Sometimes you can buy kitty litter box “starter kits”, which include a litter box, litter and a scoop. Just ensure the litter is non-clumping, as clumping litter can be dangerous to kittens. We will focus further on the hazards of clumping litter and kittens below.
For more on the different types of litter boxes, see our article - How To Choose The Right Litterbox
How Many Litter Boxes Do You Need For Kittens?
With kittens, the more litter boxes you have available, the better.
You should provide at least one litter box for each kitten to use, as it is likely that once one kitten decides to use the litter box, the others will follow like little “copycats”. You also need to make sure the litter boxes are visible and easily accessible, even if that means having litter boxes in more than one room.
Once your kitten is an adult, you won’t need to have litter boxes around every corner. However, the general rule of thumb for the number of litter boxes for adult cats is one litter box per cat, plus one.
Many multi-cat households get by with less than the recommended number of litter boxes. However, when starting to litter box train kittens, you want to ensure you have at least one box for each kitten.
And even with adult cats, more is usually better. Some cats actually prefer to pee in one box and poop in another, so 2 would be recommended for just one cat. It’s always best to begin with more litter boxes than you think you need. You can always take one away if it’s deemed unnecessary.
Where is the Best Location to Place the Litter Boxes?
Litter boxes should be placed in locations where the kitten is likely to be when it needs to use them.
With adult cats, the rule is to never place their litter box near their food dishes.
However, since kittens often need to use the litter box right after eating, this is the one time the above rule can be broken. The closer they are to a litter box, the less chance of an accident.
You also should have litter boxes near where the kittens sleep, as they often have “to go” upon waking from a nap.
And if the kittens have full run of the house, you will have to have several small litter boxes scattered about in all the rooms, because you don’t want the kitten having to run too far to find a litter box.
What Type of Litter Should You Use?
First and foremost, DO NOT use a clumping litter when litter training kittens.
Young kittens may try to sample anything that looks edible once they begin eating food, including litter.
Clumping litter may also stick to the kitten’s fur, or get stuck between their toes, and could then be ingested when they groom themselves.
Once ingested, clumping litter might stick to the kitten’s intestines and cause constipation or a blockage. So to prevent any risk, clumping litter should be avoided until the kittens are older.
As for the types of litter you should use, any non-clumping litter should be fine.
Check out our article How To Choose The Right Cat Litter for more information on types of kitty litter.
How Do You Actually Train A Kitten to Use the Litter Box?
If you are really lucky, once you start feeding the kittens cat food and put out their mini litter boxes filled with non-clumping litter, the mother cat will teach her kittens how to “go potty”. In fact, some kittens will learn by watching their mom and may even try to use her litter box. So for that reason, it may be helpful to keep the mother cat’s litter box in the same room as the kittens. Ensure, however, that the litter in the mother’s litter box is non-clumping, in case the kittens try to eat it.
If kittens don’t follow their mother’s lead, the human will have to step in and help teach them the procedure.
Start by placing the kitten in the litter box whenever you think it might have to go potty. Common times are after waking up and after eating. You can simply place the kitten in the litter box, then make little digging motions with its paw. Some kittens will catch on right away.
If you have a particularly slow learner, you could try holding them over the litter box, then trying to stimulate them to pee or poop by gently wiping their genital areas. This may help them to make the connection between the litter box and elimination.
When they do pee or poop in the litter box, let them smell it, then either let them watch you cover it, or gently help them to cover it with their paw.
How Long Will it Take to Litter Box Train a Kitten?
Some kittens will learn to use the litter box immediately. Others will take more time and have little accidents along the way. The older they are, the sooner they will catch on. And by 6 or 7 weeks, they should learn quickly.
Help! My Kitten is Peeing (or Pooping) Outside of the Litter Box?
Just like toilet training human children, kittens will have accidents when first introduced to the litter box. Even older kittens who have been adopted into their forever homes sometimes have accidents.
Remember, however, that cats and discipline don't mix, so don’t try to punish your kittens when they have an accident.
When kittens pee somewhere other than the litter box, it is very important to thoroughly clean the area so that no lingering urine smell remains. If the kitten smells the urine, it might think it is ok to keep peeing in the same spot. The only cleaner that will totally remove the urine scent is an enzyme cleaner.
