Cat litter box training, in most cases, is a smooth process.
While there are exceptions, normal, healthy cats are very particular about their bathroom habits, and prefer to use the box over your floor, or your bed.
That is to say, they prefer to use a litter box that meets their criteria of location, litter type, amount, scent and texture, and box cleanliness and size.
Most kittens will take to the box with no problems.
Kittens learn to use the box by watching their mothers, but mother cats are not always around for that.
Usually, though, all they need is mother nature combined with a little encouragement, praise, and positive reinforcement.
In fact, most times "litter box training" is really not training at all.
Simply provide a box that meets the criteria and make sure your cat knows where it is and can get to it easily.
Praise your cat when she uses the box, and you're off and running.
If you're dealing with a new cat or kitten being added to a house with existing pets, then special considerations may be in order. Likewise with a cat or kitten experiencing litter box problems that may need retraining.
Here's a box training tip sheet.
Some guides recommend placing your cat in the box, grabbing her paw, and then moving her paw through the litter to stir it up and stimulate a response.
This guide to preventing litter box problems at the Dumb Friends League, however, recommends against this since your cat may not like this experience.
Below are a some basic points to remember about this very important aspect of cat care.
In many cases, providing a box that meets the below criteria and showing it to your cat is all the litter box training you need to do.
Even if you follow all the rules, things can still go wrong. Your cat could stop using the box, or in rare cases, refuse to use it in the first place. Confinement training to the rescue!
If your cat stops using the box, you may have to help her retrain herself.
Cats stop using the box for various reasons. With most cats, it doesn't take that much to get them using the box again after a problem has been fixed. After all, cats naturally want to use a sandy substrate to pee, poop, and cover their waste.
Sometimes, however, even after you fix whatever the root cause was, your cat still fails to use the box.
In these cases, the cats may need help getting their bathroom habits back on track. This is where litter box retraining becomes necessary.
For example, perhaps your cat develops what's called FLUTD, or feline lower urinary tract disease. This is an assortment of conditions which may cause pain or straining during urination.
The result is, your cat starts to associate the box with pain and discomfort, and starts urinating outside the litter box. Your cat may get over the episode of FLUTD, but still associate the litter box with pain and continue to urinate outside the litter box.
The cause of the problem is gone, but the behavior remains.
One of our reader's cats had surgery, and afterwards, refused to use the litter box. She resolved her cat's litter box problem by confining her cat to a small room.
We sometimes call this confinement or isolation retraining. This type of litter box retraining starts in the same way bringing a newly adopted cat home does-confining your cat to a single room.
Advantages to using confinement retraining:
It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for your cat to start using the box again. Once your cat is regularly using the box, you can give her access to the rest of the house. If there's a setback, it's too soon, and back in the room she goes.
Here's how to retrain your cat to use the litter box again:
Choose a sunny room with a window with a view, and all the amenities.
During the litter box retraining period, this is your kitty's safe room. This will be your cat's world for the next whenever, so set the room up with the following:
Place your cat in this room while you're away from the house and whenever you can't watch her (such as when cooking dinner). If you're not able to let her out for extended periods, then spend a lot of time in there with her. Exercise her with some interactive toys, like Da Bird, or just keep her company.
If you're worried your cat will be lonely or bored when you can't be with her, you can get a cat DVD, like video catnip, and let it play for your cat.
Other options are Mewvie, The The Motion Picture for Your Cat: Episode 1 Backyard Buffet, and Cat Dreams. These DVDs have squirrels, birds, and nature sounds that can keep your kitty entertained.
When you can supervise her, you can let your cat out of the room, but you'll need to watch out for signs she's going to do her business. If it seems like she's heading for her usual spot, bring her to the safe room and place her in the box (very much like you'd train a kitten).
Whenever she uses the box, praise her like it's the best thing she's ever done in her life.
Note: If your cat doesn't use the box while in the safe room, you may have to use a smaller room, such as a bathroom, or a large cage to keep her from soiling the area.
Once your cat is regularly using the box, you can let her have access to the rest of the house again. Remember, if she has a setback, start the process over.
Phew! That was a lot of litter box training talk. Let's wrap it up...
Although cat litter box training is usually easy, there can be some bumps in the road. and there are some things you can do to prevent or remedy a litter box problem. Following the above guidelines and considerations should help make things go more smoothly.
Many litter box problems are caused by medical issues. Your litter box training efforts will not be effective if there's a medical issue, and you'll need to consult with a veterinarian to solve those problems.
If there is a problem either during training or later on, the first step is always to make sure it's not medical and have a consultation with your veterinarian.
If your cat stops using the litter box, you'll need to address the cause first. After you've remedied the cause, your cat should start using the box again. If not, you should be able to retrain your cat using confinement as described above.
To deal with persistent or challenging behavioral issues that cause your cat to urinate or defecate outside the box, litter box training or retraining may not be enough. You may need to consult with an animal behaviorist or pet psychologist.