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April 5, 2023 |0 min read

How to Train Your Cat to Use the Litter Box

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Remember “smelly cat, smelly cat” from the “Friends” TV show? Phoebe’s cat was so disgustingly smelly she created a song for her. Phoebe would rock out on her guitar and sing:

“They won’t take you to the vet.

You’re obviously not their favorite pet.

You may not be a bed of roses.

And you’re no friend to those with noses.”

Litter companies want to avoid having the litter smell like Phoebe’s smelly cat.

That is why knowing how to train a cat to use a litter box is so important. Who wants foul odors spoiling the mood?

The Pretty Litter team is here to help train kitty owners on this to avoid having a smelly cat! In fact, they’re the ones who helped me introduce cat litter to my little Simba.

The Early Weeks

The tiny furballs need their mamma when they’re born. And, if Mama knows how to use a litter box, then most likely, her babies will learn how to use the litter box too.

Mama Cat Knows Best

During six weeks, mamma kitty, Mrs. Nala – as we called her – started teaching her babies, Simba, and his siblings, how to clean themselves. She stimulates the kitties so they can relieve themselves, and then they clean up after themselves. Mrs. Nala wants to make sure her kitties can be independent and can look after themselves.

Simba was a little more than six weeks old when he came home. Although he was tiny, he was set once he knew where to find the litter box. There was one tiny accident, but it was because he didn’t make it to the cat litter box in time.

Note: If your kitten is under 3 weeks old, they are too young to be litter trained. You’ll need to clean up after them like their mothers do until they’re at the age where they start weaning, which is around 4 weeks old.

What About Outdoor Cats?

But, if mamma kitty is an outdoor cat, it can be more difficult to train the kitty. The new family member, who is used to living outside, does not even know what a cat’s litter box is. In that case, the human mamma or papa must take over litter training.

The instinct to seek out a sandy, granular area to relieve themselves and hide the evidence comes naturally – especially when the adult cat is used to being outside.

But sometimes kittens may need help getting the hang of using a box in a new environment, so here are some steps to help make their litter-training journey as pleasant as possible. In this guide, you can learn some litter box hacks and how to litter train a cat!


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Important Litter Box Factors

Choosing the Right Size Box

Wondering, “why is my cat not using the litter box?” Remember that a full-size box can intimidate young kittens. And, don’t forget, cats can be picky too. Therefore, cat owners may want to take their time deciding the best litter box is for the kitty.

A kitty’s first box is significant. The cat litter box should be low enough for the kitty to step into it. When Simba, the runt of his litter, was using the first litter box when he arrived, he had to do a little hop to make it into the box. So, instead, Simba started using a small baking pan, and that worked perfectly for him.

Researchers say the recommended litter tray size for kittens is 13 by 9 inches. As the kitten grows, the litter box will gradually become larger too. An important rule to remember is whenever it’s time to get a larger litter box, the box should be 1.5 times larger than the kitten. Imagine having an adult cat using a litter box that’s half its size; it would be too cramped for him to use.

Also, too small of a litter box may mean the kitty will accidentally pee or poo outside of the box. Some kitty parents may want to try a few options before deciding which choice is best.

Another crucial point to consider when picking a cat’s litter box is to decide whether the kitty wants a covered litter box. When beginning training, pet owners may want to use an open container to observe better how the feline goes to the bathroom. Then, once the cat becomes a pro, a covered box may be a good option. As the cats grow, they may not want someone to stare at them. They want some privacy.

What’s the Perfect Number?

It is also essential to determine how many litter boxes to use. If there is one kitten in the home, then there should be at least one litter box. (Some experts may disagree and say owners need to have two litter boxes for one kitty instead of one.) However, if there are two or more kitties wandering around, there should be at least three litter boxes. If the home has multi-levels and there are multiple cats, put one box on each level.

Where to Place the Boxes

Keeping the kitten’s litter box “out of sight and out of mind is tempting.” Therefore, many kitty owners think keeping the litter boxes in a dark place is a good idea. But, the opposite should occur. Avoid placing them in darkly lit, hidden locations like closets or corners.

Cats don’t enjoy feeling cornered when it’s time to handle their business. A quiet, well-lit area with very little foot traffic is recommended place to put your litter box.

Choosing the Right Type of Litter

Tip of the Tongue

First, mamma and papa need to realize some kittens will try to eat cat litter. This is because they don’t know what it is when they are introduced to it. Eating is a way to try to determine the object before them. However, munching on litter can be dangerous for your kitten.

