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How to Litter Train a Cat

Often times it's a fast and painless process to teach a kitten or a cat to use a litter box. It seems to come naturally to many of them; once they know where the box is and are shown what to do, the "training" is done. However, this isn't true for all cats. Here are some tips on how to litter train a cat.

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  • Place the litter box in a clean, relatively quiet and accessible location. Keep it away from high-traffic areas and be sure your cat has access to it any time she needs it. Areas where there can be loud, intermittent noises - such as a furnace room - may scare your cat into not using the litterbox. Keep the box out of reach of children as well as the other animals in the household.

  • Show your cat where the box is located. Place her in the box and let her sniff. Some people have found it helpful to rake their fingers through the clean litter to show their cat what they want her to do. You can also gently take her paw and rake the litter with her paw. Let her wander out of the box on her own time, and find her way around the rest of the house.

  • If you have more than one cat, consider a separate litter box for each. Some cats don't like to eliminate in the same place as other cats.

  • Keep the litter box clean. Scoop out soiled litter daily, and change the entire box every week, refilling with fresh litter. Wash the box with a solution of water and vinegar to help reduce the odor, and then add a little baking soda to the litter itself. An inch and a half of fresh litter is usually plenty.

    To help make cleaning easier, there are self-cleaning litter boxes as well as litter box liners.

  • Don't place her litter box near her food and water. Cats prefer not to eliminate where they eat.

  • Clean any accidents immediately and thoroughly. This will help to eliminate the odor and hopefully prevent your cat from returning to that spot.

    Never punish your cat for having an accident. Do not strike her or rub her nose in the mess; instead, if you catch her in the act (and only if!), firmly say "No!", then place her in her litter box and praise her.

  • Be prepared to take more time with previously stray cats, if needed. If your cat was previously living on the streets, she may have been eliminating in the dirt.

    • Some cats can be finicky about the texture of their litter; if you find that your cat doesn't seem to like to use her box, try mixing in some dirt with the litter or sprinkling dirt on top. You can gradually phase out the dirt as your cat gets used to the litter. If you can find cat litter that resembles dirt in texture, that might be an option to try as well.

    • If your cat keeps eliminating near the door (where she wants to go outside), place a litter box there (but leave one in the permanent location, too). As she uses it, gradually start moving the box towards the permanent location. You can then remove one of the litter boxes.

  • Older cats might need adjustments to the litter box.

    • A box with lower sides can make it easier for older, arthritic cats to use them.

    • Place the litter box in a location where your cat doesn't have to climb a lot of stairs.

    • If you have been using heavy clay litter, try something more lightweight like cat litter made from corn or cat litter made from wheat.

  • If your kitty is not using her litter box (or stops using it), try to find out why. Click here for a few suggestions on what might be wrong and suggestions on resolving them.

In most cases, litter training a cat is a simple process. But if your cat needs a little more time, be patient, be kind, and be consistent. Most cats will readily learn to use a litter box.