How To Train Your Cat To Use the Litter Box

litter training a cat

In this article I will be answering the very important question on how to train your cat to use its litter box. If you have ever owned a cat, then you will fully understand that they are very individual characters. I have yet to find two cats who behave in the exact same way.

Instinctively the huge majority of cats will simply use the litter box, once they are introduced to it. Others may not though, but thankfully that is only a small percentage. If you have a cat who will not go into or use a litter box, then you will find this article really helpful.

There are a few simple and clever techniques and basic training that can help resolve that problem. There are also training programs that you can buy that help with that.

Please do not waste your hard earned money on those, as if you follow the training below, you will easily solve your problem.

How Long Does It Take To Litter Train a Kitten or Cat?

The good news is that it really does not usually take a great deal of time. The average is 2-3 days, though I have seen this take up to 7-10 days. It depends a great deal on your available time and persistence at the start.

That statement will make a lot more sense when you read the training information below. I did however want to give you this information upfront. On average 2-3 days and it is all over.

Patience and Perseverance for Litter Training

I am not the most patient person in the world so I struggle to teach people anything. If someone new comes into my work, I tend to avoid being the person to show them the ropes.

Now when it comes to training any animal, can you imagine how hopeless I am at that? I am however more understanding of animals than I am of my fellow human beings.

Add to the fact that I love my cats, and I don’t want my house being used as a bathroom, it does wonders for my patience and perseverance. All joking aside though, this is an important thing to teach a kitten or young cat.

The Basics of Litter Training or Re-Training

cat poop smellMost cats will learn better as a kitten how to make use of a litter box. There is a belief that a mother will always teach her kitten how to do this.

That is simply not true. Kittens, after just a few weeks old, start digging simply by instinct.

You just need to build on that very natural instinct. Wild cats will always dig to bury their waste so it is a very natural behavior for them.

So, What Types of Cats May Need Trained or Re-trained?

Stray cats or wild feral cats are highly unlikely to know how to use a litter, as are kittens that have never been house trained.

Some cats will also stop using their box and may need to be re-trained on using their litter box. They do this for a variety of reasons, such as certain medical conditions, laziness, bad odors from an unclean litter, and several other reasons.

If you would like to understand why they do this is ore detail, then check out my article on why cats stop using their litter box by clicking here.

For now though let’s focus on these useful tips to make sure that your cat is completely litter trained.

During the Training Period

When a cat or kitten is being house trained to use a litter, you essentially have to take full control of the situation. You should not let your cat have the full run of the house. Training of this nature takes time and there will be a few accidents along the way.

If you are out at work, or absent for longer periods of time, then you will need to confine your cat to a single room. Ideally that room should have a floor that is easy to clean. That will be one with a non-porous floor and there are usually a few of these in every home:

  • Garage
  • Basement
  • Utility Room
  • Bathroom
  • Kitchen

These floors will either be concrete based or tiled. That makes it a great deal easier to quickly clean up cat urine and the dreaded poop.

Set that room up with somewhere warm to sleep and relax, along with a bowl of water to keep them hydrated. Place those at one end of the room and make sure that you place a nice fresh and clean litter at the opposite end of the room.

Never place a litter box anywhere near where your cat will eat and drink. Feeding should then be done to a pretty tight and regular regime when training. By doing that, they also develop a routine litter box use, and that is key to getting them started.

Learning Your Cat to Use the Litter Box

Having studied cat behavior for a very long time you do get to learn a lot about these incredible animals. Their behavior when it comes to pooping and peeing is actually quite amusing. Allow me to share with you what I have observed over many years with many cats.

There are three times when a cat is most likely to use their litter

  1. Just after taking a nap
  2. Just after they have eaten
  3. After they have been playing or running about for some time

Watch out for that behavior and if you see them starting to squat or crouch, then take them and even lift them to the litter box.

One great way of doing this, though it is time consuming is to play with the cat, close to the litter box. Exercise almost always end up with a cat wanting to do its business.

Again once you see them start to position, then direct them to the box, even if that means setting them into it.

Rewarding the Use of the Litter Box

The one time when you should pay the most attention is when they have just finished eating. Most cats that I have observed, will usually try to do its business after they drank some water, or consumed some food.

This will not take up as much of your time, as the whole process happens fairly quickly. If they are not used to a litter, then watch carefully after they have eaten, and once again lead them to the litter box.

This is when you can also reward them with a treat as and when they use the litter box. This is best done by gently stroking your cat and giving it a treat.

Other Training Tips

During this period call her to the litter box, from a variety of places around your home. Now as I mentioned they will soil just about anywhere, so don’t get cross and shout. I can assure you that has no affect whatsoever.

You have to live with this for a few weeks as that is simply part of the pain. Call her to the litter box when you see the cat near an area where they have soiled before. If you witness the accident, then pick the cat up, and take them to the litter box, and set them down on it.

I have seen so many people shout in frustration when this happens and they are still shouting when being put into the box. This is the exact opposite of what you want to achieve. The cat will associate the loud shouting with the litter box and really avoid it.

Scratch the Litter

If your litter is nice and clean, then scratch the litter to get your cat interested. Cats are by nature curious creatures and they can’t help but to watch this and try it out. Leave just a little urine soaked litter there. The scent from this will remind your cat, that this is the place to do its business.