Eating litter could be a sign of poor health. The kitten could have pica – an affliction that babies and toddlers can also develop. Pica is a craving for the kitten to eat something that is not food. If a pet owner notices their young feline has pica, it could be that the kitty is deficient in a vitamin, or the kitty may be unwell. Since pica, by itself, is not enough to diagnose what exactly is wrong with baby Simba, it’s time to see the family veterinarian.

(Note: If a kitty is less than three months, it’s usually normal for him to try to eat the litter.)

Knowing the kitty may turn litter into a gourmet meal, avoid purchasing litter that clumps. The litter may clump in the kitty’s stomach and cause some digestive issues – including serious bowel obstruction.

The invention of cat litter

Many parents of whiskered creatures may not know litter is a modern innovation. Now, the furry tabbies have been around for 10,000 years. However, it was only in the 20th-century humans started domesticating pets. Before World War II, most feline mothers and fathers provided litter in the form of sand or furnace ashes for their kitties.

But that option didn’t work.

Since then, people have played with the invention. Added ingredients. Subtracted ingredients. Today, there are seven different types of cat litter from which parents can choose off of pet store shelves. Those seven ingredients include clay, tofu, crystal (also known as silica gel), paper pellet, walnut, pine pellet, and corn.

Clay

Experts say clay is the oldest litter available and commonly used by cat lovers. It first appeared on the market in 1947, and almost immediately, vendors sold it everywhere.

The issue with clay litter is that it’s easier for a kitty’s paws to track it all over the home. Some pet pros may also consider clay litter dangerous because it contains silica dust, which is a known carcinogen – a substance that can cause cancer. It is important to note that this is different than silica gel, which is a safe cat litter crystal option for your feline friend.

Wondering when to change the cat litter? That would depend on the type of litter you have. Clay litter can be further divided into two types as well – clumping and non-clumping clay litter. The non-clumping clay can absorb all of the urine, but pet owners have to change out the litter more often due to the litter not clumping. Meanwhile, clumping clay will clump around the urine and any other waste liquid, making it easier to clean out the clumps first without having to empty all of the litter. However, this makes the clay litter much heavier.

Tofu

This is one of the newest litter types pet owners can find in stores. Instead of clay, tofu litter is made up of soybean fibers shaped into cylinders. Therefore, this litter is biodegradable, not toxic, and dust-free – which is great for pet owners when trying to clean. Actually, the pellets can clump well – pet owners can flush the litter down the toilet. The biggest con is that tofu litter is vulnerable to mold due to its plant-based materials, especially when pet owners store it in humid locations. This litter is also more expensive than other brands.

Paper Pellet

Instead of soybeans, paper pellets are made of exactly what the name suggests – paper. The paper is usually recycled newspapers. Sometimes, leaves or sawdust can be added to the mix. Pet owners may be partial to this type because a cat has difficulty tracking the paper throughout the house when used with the correct litter box.

Walnut

This litter is made from crushed shells of walnuts. It’s a great alternative to litter due to its similar texture. While some pet parents get excited about using walnut litter because it’s lighter than other litter, it still can track through the house. Kitties also like the lightweight characteristic of this litter because they have an easier time digging up the litter and covering their poo.

Pine

This litter, also known as wood pellets, is known for its natural pine scent. Environmentalists also favor this type because it’s environmentally friendly. Litter companies make pine litter from reclaimed lumber. However, its strong pine scent can be a little irritating, it can be difficult to clean, and little kitties may find the texture a bit uncomfortable for their soft bottoms.

Corn

This is another environmentally friendly type of litter, which some call corn cob litter. Like many other types, its name also makes it easy for pet owners to know what it’s made out of. But, like the tofu litter, this litter is susceptible to toxic mold.

Crystal

Simba favorite – and the favorite of the PrettyLitter team – is crystal. This litter has only started to become popular during the last few years. Its ingredients include quartz sand, which is mixed with oxygen and water. The resulting product is highly absorbent crystals. What’s noteworthy about this litter is that it also allows liquid (including urine) to evaporate. Another benefit is that crystal litter is lightweight too. It is also odorless, unlike some of the other litters mentioned.

PrettyLitter is already familiar with the popularity of crystal litter. With color-changing cat litter, pet parents can easily monitor their cat’s health. This means pet mommies and daddies can monitor their kitties’ health and get help before the situation becomes dire. This is great for kitties because sometimes adopted kitties can have underlying health problems.

The Ins and Outs of Litter Training

Show Them Around

One of the most critical things in the litter training process is showing the kitty where the litter box is located. Little Simba would have spent forever trying to find his litter box, if we hadn’t shown him the litter box as soon as we returned home with our new baby. Like real estate agents, pet owners need to show their cats the best nooks and crannies of the home. This includes pointing out the restrooms. Once they see it, kitties have a good recollection of where to find the litter box again.

