If you’ve adopted your new kitten from a reputable source, chances are good that she has already been litter trained. Your kitten’s mom will have began the litter training process once the kitten was weaned and became mobile. Sometimes, however, we end up with orphaned kittens or kittens who were adopted too young. In those cases, the responsibility falls on us to make sure our kittens know how to use the litter box. Since “kitten season” is on the way, here are some tips.
1. Make sure your kitten is old enough
Most kittens will be ready to begin using the litter box when they’re about 4 weeks old. Your kitten is ready if she’s mobile and has developed her natural instinct to dig. If your kitten is under 4 weeks old, she won’t be able to use a litter box and you’ll need to help her potty. For more information on this process and caring for infant kittens in general, read How To Care For Neonatal Kittens by Alley Cat Allies.
2. Choose the right box and litter
Small kittens may have a hard time getting in and out of a box designed for an adult cat. Choose a box that has a lip that’s low enough to give the kitten easy access. If you only have a large box, you can build a temporary ramp (with good traction) or a step to make it easier. Kittens can be more sensitive than adult cats, so choose a litter that is unscented and as dust-free as possible.
3. Make the box accessible and desirable
Whether you have a kitten or an adult cat, the litter box should always be placed in an area of your home that is easily accessible and well lit. Don’t place the litter box in a hectic high-traffic area of your home, but also avoid placing it in an area that’s too hidden. The goal is to make the litter box feel like the most obvious and accessible place to use the bathroom. If she has to climb a flight of stairs, she may decide your new shoe makes a better litter box. While you’re at it, make sure the box stays fresh and clean by scooping daily.
4. Choose the right moment
When your kitten was an infant, her mom helped her use the bathroom after mealtimes. You can use that to your advantage. Placing the kitten into the litter box after she’s eaten can help her associate the box with what she has always done after eating. You can also guide her towards the box if you notice her squatting at another time.
5. Show how it’s done
Once the kitten is standing in the litter, use your fingers to lightly scratch at the litter. Once kittens are old enough to be litter trained they will instinctually want to use the bathroom in dirt, sand, and litter. The scratching should be enough to help her understand what the box is for. You can also show her by gently moving her paw through the litter in a scratching motion.
6. Praise, don’t punish
Not all kittens will understand how to use the litter box right away. Don’t worry, she’ll get it eventually. In the meantime, be patient. Cats are reward-driven creatures and will avoid doing things in the future that have caused them pain or anxiety in the past. Therefore, punishing a kitten for not using the litter box won’t work– it’ll only make her frightened of the box. Instead, reward her with sweet talking, pets, and treats after you’ve placed her in the box or after she has used the box properly.
7. Briefly confine if necessary
If you’ve been trying for a while and she’d just not getting it, you can try confining her for a short period of time in a small room (like a bathroom) or large cage. The room should contain only the essentials– the litter box, a bed, food, water, toys, and a scratching post. With access only to these limited items she’ll be able to better understand that the bed is for sleeping, the toys are for playing, and the litter box is for pottying. Remember that confining her isn’t a punishment, and she should still be showered with plenty of love, attention, play, and encouragement if you take this step to help her learn.