Learning to use kitty litter

Learning to use kitty litter

Does your cat need to learn how to use a litter tray? This is one of the most common reasons cat owners seek advice from the RSPCA. Take the time to put yourself in your cat’s paws, follow these tips and watch your cat learn to use their litter tray in no time!

Select your cat litter

There are several types available based on your cat’s needs:

  • Clumping: clumps together when wet, making spot cleaning easy. Suited to adult cats only.
  • Crystals: crystals absorb moisture.
  • Clay: requires frequent changing.
  • Recycled paper: requires frequent changing.

Ensure you clear the litter tray regularly and scoop frequently. If you find the litter tray offensive, so will your cat! Once you find a litter that your cat likes, do not change the type or brand. Sudden changes may result in your cat rejecting the litter box. Scents such as room deodorizers and air freshners may also deter some cats.

Select your litter tray

Three are two types of trays are available – covered trays or uncovered trays.

  • Covered tray: offers privacy and is a good option for timid cats. This style of tray requires more frequent changing than an open tray and may not be suited to a larger cat as there is limited space to scratch, dig and turn around.In addition older cats and kittens may find access to these trays difficult.
  • Uncovered tray: an open design without lid. Uncovered trays are suited to cats of all ages, particularly kittens and older cats for their ease of access. Be warned – cats may scoop litter over the sides!

Spot cleaning your cat’s tray is important to avoid toileting in areas outside of the tray.

Location and cleaning of the litter tray

Position the litter tray in a quiet area, well away from where your cat eats and sleeps. If needed, position more than one litter tray in the house. When selecting an area, ensure there are no appliances or machinery that will startle your cat and ensure there is adequate privacy.

Cats are often fussy about the cleanliness of their litter tray; it is important to keep the tray as clean and odour free as possible. When cleaning the tray, use a scoop or bags and avoid strong smelling chemicals or cleaning products which may deter the cat.


When arriving home, confine your cat to a small area of the house away from any other pets. Ensure the litter tray is in a quiet area with food and beds well away.

If your cat has been raised in a household before, it may use the litter tray instinctively. If not, you will need to undergo some basic training. Take your cat to the litter tray after each meal, sleeping and play time. Restrict your cat’s freedom around the house to encourage correct use of the litter tray. Only after your cat is relaxed, eating well, and reliably using the litter tray can you slowly start integrating them into the household. Be patient while your cat is settling in. With perseverance, your cat will learn toilet training.

How do cats know how to use a litter box?

People who have never owned or been around cats sometimes imagine that it takes a lot of time and effort to train a cat to use a litter box. We proud cat parents might like to attribute our cat’s use of a litter box to hours of dedicated training, or to our cat’s superior intelligence. However, the truth is that it is relatively simple to teach a cat or kitten to use a litter box because it appeals to their instincts.

Lone feral cats will naturally cover their waste without any training; they do so to cover the scent from predators and competitors. In groups of feral cats, dominant cats will often leave their feces uncovered as a way of marking their territory, while cats lower in the hierarchy are expected to cover their waste as a sign of subordination. Since it’s easier to cover their droppings in soft dirt or sand, cats are naturally attracted to this material.

Cats are fastidious, and in a home, it doesn’t take much prompting for a cat to learn to use a litter box. Provide a clean, roomy litter box in a private location and ensure that your cat knows the location of the litter box. Bring your cat to the litter box and place him or her in the litter box a few times, especially upon your cat’s awakening from a nap, or after mealtimes when your cat is most likely to need to “go.” That’s about all it takes for most cats to get the message that this is where to deposit their waste. In a household, a cat is considered a subordinate member, so most indoor cats will automatically cover their feces. However, in a multi-cat household, it is not uncommon for the more dominant cat to leave his or her feces unburied.

You might also see your cat try to “bury” uneaten cat food by scratching around the food bowl after eating. The same instinct that drives wild cats to cover their feces to prevent detection by other feline competitors or predators also drives domestic cats to instinctively cover their smelly, uneaten food.

Litter Training

Learning how to use the litter box is an important part of early feline development, but “training” is a bit of a misnomer! Kittens naturally understand the litter box and will be drawn to use it as long as you provide them the proper encouragement. Here’s what you need to know about helping get kittens on the right path.


