How to Potty Train a Cat Without a Litter Box


How to Potty Train a Cat Without a Litter Box

Disclaimer: I’m a BIG advocate of cats being indoors. Indoor cats have a wide range of health and safety benefits over outdoor cats. In general, indoor cats live longer and healthier lives. However, I realize that this is not always possible or the cultural norm and some cat owners need their cat to learn how to use an outdoor bathroom. 

No one is excited about cleaning a litter box. Or having a box full of cat poop in your house.

It’s just a part of living with a feline friend and while it’s not fun to scoop the box it’s more than worth it when you consider how much having a cat can improve your life.

But what if there was another way? Is it possible to have a cat without a litter box?

The best, and safest option, is to build an outdoor catio that your cat can use for bathroom breaks. It will require some maintenance but it will move all potty breaks outside your home. While it can be tempting to train your cat to use the toilet, it’s not the best option. 

Of course, you can allow your cat to free roam outside but it isn’t a great option. Cats that are left to roam outside live shorter lives and are more likely to suffer any number of unpleasant experiences including being hit by a car, exposed to ill-intentioned humans, attacked by wildlife, and more.

Now you’re probably wondering how you can actually potty train your cat without using a litter box. We’re going to cover that, and more, in the rest of this article.

Let’s get started!

Is There Another Way To Solve The Litter Box Problem?

Litter box training is popular for a reason.

It’s by far the easiest option for potty training your cat and felines will instinctively use the box for bathroom breaks.

On the other hand, outdoor potty training requires a little more work and there’s always the risk that it doesn’t “click” right away and your cat decides to make their own bathroom somewhere in the house.

For that reason, potty training without a litter box probably shouldn’t be your first option so let’s consider a few of the alternative options.

Have You Tried An Automatic Litter Box?

The biggest complaints that most folks have are not wanting to scoop and the smell of the litter box.

I don’t think anyone really enjoys scooping or the smell of cat poops, so you’re certainly not alone in wanting to avoid it. It might seem like the only option is to take the whole operation outside but modern automatic litter boxes can completely remove the need for your to scoop and combined with quality litter can greatly minimize the smell.

It hasn’t always been that way.

In fact, automatic litter boxes used to be pretty bad but the modern box is quiet, budget-friendly, and actually works. I’m also not the only one saying this and my favorite automatic litter box from PetSafe has more than 6,500 five-star reviews on Amazon.

Not only will it “scoop” for you, but it does it regularly enough to minimize odor. While it’s going to run more than a traditional plastic litter box, it’s still relatively easy on the budget. It’s also going to save you the time of training your cat to use an outdoor bathroom along with the time it takes to scoop the box.

Is an automatic litter box perfect? Of course not, but it can almost eliminate the need for scooping and keep odors to a minimum.

Have Your Tried A Sifting Litter Box?

If going fully automatic doesn’t sound like the right fit for you then consider a shifting box.

You’re still going to need to interact with the box but there’s no scooping, at least in the traditional sense. Instead, the box sifts through the litter while the urine or stool stays on top and gets tossed in the can.

You’ve got dozens of options to choose from but one of my favorites is the Breeze Litter Box System. It’s easy on the budget and is backed up by more than 9,500 five-star reviews which you can read on Amazon.

What makes this box stand out is that it really is a complete system that’s a little different from even a traditional sifting box. Instead of scooping the urine, liquids drop down to an absorbent pad that does an exceptional job at minimizing odor.

That also means you have one less thing to scoop and instead you just toss the absorbent pad.

Have You Tried Changing Litter?

Okay, the last thing to consider is the litter. While you’re going to need a particular type of box to avoid scooping, picking up some quality litter can go a long way to managing smell. If having litter tracked around the house is more of your issue, then I suggest you check our guide to wood pellet cat litter which doesn’t track at all.

Either way, it’s worth exploring all the litter options out there before completely dropping the box.

What You Need To Know About Feline Bathroom Habits

Before we dive into the how-to portion, let’s make sure we clear up two things about what cats need when it comes to doing their business.

Cats Need Regular Access

When some folks first envision a house without a litter box they imagine their cat standing by the door and signaling when they’re ready to use the bathroom.

While this is entirely possible, it’s not the norm. Especially for cats that have previously used a litter box.

Instead, cats need to have easy and regular access to their bathroom- whether that’s indoors or outdoors. The first instinct isn’t always to meow at the door and instead many cats will take matters into their own hands (or paws) and find a bathroom within the house.

That’s part of the reason why the outdoor cat enclosure, also known as a catio, is the best option since you can give your cat unlimited access to it without worrying about other critters coming inside.

Cats Need The Right Material…To Poop On

Cats can be picky about the type of material they prefer for bathroom breaks but in most cases, fine particle litters work best. As PreventativeVet.com points out, “It makes sense, of course, given that cats were originally desert-dwelling animals that buried their waste in the sand.”

While I’ve had a ton of success using wood pellet litters as well, the point is you’ll need something that your cat can dig into.

How To Train A Cat To Use The Bathroom Outside (Without A Litter Box)

By now you’ve considered all your options and have decided that outdoor potty training without a litterbox is still the way to go. Ideally, you’re using a catio to keep your cat safe and secure.

I’m also going to assume that you don’t have any access to a litter box or at least don’t want to use it as part of your training process.

