Training your cat to use a litter box
A litter box is a brilliant invention, and one
which has saved many a cat owner an
unpleasant task. If your cat is not yet
allowed to go out of the house, you’ll need
to provide them with somewhere to
relieve themselves – and even if they are, a
litter box can prove a useful tool.
But while many cats will instinctively intuit
the purpose of a litter box, one cannot
always take that for granted. Often, a little
patience and strategy is called for in
persuading your cat to make use of their
litter tray. In this article, we’ll take a look at
how to do just that.
In the beginning
When you first introduce your cat to your
house, you should not give them a free
run of it. Given this freedom, a cat will
defecate and urinate wherever seems
natural to them – and you might not know
where they’ve chosen until it’s too late.
Leave it too long, and you’ll end up with a
bad habit which is almost impossible to
Instead, it’s best to confine your cat to a
single room to begin with. Make sure that
this room is clean, with the litter tray at
one end and the food and sleeping area at
the other. If possible, make sure that the
floor of this room is hard – kitchens,
bathrooms and utility rooms are
preferable. If this isn’t possible, then try to
lay down some old newspapers or binliners to protect the carpet.
Encouraging your cat to use the
When you first introduce your cat to the
litter tray, you’ll need to incentivise its use.
This incentive might come in the form of a
treat after they’ve successfully used the
tray, or it might come in the form of simple
praise and attention. Of course, to do this
you’ll need to be around when they first
start using it. Fortunately, it’s relatively
easy to predict when your cat will need the
toilet – particularly when they’re very
young. Typical times are shortly after
eating, just after they’ve woken up, or just
after exercising. Feeding your cat at
regular, fixed intervals will help to make
things more predictable.
During training, it’s often helpful to indulge
in a short play session before and after
feeding. This will help to get your cat
relaxed and positive. Then call your cat to
the litter tray. If they’ve already taken to
soiling the carpet in some area of the
house, you might want to first bring the
litter tray there before slowly moving it
toward your location of choice.
Once you’ve brought the cat to the tray, try
to get them to walk inside it. Don’t worry if
they don’t relieve themselves straight
away; at this point the object of the
exercise is to get the cat comfortable with
the tray rather than anything beyond that.
Where should I put the litter box?
It’s important to place your cat’s litter tray
somewhere sensible. Cats have a strong
sense of hygiene, and will be unwilling to
go to the toilet anywhere near where they
eat and sleep.
You’ll therefore want to put it somewhere
out of the way – but not so out of the way
that they can’t access it when they want.
Be aware of potential obstacles, like doors
that might swing shut. If your cat is unable
to reach their litter tray, they’ll go to the
toilet elsewhere – and their choice of
venue might not be one you’d appreciate.
If your cat is new to your house, then
there’s a chance they’ll be very shy. If this
is the case, then find out where they like to
hide out, and place the litter tray nearby.
This way the cat won’t have to overcome
their nerves in order to go to the toilet.
There’s always a chance that you might
overlook something when placing the litter
tray, and so it’s often a good idea to put
more than one down in different
occasions. If your cat prefers one over the
other, then you can dispense with the
second litter tray – or place it elsewhere.
How often should I clean the litter
Cats, like humans, are averse to disgusting
smells and sights. Given the choice
between going to the toilet in a clean place
and dirty one, they will naturally choose
the cleaner. If you’ve ever stopped off at a
service station toilet and found that one
cubicle has been befouled and another is
sparkling clean, then it’s likely you’ll have
made a similar decision.
For this reason, it’s important that a cat’s
litter tray be cleaned regularly – daily is a
minimum, twice daily is recommended.
When cleaning, remove the old litter and
replace it with fresh stuff – between one
and two inches should suffice. Before you
put the new litter in, though, be sure to
give the tray a rinse with warm water. You
might notice a dreadful smell during this
process – this is perfectly normal and
unavoidable, but it can be counteracted by
adding a drop or two of lemon juice or
vinegar to the box.
What not to do
It’s worth clarifying a common mistake that
pet owners make when trying to correct
unwanted soiling (and, indeed, other bad
behaviours like destructiveness). Cats and
dogs are unable to recognise their past
errors. If you shout at your cat, or make
them look at the mess they’ve made, they
won’t understand what it is you’re talking
about – nor will they feel guilty about their
mistake. They might appear to be guilty,
but that’s simply them looking distressed,
because they’re being shouted at.
This mistake is often compounded by the
owner lead the cat to the litter tray, in an
attempt to illustrate what good behaviour
looks like. This will have the opposite effect
to the one intended – the cat will come to
associate the litter tray with negativity, and
will be less inclined to use it.
If your cat should find that when they go to
the toilet on the carpet it is cleaned swiftly,
and when they go to the toilet in the litter
box, it is left dirty for days on end, they’ll
come to view the carpet as a much better
place to go to the toilet.
Beeston Animal Health Ltd.,