Whether you are a new or prospective kitten owner–amidst your excitement, you may have some anxious thoughts….especially when it comes to “bathroom etiquette”.
As with any new furry addition to the family, you may find yourself asking “is it hard to litter train a kitten?” and “Just how long will it take until my kitten is litterbox trained?”
Well here’s the good news! Litter training your kitten is usually a relatively quick and easy process.
How long does it take to litterbox train a kitten? Most kittens will instinctively use the litterbox without any training at all but others may need a few days to get the hang of it. That being said, there are rare instances where it can take several weeks for kittens to figure it out!
You can help avoid a lengthier litterbox training process by ensuring that you have the appropriate litterbox setup for your kitten. To help your kitten (and you!) with jump-starting the litterbox training process, I’ve compiled some helpful tips to get your kitten ready as fast as possible all while establishing habits for long-term success.
When to Litter Train Kittens
If you adopted your kitten from a shelter or rescue, chances are they are old enough to get started on litterbox training right away. Unless you’re purchasing your cat from a breeder, your kitten is likely to be around 8 weeks old which means they’re ready for litterbox training!
For the first few weeks of life, kittens cannot pee or poop without their mom’s help. As they become more mobile and start exploring on their own, they will naturally mimic their mom’s elimination behaviors. But using a litterbox is hardwired into your kitten’s instincts! Cats have been burying their stool to hide their scent from predators or other cats for thousands and thousands of years!
That means that many kittens will already seek out a litterbox well before they’re 8 weeks old!
Is Litterbox Training a Kitten Difficult?
Most kittens pick up on the litterbox concept right away and will continue to use it regularly—as long as you keep up your part!
For the average kitten, the litterbox training process should come easily and naturally. Of course, there are those kittens who just don’t seem to understand “bathroom etiquette” and can be a bit difficult to get using the litterbox consistently. However, this is often a result of your kitten just being confused instead of a kitten that doesn’t want to use a litterbox. Remember, your kitten’s instincts push them to bury their waste so many times all you need to do is make sure your kitten can find the box, actually get in it, and doesn’t hate the litter!
Picking Out the Right Litterbox for Your Kitten
With so many different litterbox options out there, from the simple box to the high-tech self-cleaning machines, it can be difficult to know where to start. You will also more than likely need to upgrade your kitten’s litterbox as they get bigger, or as you or your cat’s litterbox preference changes.
Consider your kitten’s first litterbox like training wheels. Your goal is to make things are simple as possible but know you can always go for more complex options in the future.
Here’s what you need to consider:
Get More Than One Box
We wanted to give you the heads-up that you will need to get at least two litterboxes. This can really help prevent problems in the future for your adult cat and for your kitten it will make sure they always have a box close by.
A general rule of thumb is to have one more litterbox than you do cats (or kittens). This ensures that no fights break out over the litterbox and make it easier to keep up with cleaning. That means your cat will almost always have a clean box to choose from.
Picking Out the Right Size Litterbox
Most 8-week old kittens weigh around two pounds which means they’re pretty darn small! So you’ll want to make sure that your kitten can easily get in and out of the box. Dr. Jamie Lovejoy, while writing for PetMD, recommends that your cat’s litterbox be approximately 1.5 times their length. While this will obviously be easy to do for your kitten, you should keep this mind and try to get a litterbox that your kitten can grow into.
Let’s breakdown some of the most common differences between litterboxes so you know what to look for.
Deep vs. Shallow
I have found that having a shallow litterbox is great to get started with for potty-training kittens, especially if your kitten is learning what the litterbox is and exactly how to use it for the first time. And even though kittens are well known for being wild, you ideally want to make sure they can see inside the litterbox before they dive into it!
A very low, and sometimes flat litterbox (you can even use a cardboard lid!) will help those newbies to see a potential spot for digging, to eliminate in. I usually look for something no more than two inches high for the first learning stages.
If the sides are too tall your kitten may not realize it’s a litterbox and may prefer to find a more easily accessible spot. Additionally, I have commonly found young kittens to be drawn towards litterboxes that have high edges—not for going to the bathroom, but to take a nap in!
Open vs. Covered
Like depth, you and your kitten’s preference may change once they are older but I’d suggest avoiding covered litterboxes when litter training. It’s best to keep things as simple as possible when starting out. If you do want to move towards a covered litterbox, I’d suggest making it one of several litterboxes that you present to your kitten and not the only litterbox.
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I highly recommend the line of super simple and small litterboxes from Van Ness. There’s nothing fancy here and it’s a pretty standard-looking litterbox but that’s all we need! It’s got a great open box style and the small version is only 3.5 inches tall. It’s also very budget-friendly so even if you only use it while your furry friend is a kitten it will be well worth it.