The Sleeping Cat

litter training for catsNew cat owners will initially be surprised at just how much cats sleep every day. They really do sleep a lot and with kittens, well, they sleep even more.

A clever little trick is to wake them up after they have slept for 2 hours, and tempt them to the litter box.

Give them a little encouragement to hop in and don’t forget to praise them when they do. Keep your tone soft and happy.

If they don’t go, and there will be many times when this happens, don’t worry as they are still getting used to the process of going to the box.

The Silly Rubbing Their Nose In It

I have heard dog and cat owners offer out this macho advice to many new pet owners. It is the worst advice in the world. Cats don’t speak English, Spanish, Chinese or any other language. Using a lot of words is completely meaningless.

Rubbing their nose in it is not only cruel and disgusting, but it teaches the cat one thing. Do your business somewhere out of the way or somewhere hidden. They can get up the back of your sofa no problem.

There is no punishment that works with cats as they do not understand it.

They do get praise and will respond to it. The key to litter training a cat is of course prevention. In those early days you now know the times when they are most likely to want to go. Keep a close eye at those times and get them to the litter box, and if they do, then reward them.

Dealing with Accidents

It is of course important to clean up any accidents as soon as possible. Use a solution of half water and half white vinegar for the best results. This will achieve two things:

  1. Get rid of any odors quickly
  2. Help prevent the kitten or cat returning to the same spot

Some cat owners also cover the area with a plastic sheet to discourage the cat from going there again.

Once they are trained and are consistently and regularly using the litter box, then always keep it as clean as you can. Cats will not use a dirty or smelly litter.

Poop and clumps should be removed twice a day, and the litter should be mixed up to keep it fresh and clean. Mixing it up also helps keep the surface dry, and this helps the cat use the litter, and also really helps in reducing tracking.

Other Useful Tips To Help With Cat Litter Training

Below I have included some very useful information, that will help a great deal when you are training a kitten or a cat to use their litter. The litter box, its cleanliness and the type of litter all make a big difference.

Even where you locate the litter box can mean the difference between it being used and being ignored. I have covered all of these important points just below.

Use a Large Litter Box

Hooded, Enclosed or Covered Litter BoxThis is vitally important for any cat. They like to be able to move around in their litter and dig a little. Cats are also very anxious about being in a small confined space. So if for example yo have an enclosed, hooded style box that is too small, then your cat can easily shy away from using that.

Likewise when your cat is younger it may have been small enough to feel fine inside the box. As they grow though, this can quickly change and they simply out grow the box.

The other big issue with a small box is that it gets dirtier faster, and cats do not like a dirty litter. It is one of the main reasons that cats start doing their business outside the box.

The entrance to the box should be wide enough for the cat to comfortably get inside. For older cats avoid top entry boxes, or those with high sides, as older cats are not as nimble and may struggle to get inside.

Trays vs Boxes

You may be aware that there are lot of different types of litter boxes. These include:

  • Pan/Trays
  • Covered/Hooded/Enclosed
  • Self cleaning
  • Automatic
  • Cat litter furniture
  • Self flushing

Trays are one choice for cats as they have plenty of space to move around in most cases, andthey can also see around them. For many home owners though, these are just too messy, unsightly and they don’t offer cats any privacy which they like when doing their business.

Covered boxes do offer privacy, but as they are closed in, they can get smellier much quicker. If the box gets too smelly, then the cat will stop using it. The lesson here is to clean it regularly and the cat will use it.

As I mentioned before though, make sure the covered box is big enough for the cat to be able to turn around in.

The golden rule with boxes though is there should be one for each cat plus one extra.

Cat Litter Box Location

I have done a full article here on where to locate your litter box. If you haven’t time to do that right now, then I have summarised this information below.

It needs to be easy to access and available all of the time. Somewhere quiet with low traffic is the ideal spot. many cat owners use a bathroom or an unused bedroom. Avoid noisy places such as laundry rooms where machines may suddenly start.

Keep it well away from where your cat gets served its food. Cats like us don’t like to eat where they poop.

Which Litter Should You Choose?

Cats like a litter that is very comfortable to walk on, which is why they will use a sand pit if outdoors or the soil in a garden. Generally speaking cats much prefer clumping litter, as that is very soft on their paws. It is also a lot easier for them to bury their waste.

Avoid litters with scents, perfumes or deodorizer as they can cause an allergic reaction, and you do not want that. Use about 3″ of litter in the box as that allows them to dig a little and bury.

Daily and Monthly Litter Box Cleaning

I mentioned about regular cleaning of the litter box and it is very important. Solids should be removed twice a day, and the litter should be mixed to provide a dry surface.

The litter will then need to be completely changed out, and the litter box cleaned on a regular basis. The frequency with which that is done, depends on the type of litter, and the type of litter box.

I have complete a full article here on how often a litter box should be cleaned.

I have also completed another article here, on how to properly clean a litter box.

There is also another article on how to safely dispose of cat litter.

Summary of Training Your Cat To Use the Litter Box

  • Always provide your cat with a litter box that is easy to access at all times
  • In those early days scratch the litter to get your cat interested and let their curiousity do the rest
  • Reward your cat immediately after they use it
  • Prevention and praise work – punishment and discipline never do

Resources Used

Cat Humane Society

Vet Street



Steve is a content creator with an unhealthy cat obsession. He enjoys reading non-fiction books, entreprenuership and cuddles with his cat Fij.

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