Here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Make sure your cat has easy outdoor access and they actually know how to use it. Open windows can work great with catios but you can also consider a cat flap.
  2. Establish a bathroom spot by placing extra sand, soil, or litter where you want them to use the bathroom. Make sure it’s obvious and ideally close to the entrance to their catio or patio area.
  3. Keep that area clean. Yes, this might require some scooping to start but your goal is to make the designated bathroom area as appealing as possible A big part of that means keeping it clean.
  4. After your cat has done their business a few times in the ideal spot, or they use the bathroom outside somewhere else, you should be good to go. As an extra precaution, try adding extra sand, soil, or litter in a few other outside areas to make it even more appealing
  5. Over time, you can stop adding anything extra and allow your cat to find their own spot assuming the ground is loose enough for your cat to dig.

While it might seem like a good idea to put their poop on the designed spot, do not do this.

Cats want a clean area to use the bathroom and a dirty litter box is one of the most common reasons why cats start soiling outside the litter box.  Adding poop to your cat’s targeted bathroom spot will actually discourage them from doing what you want by signaling that this area is unclean and unsuitable for a bathroom break.

How To Train A Cat To Use The Bathroom Outside (Using A Litter Box)

What about in a scenario where your cat is already using a litter box but you want to transition to an outdoor area?

The steps are quite similar but let’s take a quick look:

  1. Again, make sure your cat has regular and easy access to their new bathroom area.
  2. Leave the original litter box inside and add an additional litter box outside in the new area.
  3. Clean the outdoor litter box regularly, even several times a day, while leaving the indoor one a little less clean. Don’t make it disgusting but the idea here is to make the extremely clean outdoor litter box more appealing to your cat.
  4. Once your cat is using the outdoor litter box more, add a few piles of their preferred litter to the ground nearby. Now, slow down on scooping for the outdoor box which will this time make the piles more appealing. You can also remove the indoor box.
  5. When you see that your cat is regularly using the piles instead of the outdoor litter box, you can remove it. Over time, you can stop adding piles and allow your cat to find their own spot assuming the ground is loose enough to dig.

Again, don’t add poop to any of the piles. Poop doesn’t signal to your cat that it’s a good spot to use for the bathroom, instead, it signals to them that they need to find somewhere else.

How Long Does It Take To Potty Train A Cat To Not Use A Box?

Those steps might sound like they take a long time but in many cases, you can successfully transition your cat to using the litter piles outdoor in only a few days.

Remember, cats instinctually want to bury their stool and use a clean space. As long as you’re providing that for them then the entire process should be relatively easy.

Why Toilet Training Isn’t A Great Option

We’ve talked about outdoor options and litter box alternatives, but what about teaching your cat to use the same toilet you use?

While it is an option, it’s not always the best choice.

Let’s look at a few reasons why.

It’s Time Intensive

If you were worried about outdoor potty training taking too long then you might be disappointed to learn that toilet training can take as long as 6 weeks. That’s because the process involves slowly transitioning your cat from litter to just using the toilet.

That’s pretty far removed from your cat’s natural instincts and so it takes some time to learn. Of course, some cats will pick up on the process faster but it will certainly take longer than a few days.

There’s A Real Risk To Wildlife

You may have already heard about toxoplasmosis and while the risk to humans is typically mild, flushing your cat’s poops could spread the disease to wildlife.

And this isn’t just a theory, researchers found that otters off the coast of California were dying from the same strain of toxoplasmosis that’s found in cats. The otters were exposed to the disease as a result of cat owners flushing infected poops which eventually made their way to the coast.

While the risk could be lower if your cat only stays indoors, it’s still far from non-existent and one study found that 74% of cats had latent toxoplasmosis.

The Toilet Isn’t Always Easy To Reach…Or Safe

Older cats or young kittens may not be able to easily reach the toilet. Depending on the layout of your bathroom, a jump to the toilet can require a great deal of precision to pull off and if your cat misses they could end up soaked in toilet water.

Not only is that a bit gross, but it can also be dangerous for cats and especially kittens who may not be able to easily get out of the toilet.

Are You Ready To Share A Bathroom?

Are you really ready to walk into the bathroom to find a little cat poop waiting for you?

Well even if you are, your cat might not be.

Depending on your household, the bathroom may be occupied for long periods of time. Long showers or long bathroom breaks can tie up the bathroom and some cats may decide to just go somewhere else.

Because of that, toilet training usually works best for single folks or couples instead of families with several people all sharing a bathroom.

The Health Risks Of Avoiding The Litter Box

Your cat’s outputs provide important insight into their overall health and by avoiding potty training in a litter box you’re going to miss out on some of this information.

While your cat’s stool can tell you a lot about what’s going on, monitoring their urine is just as important and conditions like Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, or FLUTD, are quite common in cats.

Having an indoor litter box can make it easier to notice when you’re cat is peeing more frequently or in smaller amounts. However, using a catio where you can easily notice when your cat goes out for a bathroom break can also help keep you in the loop.

But if your cat is left to potty in the great outdoors, then you’re really in the dark into the problem becomes worse.

Closing Thoughts

You’ve now got everything you need to know about whether or not it’s a good idea to potty train your cat without a litter box along with the know-how to pull it off.

Overall, it’s hard to completely go without a litter box and even if you decide to potty train your cat without one, it’s a good idea to have one back up when you need it.

What do you think?

Logan M.

Logan has always loved everything about cats! Growing up with a family full of pets and a lifelong passion for animals he pursued work in the veterinary industry. After 10 years, he started BetterWithCats.net to help cat owners learn more about their feline friends.

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