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To sum it up– the ideal box to star litter train your kitten with should be a simple, shallow, and open-style litterbox is easy for a kitten to find and climb in and out of, which are key things to think about when litter training your kitten.
Don’t Forget The Litter Scoop!
Part of keeping cats happy in the litter box is keeping it clean. A quality scooper can make all the difference here and a good one will last for years. If you don’t have one already, I highly recommend this scooper from DuraScoop (Amazon link).
Choosing The Right Cat Litter:
If you are new to the concept of cat litter, it doesn’t take long to realize that quality can make a huge difference for both you and your cat. Let’s get into some of the factors to consider when choosing a cat litter, especially for training your kitten.
You may find later down the road that a certain type of litter works particularly well for both you and your kitten. However, when you are just getting started with a new kitten these are some good things to keep in mind:
The texture is a key component for what your kitten will look for when choosing a spot to eliminate. As in the wild, your feline companion will seek out a soft area where they can dig. Sometimes they will prioritize the texture over the ability to dig or location. (This can be why your kitten might alternatively seek out a soft rug or pile of clothes.)
The Messiness Factor
If your kitten at that one-month age where they are just getting started, accidents outside of the box are likely to happen. It is common for newly learning kittens to make a mess just outside the box. One of my favorite tools to combat this are puppy pee-pads which you can pick up on Amazon. Placing a few underneath the litterbox (or even in areas they have peed in the past) makes those accidents easy to clean up. They also help to catch excess litter!
For more established kittens and adult cats, the largest “messiness” factor you will encounter with the litterbox, is the inevitability of cat litter slowly spreading outside of the box and across your house. There are ways to help combat this inevitable spread of cat-litter from room to room. This can be where a higher or covered box comes into play (after you’re done with training). Or as many cat owners prefer, one of the easiest ways to help collect those spare bits of clay that get stuck in your kitten’s paws is simply putting down a litter-catching mat.
What are the cat litter options out there?
As with litterboxes, there are many different types of cat litter to take into consideration. From my experience, most cat owners choose a clay-based, clumping cat litter. However, is that the best option for your kitten?
Clumping vs Non-Clumping
From my personal cat experience, it seems that kittens don’t have a large preference when it comes to clumping or non-clumping litter. However, I do have a preference when it comes to cleaning and maintaining the litterbox.
I find clumping litter to almost always be the better choice—mostly because it’s easy for me to manage when I clean the litterbox. Clumping litter helps to contain urine in a hardened ball, making it easier to sift remove with a litter scoop. Less cat litter is thrown out this way, which tends to be less wasteful (both for your wallet and your garbage can!)
Non-clumping litter on the other hand is not ideal for long-term, regular litterbox use. Many people find that non-clumping litter tends to be messy and difficult to clean without completely emptying the litterbox on a daily basis.
Because the cat’s urine gets mixed throughout the litter, rather than clumping together, the litterbox can become stinky fast. If you combat the smell by frequently dumping the entire litterbox, you may find your trash bin to be rather heavy in the end.
Scented vs Unscented
Cat owners tend to buy scented litter in order to cover up a potentially smelly litterbox. However, what is best when it comes to training your kitten?
I prefer to use unscented cat litter, especially while potty-training kittens. Kittens greatly rely on smell when locating an area for elimination. Having unscented litter helps kittens to return to the litterbox by following the smell.
Overall, I tend to avoid using a scented cat litter, especially while litterbox training kittens. As I mentioned above, having scented litter may confuse or deter your kitten from the litterbox. Additionally, the chemicals used to make “scented” cat litter may be irritating and potentially harmful to you and your kitten long-term.
Although scented litter can help to mask the unpleasant odors that come with having a litterbox, I find it easier to simply scoop the box or change out the litter more frequently. especially for kitten training.
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It’s all about keeping it simple for your kitten and this litter does exactly that. One of the major goals of this litter is to encourage cats to use the box which is perfect for your kitten
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Where To Put The Litterbox?
The location of the litterbox is equally as important as the type of box and litter.
As with most living things, cats and even young kittens can be quite fussy about where their bathroom is located. If your kitten has an unpleasant litterbox experience (such as being scared), this may be enough of a deterrent that they find a new–and unapproved–elimination spot.
Cats prefer a bathroom environment that is clean, quiet, and provides a feeling of safety and privacy. When placing your kitten’s litterboxes, these are some important things to keep in mind:
- Have at least one litterbox per floor
- If you have a two-storied house or more, have at least one box per floor.
