Most cats by nature prefer to use a soil type surface for elimination. By providing a litter box with an appropriate and appealing substrate (material) few cats will need to be trained to use it.
How can I train my new cat to use the litter box and area
that I have selected?
Initially, it is best that the new cat be confined to a small area with an appropriate sized litter box. This allows you to take advantage of a cat’s tendency to eliminate in a loose material. As long as the kitty litter is easily accessible and is the only loose substrate available, very little effort should be required to litter
box train. If you confine the cat for any length of time (e.g., if you are going to work for the day), ensure that the
room has all the cat’s necessities including litter box, water, food or feeding toys, scratching and play toys, and places to
climb and explore.
One indoor area that might be equally or more appealing to some cats is the soil around houseplants. This can best be
resolved by ensuring that the cat is prevented from getting into the houseplant, moving the houseplants into an
inaccessible room, or to placing decorative pebbles or rocks over top of the soil. Cats/kittens may need to eliminate after they
eat, after they wake up and after play. At those times, you might place the cat/kitten in its litter box and, if it eliminates, praise
the cat/kitten or give a treat.
A special needs cat does not need to be confined continuously, but should be supervised to prevent accidents and frequently brought back to the appropriate elimination location. If the cat/kitten soils in a location other than its box on the first attempt, clean up the area thoroughly using a product that is designed to neutralize cat urine odor (we suggest and LOVE Odoban!). If there is more than one cat in the home, at least one more litter box should be added (see below). By confining the cat/kitten to an area with its own box, the cat/kitten can establish regular litter habits without competition or threats from the other cats. This also provides for a more gradual and
cautious introduction of the new cat/kitten to the other cats.
What type of litter material should I use?
There are many types of litter materials available today. These include clay litter, fine “clumping” litter, plastic pearls, silica, recycled newspapers, wood shavings and many others. Some have materials added to control odor. Some studies have
found that clumping litter may be preferable to more cats, and that scented litter is aversive to some cats.
What size and type of litter box should I buy?
Initially, the size of the litter box should be determined by the size of the kitten or cat. A very small kitten may need a box
with shorter (lower) sides or a ramp for easier access. As the kitten grows, a larger box is generally more appropriate. Some
owners prefer litter boxes with covers on them. This is acceptable if it is acceptable to the cat. You need to be sure that the
cat can negotiate the opening by stepping into it and that the cat is not too large to fit into the opening. As the cat grows,
ensure that the box still accommodates the cat’s needs, increasing its size if necessary. Some special needs cats need a little adjustment when it comes to litter box accommodations– sometimes they need pee pads outside of the litter boxes (as a “catch all”), a litter box or container with high walls and a low opening (so they can easily get into it) or, in Bifford’s case he has a rubber maid container with a hole cut out of the front of it so that he can easily climb into it, make whatever mess his little heart desires and provides him plenty of space to do his business without feeling cramped!
Where should I put the litter box?
The litter box should be placed in a location that is easily accessed by the cat, yet out of the way. Try to avoid congested household areas. The cat should have some privacy and quiet to eliminate. Laundry and furnace rooms are often used but
be sure that noise associated with household machinery is not disruptive and aversive to your cat. Also make sure that the
cat does not get locked out of the room at a time when it may have to eliminate. Try to put the litter box in an area that is
convenient for you to check on and keep clean. Do not put food and water bowls immediately next to the litter box. If there
are dogs in the home, then the litter box should be located where the cat can eliminate without being bothered by them.
How often should I clean the litter box?
One of the most important factors in ensuring continued litter box usage by house cats is cleanliness. Cats are very fastidious animals, and spend time each day making sure their coat, feet, and face are clean. One can assume that they would like a clean place to eliminate. The number of cats in the home and litter usage determines the time between litter cleaning. Fecal material should be removed after each bowel movement, if possible, and the box
should be cleaned or scooped of urine wastes on a daily basis, regardless of the type of litter material. The entire contents of the litter box should be cleaned out weekly. Wash and rinse the box with hot water and dry before replacing with new litter.
“Remember that each cat is an individual.”
Some clumping litters form fairly hard clumps that are easy to scoop in their entirety and leave little residue behind. If you use one of these types of litter, you may only need to change the litter every two weeks (this may be more frequently depending on how many cats you have living in the home); however, remember to refill the litter to maintain sufficient depth after each scooping. Remember that each cat is an individual. Your cat may like more frequent cleaning of the litter box to maintain good usage patterns. Some cats dislike the odor of the cleansers used to clean litter boxes, so rinse the box thoroughly after each cleaning with hot water.
How many litter boxes do I need in my home?
The number of litter boxes needed depends on the number of cats, the size of the home, the temperament of the cats, and whether there are other pets in the home. When there are multiple cats, multiple pans should be available in different
locations, not all side-by-side in one place. Because there can be varied interactions between individuals, multiple boxes in
multiple locations allow housemates to avoid one another if they so choose.
Even for only one cat, two boxes may be appropriate depending on the layout of the home and the individual preferences of the cat. Some cats prefer one box for
urine and one for stool. Older cats may have physical limitations that prevent them from climbing stairs easily and so a box
in the location the cat frequents is needed. In general, there should be at least one litter box per cat; however, if soiling
problems arise, most behaviorists advise one box per cat plus one more.
What if my cat/kitten does not use the litter box?
Should the cat/kitten begin to eliminate in locations other than its litter box, first review the steps above. Is the litter in an area
that is appealing and easily accessed by the cat? Is the litter box being cleaned often enough? Are there enough litter boxes
for the number of cats? Try and determine what is so appealing to your cat about the area that your cat is soiling. And,
perhaps most importantly, is there anything about the area, box or litter that might be preventing its use (or scaring your
cat)? To determine the most appealing litter for your cat, offer two or more different litters in the same type of box, side-by-side
and see which one, if any, the cat uses most frequently. Next, determine the type of litter box the cat prefers by offering
two or more litter box types side-by-side (each with the preferred type of litter). You can determine the cat’s preferred
location by offering the preferred litter box with the preferred litter in two or more locations and determining which one, if
any, the cat uses more frequently. If litter box problems persist, then additional guidance and perhaps a behavior
consultation might be required.
Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM,/ LifeLearn