Cats have a strong evolutionary relationship with their bathroom business. You see healthy cats use their waste as a territorial marker. Through the years they’ve learned that leaving their waste exposed, due to the pheromones that are present, is an excellent means of communicating with other feline locals their dominance or domain over a certain geographical area.
Along with this display of dominance comes the understanding that to bury and clean up ones waste is a great way to communicate “Hey, I really gotta go here. I’m not challenging you in any way and I don’t want any trouble. I know you’re the boss so let me be respectful and clean up after myself.” Assuming that your cat is healthy and respects your dominance, with a bit of care and preparation you can use this natural instinct to potty train your new kitten.
First day at home
When you first bring your kitten home, immediately show her where the litterbox is. Scratch the litter with your hand, make a little game of it to encourage the kitten to scratch the litter and possibly even do her business.
Start out with the same litter brand as she’s used to. Ask the breeder for some litter to take with you if that particular brand is hard for you to get. You can wean the kitten off that brand onto a new brand by slowly decreasing the familiar brand and increasing the amount of new litter in her box over a week or so.
After your new kitten has had her first feed or big drink at your house, show her again where the litter box is. Most cats will want to do their business after eating, waking, or exercise. Watch your kitten at these key times to ensure she goes to the litter box. When she does this is your opportunity to reinforce this desired behavior and to reward her for a job well done. High-fives, paw bumps, petting, cuddles, all work well.
If she has an accident, make a disapproving sound or say “no” in an unhappy voice. But don’t go overboard here! This is a learning process and the goal is to let her know that what she did is not the desired behavior. The goal is not to mentally scar her so be respectful. Carry her to the litter box and coo and praise her once she’s in the litter box. Keep doing this, be persistent. Most kittens get the hang of it quite quickly.
7 Tips for Potty Training Your Kitten
- Be sure to accept that accidents happen and that this is a learning process. Don’t punish your kitten.
- Be sure to praise her when she uses the litter correctly. Positive reinforcement is key.
- For ease of accessibility, have one more litter box in the house than you have cats. So if you have 25 cats, invest in 26 litter boxes.
- Put litter boxes in quiet locations, away from general foot traffic and the noise of household appliances. It’s hard to go when you’re not relaxed!
- Put the litter box away from your cat’s bed, food and water.
- Empty the tray regularly, many cats won’t go on the litter box if it’s too soiled. Scoop soiled litter out at least daily and clean entire litter box at least once a week.
- Don’t use ammonia or bleach to clean the litter box, use hot water and some detergent instead. You can use some lemon juice or vinegar to neutralize the smell of urine.
Troubleshooting Potty Training Problems
If your kitten eliminates outside of the litter box, thoroughly clean it up with an enzymatic cleaner. This type of cleaner will do a great job of getting urine or feces out of rugs or flooring. The other key is that it will ensure that the spot won’t start to smell like her bathroom spot. The bad news is that if it does it may encourage the kitten to go there again and again.
In fact, if your kitten has an accident outside of the litter box, consider transferring some of the urine or feces she deposited outside of the litter box into the litterbox so it has her own smell. This may encourage her to use the litter box instead.
If your kitten has taken a liking to a particular spot, you can try moving the litter box there. Once she’s established a routine in the litter box on that spot, you can try moving it very slowly to a more convenient location.
14 Common Potty Training Problems in Kittens
- Medical problems. If problems persist be sure to have your kitten checked out by the vet to rule out any underlying health problems.
- Not enough privacy. In this case move the litter box to a more private location or get an igloo style litter box.
- Location is too noisy or busy. Move the litter box to a location that is quieter.
- Sides are too high for her to get in or be comfortable in. Get a litter box with lower sides or get creative and make her a little ramp for easy access.
- If you are using a litter box with a cover or hood, try with the cover off.
- She doesn’t like the litter. Switch to a different brand or switch back to the brand the breeder used. Sometimes different cats in one household prefer different types of litter.
- If you are using scented litter, the smell may be putting her off. Clean the litter box thoroughly with hot water and detergent and try unscented litter.
- Litter may be too soiled. Scoop out the soiled bits more often and replace with fresh litter.
- If you use a self-cleaning litter box or a Litter Robot, switch to a low-tech litter box for a while and introduce the high-tech litter box later.
- If you already have another cat in the household, give the new kitten a private, fresh litter box for her to use until she’s well integrated into her new family.
- Litter box is too big. For some itty-bitty kitties, litter boxes are too large and intimidating. Get a smaller litter box until she grows into the normal box.
- Litter box is too small. For bigger breeds, your litter box may be too small. Get a bigger litter box.
- Your cat may be stressed. Perhaps something in her world has changed and by marking her territory she is trying to reassure or assert herself.
- Sexual maturity. Your cat may have hit her teens and suddenly she doesn’t give a hoot about the rules of the house. Spaying or neutering will help.