If the kitten doesn’t seem to get the idea to pee in the litter box, when it pees on the floor, blot it up with a tissue and place the tissue in the kitten’s litter box. Then place the kitten in the litter box and let him smell the urine-soaked tissue. Then cover it up with litter. Hopefully, the kitten will get the hint.
Do the same thing with any poop that you find outside the litter box.
With adult cats, the cleaner the litter box the better, so removing pee and poop as often as possible is recommended. This also applies to kittens. However, if you have a kitten that is not quite catching on to using the litter box, you might want to leave a bit of pee or poop in the litter box as a “reminder” of where it belongs.
If you have an adult cat or a litterbox-trained kitten who stops using the litter box, this may be cause for concern. The following articles address some issues involved with litter box avoidance:
- How To Solve Litterbox Problems In Cats: The Ultimate Guide
- Litterbox Problems? Here's Why You Should Call Your Vet
Help! My Kitten is Eating Litter!
As mentioned above, when kittens are first learning to eat solid food, they tend to try eating anything and everything they see, and sometimes that includes kitty litter. This is why it is very important not to use clumping litter until kittens are older.
When you see them eating litter, stop them and try to get it out of their mouth if possible. Then put them in front of their dish of food. If you think your kitten may have eaten a considerable amount of litter, please contact your vet.
Why is My Kitten Playing/Sleeping in the Litter Box?
Sometimes kittens decide that their litter box is a great place to play. Or sleep.
They may dig around in the litter, sending it scattering all over the floor. They may dig and dig and accidentally send a piece of waste flying over the side of the litter box. They may even try to wrestle with the litter scoop if it is left unattended in the litter box. Or they may curl up against the side and have a nap.
But why are they doing more than eliminating in the litter box?
It’s possible that kittens smell their own scent in the litter box, and therefore feel safe in it. Plus, it is a box. And most cats love boxes!
Though it may not be desirable to have your kitten using their litter box as a sandbox, you have to ensure that any attempt to discourage their “fun” does not cause them to connect the litter box with a negative response and begin inappropriate elimination elsewhere around the house.
You could try getting a covered litter box to reduce some of the litter that flies out of the box. However, if the kitten does not like the covered box, they might stop using it.
Therefore, you should probably just wait until the kitten outgrows the behavior, and in the meantime, try to remove the waste as often as possible to keep it from ending up on the wrong side of the litter box.
If the litter scatter is caused by the kitten digging to cover his waste, it may mean it is time to get a larger litter box. But don’t just take away the original litter box and replace it with the new one. Keep the original litter box until you know for sure the kitten is comfortable using the new one.
I Found a Stray Kitten. How Do I Train it to Use a Litter Box?
Depending on the kitten’s history, it may have only gone potty outside and will not be familiar with the concept of using a litter box.
Cats, however, normally have the instinct to cover their waste, particularly outside cats who don’t want to draw attention to their territory by leaving uncovered pee or poop. So they should understand the idea of covering what they deposit in the litter box.
However, kittens or adult cats who have only lived outside likely only covered their waste with soil, or grass and leaves, and won’t be used to kitty litter. If they seem hesitant to use the litter box, sometimes it helps to add a sprinkling of unfertilized potting soil on top of the litter.
As with introducing kittens to a litter box, show your stray kitten the box, and possibly try gently digging its paw in the litter.
If the kitten is scared, or too wild to handle, place him in a safe room with food, water, and the litter box, and slowly begin the process of socializing him.
For more information on stray and feral cats, TCS has the following articles:
- I Found Abandoned Kittens - What Should I Do?
- A Feral Cat Or A Stray Cat? How To Tell The Difference
- The Five Golden Rules To Bringing An Outdoor Cat Inside
If you could use some support with any aspect of caring for stray or feral cats, we have a forum devoted to caring for strays and ferals.
We also have Why You Should Join Thecatsite.com.
How about you? Have you ever had to train kittens to use the litter box? Share your own tips in a comment below. Please help us spread information about good cat care by sharing this article around. Thank you!
This article was written by TheCatSite member and team member @rubysmama