Litter training a kitten is an essential step of cat parenthood. It can be a challenging process, but figuring it out will keep your home clean and your cat healthy. It also helps prevent your kitten from eliminating in inappropriate places, which can be frustrating and counterproductive for both you and your kitten. In this article, we will explain how to litter train a kitten step-by-step and answer some frequently asked questions.
It’s best to start litter training your kitten as soon as you bring them home, at which point they’re probably 8-12 weeks old. Kittens usually begin to eliminate on their own at around three weeks of age, so they may already have some understanding of how to use a litter box.
Here at tuft + paw, we are cat experts. The information in this article is based on consultation with a cat behaviorist, veterinarian, extensive online research, discussion with other cat parents, and our team’s own personal experiences adopting kittens.
place them in litter box after eating, drinking, napping
if younger than 8 weeks, it’s best to keep them in a small area of the house
Step 3: Reward your kitten when they use the litter box
Step 4: Clean at least every day
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
Choose a Kitten-Friendly Litter Box
When choosing a litter box for your kitten, consider the size and design. It should be large enough for your kitten to move around comfortably and have at least one low side for easy access. We recommend starting with an adult-sized litter box that has a kitten-accessible entryway, though some cat parents like to start with a kitten-sized litter box and then transition to a full-size litter box later. We prefer the first option because your kitten won’t have to get used to a new litter box again. Disrupting your cat’s routines or environment opens the door for unforeseen problems (e.g. peeing outside the litter box), so we think the fewer disruptions, the better.
Cove Modern Litter Box by tuft + paw - Shop HereCredit: @abdulscats
Choose a Kitten-Friendly Litter
Kittens are curious about everything, and that includes their litter box. Here’s what to look for in a kitten-friendly cat litter to avoid potential problems:
Soft, sand-like texture that will be comfortable for tender paws.
Unscented to avoid overwhelming their sensitive noses.
Low dust to avoid irritating their lungs or triggering respiratory conditions.
Non-toxic material because they may try to eat their litter!
Non-clumping so if they do eat their litter, it won’t clump in their digestive tract.
If you do opt for a clumping litter, make sure it’s a natural plant-based litter and not clay. Most natural litters gradually dissolve when wet (e.g. tofu litter or corn), whereas clumping clay litter will turn into firm cement and can cause serious health problems.
Select the Right Litter Box Location
When setting up your kitten’s litter box, the location is just as important as the litter box and litter themselves. The location should be quiet, low traffic, and with good visibility of the surrounding room. Don’t put the litter box in a cramped corner, dark closet, or near a noisy machine (e.g. washing machine). If you can spare the space, confine the kitten in one room for the first week so they can slowly get used to the sights and smells of their new home.
Step 2: Introduce Your Kitten to the Litter Box
Many kittens instinctively know how to use the litter box, but some may need a push in the right direction. To introduce your kitten to the litter box, place them in it after meals and naps, or when they show signs of needing to eliminate. You can tell your kitten needs to do their business when they start circling an area, sniffing around, squatting, and/or pawing at the floor. It can also be helpful for kittens if you give them an example to follow by digging in the litter with your hands. After a few days, most kittens will understand what to do.
Cove Modern Litter Box by tuft + paw - Shop HereCredit: @srotellax
Step 3: Reward Your Kitten for Using the Litter Box
To encourage your kitten to use the litter box, praise and reward them when they use it correctly. You can give them treats, pet them, or play with them after they do their business.
Avoid punishing your kitten for accidents, as this can cause fear, anxiety, and hurt your bond with them. Cats are much more receptive to positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement. If you yell or get mad, your kitten will not necessarily connect their behavior with your reactions, but they’ll definitely be scared of you.
Step 4: Clean the Litter Box Everyday
Cleaning the litter box regularly is essential for your kitten's well-being. Everyday, scoop out the solid waste and stir/scoop out the liquid waste (depending on whether you use non-clumping or clumping litter). Keep an eye on how clean the litter is and replace it every few weeks. Every month, completely empty the litter box and clean it with mild soap and water.
The goal of daily litter box maintenance is to make the litter box as comfortable as possible for your kitten. If they find the litter box smelly or unpleasant, they’ll find somewhere else to eliminate. Plus, daily cleaning is the most effective way to control litter box odors in your home. Litter box deodorizers and litters with great odor control can only do so much when the waste is piling up. If you can smell the litter box, that’s your sign to clean it.
Common Litter Training Problems & Solutions (FAQs)
Even with your best efforts, sometimes kittens still have trouble doing their business. Here are some of the most common questions new cat parents ask and how you can answer them:
Why is my kitten eliminating outside the litter box?
There are many reasons your kitten could be avoiding the litter box. First, make sure you’re cleaning the litter box often enough. Ideally the litter box should be scooped at least once per day. If there are little poops and multiple urine spots everytime you clean the litter box, try cleaning twice as often.
Next, consider your choice of litter box and litter. If your kitten has difficulty entering the litter box on their own, they’ll go to the bathroom somewhere else. There should be at least one entryway where they can easily step over the wall. As for the litter, it should be soft, low dust, and unscented. Try a different litter box or a new kind of litter to see if your kitten takes to it.
Finally, look at the litter box location. Try placing the litter box somewhere else that’s quiet and low traffic.
What should I do when my kitten eliminates outside the litter box?
Place the kitten into the litter box right away so they begin to associate it with peeing or pooping. Clean up the mess with an enzymatic cleaner and water. It’s crucial to remove the scent so your kitten doesn’t start to consider that location as their bathroom. After cleaning, move the litter box to the area where your kitten just had their accident. Continue to place the kitten in the litter box after eating and napping. Finally, think critically about the three factors we discussed above—daily cleaning, litter and litter box features, litter box location—and implement changes that make sense for your situation.
How long does it take to litter train a kitten?
Litter training can take a few days to several weeks, depending on your kitten's age and personality. Be patient, never punish them, and reward them when they use the litter box correctly.
What if my kitten is still not using the litter box after several weeks of training?
If your kitten is not using the litter box after several weeks of training, consult your veterinarian. They may have an underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed.
Can I use a covered litter box for my kitten?
It is best to avoid covered litter boxes for kittens as they may feel trapped, intimidated, or overwhelmed by the litter box smells trapped inside.
Can I train my kitten to use the toilet instead of a litter box?
While it is possible to train a cat to use the toilet, we don’t recommend it. Kittens need a stable and secure environment to learn, and a toilet can be a daunting place for them. Furthermore, their small size and imperfect motor skills can cause them to fall in accidentally.
Conclusion: You Can Do It!
Litter training a kitten requires patience and persistence, but it is an essential part of cat parenthood. As long as you create a loving and safe environment and follow all the steps we’ve laid out in this article, your kitten will (probably) learn how to use the litter box in no time. And if they don’t figure it out quickly, don’t worry. Some kittens are just slow learners or may have conditions that a veterinarian can help you treat. Good luck and enjoy life with your new kitten!