- Don’t put a litterbox near your kitten’s food and or water
- Avoid placing the litterbox in the same room as your kitten’s food and water. (You wouldn’t want to sit down for some lunch in your bathroom, would you…?!)
- Choose a quiet spot for each litterbox
- Your kitten will be more likely to seek out and use their litterbox if it’s in an area that’s relatively quiet and out of the way.
- Don’t place the litterbox in an area with heavy foot traffic, loud noises or general chaos.
- Make sure the litterbox is easy to find
- To help avoid accidents, don’t hide the litterbox or put it somewhere that is difficult for your cat to find and remember.
Introducing Your Kitten to the Box:
Alright, let’s get to the action. How to introduce your kitten to the litterbox! Surprisingly, you may find yourself needing to reintroduce your kitten (even as an adult) to the litterbox as you upgrade it or change its location. Not to worry, though! It is usually a relatively simple task.
Put Your Kitten in the Box
It’s as simple as that. Gently place your kitten in the litterbox! If they don’t need to pee or poop, they will often jump back out. However, they should take note of the texture. If your kitten does need to use the bathroom, you should see them start to sniff and dig in the litter until they find the right spot.
For a kitten learning to eliminate on their own for the first time, you can also gently take their paw and brush some litter with it. This helps show them that they can dig–and encourages their instinctual digging to kick in.
You may need to repeat the process until your kitten remembers where and how to use the litterbox.
Reward Your Kitten for Using the Litterbox
Your kitten will most likely remember and prefer to eliminate inside of the litterbox. However, it never hurts to encourage your kitten’s use of the litterbox with some positive reinforcement.
Praise your kitten while they are using the litterbox: When praising, use a higher-pitched voice—a lower voice may sound like a growl to your kitten. You can use terms like “good boy!”, “good girl!”, or “good potty!” to show your approval while your kitten is using the litterbox.
Give your kitten a treat upon leaving the litterbox (after they use it!): When you see your kitten actively in the process of eliminating inside the litterbox, give them a tasty treat as they leave the box to continue with positive reinforcement of their behavior.
Don’t scold your kitten or use negative reinforcement: If your kitten makes a mess outside the box, don’t scold them. They will associate any negative reinforcement you give them with you, rather than with the litterbox. If you see your kitten squatting outside but near the box, try any move them inside the litterbox.
Additionally, lots of praise and a treat will encourage your kitten to seek out that pleasant bathroom experience.
Establishing a Routine for Long-term Good Litterbox Habits
To help get your kitten quickly adapted to using a litterbox, it is good to know when they will most likely need the bathroom. As with humans, your kitten’s bodily elimination habits will typically follow a schedule, which it shouldn’t take you long to pick up on.
Place your kitten in the litterbox after they wake up from a nap, or before or after a meal. This helps them to establish the routine of where to seek out that bathroom spot.
Although each kitten’s learning curve is different, especially depending on their level of litterbox experience, following a routine can greatly speed up the process.
Cleaning the Litterbox
One of the most important factors for litter training and long-term litterbox success with your kitten is having access to a clean litterbox. As cats can be particularly picky when it comes to cleanliness, keeping up with your part can prevent future accidents outside the box. As with cleaning most things, the more often you do it, the easier it is to maintain.
The basics of cleaning a litterbox involve using a litter-scoop to sift poop and urine clumps out of the box. You will need a plastic bag or small trash can to discard the poop and dirty litter into.
Scoop daily: Ideally, you should scoop your litterbox every day. If you want to maintain an exceptionally clean box (ideal for your kitty), you can scoop the litterbox after each use.
Dump and refill monthly: Overtime you will notice that the cat litter isn’t as clean as it used to be, even with diligent scooping. Having dirty litter particles throughout the clean litter is an inevitability, regardless of how often you scoop. Therefore, it is usually recommended to dump out all litter and replenish every four to six weeks.
Well, who knew a simple “dirt box” could get so complicated? It is good to keep in mind that even after your kitten seems to get the hang of the litterbox, they may still have accidents outside the box every once in a while. (Sometimes when you gotta go, you gotta go!) However, if it becomes an issue you may want to take your kitten to see your veternarian to make sure there isn’t an underlying medical issue.
For the most part, kittens will be just fine continuing using the style of litterbox and type of cat litter that they started on. If you are trying to combat smelly odors or think your cat may prefer a different litter texture, you can always test out new types of cat litter or litterboxes with your cat. However, to ensure you don’t need to start the litter training process all over again, make sure to place the litterbox your kitten is familiar with near the new box.