Reward and Reinforce Good Habits

When the cat correctly uses the new litter box, animal doctors advise giving the kitty a treat or a toy to show them they’ve done a good job. Just like how you might give a toddler a treat for using the potty correctly, a kitty wants a treat too!

This positive reinforcement creates an association with the deed and makes it easier for the cat to return to the box for the next potty session. In order for this to work, the treat should be given immediately after the kitty leaves the box.

If the kitten makes a mistake, misses the litter box, or decides to pee in a totally different room, that’s purr-fectly okay! As a cat owner, punishment or a negative reaction like yelling at the cat won’t help the cat learn. Instead, just clean the mess and simply do not react in any other way.

Clean Their Boxes Daily

A clean litter box is essential when litter-training the kitten. Kitties don’t want to use the bathroom in a litter dump. They want the litter clean, sparkling with PrettyLitter crystals.

Make sure to clean up after the cat each time it is used. Otherwise, a dirty litter box could cause an aversion to using it. As the kitten becomes older, owners will be able to clean it daily instead of after every use.

Scoop out the solids as needed and replace it to maintain about 2-3 inches of depth for the kitty to dig. And if using PrettyLitter, then pet owners can fur-get about litter worries - PrettyLitter has everything covered. All a pet owner has to do is scoop the poop and stir around the rest!

Litter Training Older Cats

Training older cats may be a little different.

Most of the time, adult cats are already familiar with litter-box etiquette when they come into the home. However, if the cat was fur-morly an outside cat, it can be challenging to make sure adult Simba is using the litter correctly. In these cases, owners will need to fill the box with outside soil to familiarize the kitty with the new potty station. Then, owners can gradually mix in the cat litter until the cat is used to the new surface. It’s litter-ally that easy!

Don’t be discouraged if the kitty doesn’t learn the ropes right away. Just keep at it. And, as some paw-sitive news and encouragement for pet parents, cats naturally will prefer to do their business in a litter box or litter tray! Your kitty will be saying pretty please for PrettyLitter in no time.


Sources:

  1. Booth, S. (2022, April 11). Common Carcinogens You Should Know.  https://www.webmd.com/cancer/know-common-carcinogens
  2. Char, J. (2021, August 4). How to Choose a Litter Box for Your Cat. https://www.wikihow.com/Choose-a-Litter-Box-for-Your-Cat
  3. Elliott, D. (2020, July 1). What Does It Mean When a Kitten Is Eating Litter? https://www.petful.com/pet-health/why-kitten-eating-cat-litter/
  4. Helmer, J. (2022, October 1?). The Wildest.  https://www.thewildest.com/cat-behavior/litter-train-cat
  5. Lovejoy, J. (2020, April 20). Litter Training Kittens 101: When to Start and How to Do It.  https://www.petmd.com/cat/training/evr_ct_how-to-litter-train-a-cat
  6. Marder, A., Reid, P., & Janeczko, D. (n.d.). Potty Training – How to Train Your Cat to Use the Litter Box.  https://www.petfinder.com/cats-and-kittens/training/litter-box/cat-litter-box-training/
  7. Sellers, J. (n.d.). What Is In Cat Litter?  https://www.petfinder.com/cats-and-kittens/training/litter-box/what-is-in-cat-litter/
  8. Stregowski, J. (2022, July 19). Training Your Kitten to Use the Litter Box. https://www.thesprucepets.com/kitten-litter-box-training-555187
  9. tuft paw. (2022, February 14). The Ultimate Guide to Different Types of Cat Litter. https://www.tuftandpaw.com/blogs/cat-guides/the-ultimate-guide-to-different-types-of-cat-litter
  10. tuft paw. (n.d.). Everything You Need to Know About Tofu Cat Litter. https://www.tuftandpaw.com/blogs/cat-guides/everything-you-need-to-know-about-tofu-cat-litter

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Christina Scamporrino

Christina Scamporrino is a lifelong animal lover and began working in the petcare space in 2019. Christina’s passion for the community of feline owners and enthusiasts have led her to designing premium packaging for PrettyLitter cat litter, PrettyPlease dry food, wet food, and treats, and a litter box designed to solve common litter box issues.

Outside of her professional work in the petcare space, Christina is a longtime kitten foster and has worked with several cat rescues throughout Southern California. When given the option, she favors orange cats, but loves all cats equally.

Links

https://www.linkedin.com/in/christina-tasci-68ab815b