Newborn kittens need to be stimulated to go to the bathroom, and won’t start using the litter box until around 3 weeks of age. Once the kitten has reached 3 weeks, it’s appropriate to introduce them to the litter box. Every kitten develops at a different pace, so be patient with the kitten and continue stimulating until you’re confident she is using the litter box with regularity.


Kittens learn and explore in the same way human babies do–with their mouths. This means that you’ll need to choose a litter that is safe for kittens so that they don’t consume something toxic or dangerous. Kittens should not be given litter products that contain fragrances, harsh chemicals, or clumping properties. While clumping litter might be the standard for adult cats, it’s a risk to kittens if ingested, and should not be provided until the kitten is at least 2-3 months old and well accustomed to the litter box.

Instead, opt for a natural, pellet-based litter that is less likely to be inhaled or ingested by a young kitten.


Kittens require an open-top, shallow litter box that is easy for them to access and locate. Eliminate obstacles such as tall or covered boxes and provide something that is easy for them to walk in and out of until they’re big enough for an adult litter box. For very young kittens under 8 weeks old, you can even use a cardboard tray (such as those used for canned kitten food) to provide a shallow lip for the tiny kitten to walk over.


Equally important is the placement. Kittens tend to be drawn to corners or other areas away from their main home base, so start by placing the litter box in a corner that is clean from clutter. A puppy pad placed under the box will make clean-up easier, as they can be messy learners.

When litter training kittens, you want to make it extremely easy for them to find a litter box at all times. Kittens have a natural drive to cover their waste, and will look for the most convenient space to do so. This means you’ll want to keep them near a box throughout the duration of their transition, and avoid providing any messy areas such as piles of laundry where the kitten might develop bad habits. Ideally, a 3-8 week old kitten learning to use a box should be confined to one room so that they can easily find the litter box at all times. For older kittens acclimating to a larger space, it’s best to offer multiple options so that the kitten is always within 10 feet of a litter box.


Kittens do well with positive reinforcement–not punishment. Provide praise when kittens use the box correctly!

If the kitten uses an area outside of the box, immediately clean and disinfect the area to avoid scent soaking or scent associations. If the kitten is using bedding or laundry, keep these items off the floor. If a kitten is frequently using the same location, place a litter box in the location. In some cases, switching to a new litter or using a product like Kitten Attract can help kittens who are truly struggling to understand the box.


No one wants to use a dirty toilet, and cats are no different! Clean the box throughout the day (once a day at a bare minimum) to encourage them to continue forming good habits. A clean box is more pleasant for you and for them, and will keep them coming back every time they need to use the bathroom.

Do Cats Automatically Use Cat Litter?

You may believe all cats are born knowing how to use litter boxes instinctively, but that certainly isn’t always true. Whether you’ve adopted a cute little kitten or a tough outdoor cat, you may have to train the furry thing on proper use of the litter box.

Natural Instinct

With some cats, litter box training is a piece of cake. Many felines are born with the urge to bury and hide their bathroom business. The instinct is natural — they didn’t even necessarily learn it from watching their mamas. If your cat is in this camp, then your only jobs from this point on are to ensure that your cat continues to use the box and to keep it immaculately clean, of course.


To encourage your cat to “automatically” utilize the litter box, make sure the location is ideal. Cats can be private creatures. Place the box in an area of your home that has low traffic but that is not too far from where your pet sleeps. Keep it away from appliances in your home that may make loud, jarring and disruptive sounds — think washing machines and the like.


Cats are famously meticulous animals. Simply put, if your cat turns her nose up at the litter box, it may just be because it isn’t clean enough. On a daily basis, carefully remove all waste from the box. On a weekly basis, thoroughly deep-clean the entire box using a gentle soap and lukewarm-to-warm water. The cleaner the litter box, the more naturally inclined your sweet pet will be to make good use of it.


If your cat doesn’t seem to understand the point of the litter box, encourage her to go inside of it whenever you suspect that she might be ready to “go” — such as right after her mealtimes. If she eliminates as planned, reward her by giving her a tasty treat. Doing this repeatedly will help your cat begin to associate the litter box with going to the bathroom — and that’s a good thing!

Veterinary Attention

If your cat seems to have difficulties in learning — or continuing — to properly use the litter box, schedule an appointment with the veterinarian. The issue may be not a behavioral one but rather medical. For instance, if your fluff ball relieves herself on your kitchen floor, it could be a sign that she is suffering from a urinary tract infection. Always check with the vet first — both for the sake of your kitty and to save yourself some time.

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