My adult cat won't use litter box

by Laura

A stray kitty came to our house. Then in a couple of weeks we found out that she is pregnant. We let her in and she had her babies in the house. She won't use the litter box-we have put her in it. She just wants to go outside. I need help to know how to teach her to use the litter box.

My Thoughts:

Thank you, Laura, for taking this kitty in! I'm sure she appreciates it!

This is a common problem when bringing in an outdoor cat. With kittens, litter box training generally occurs in one of two ways. Either kittens learn to use the litter box by immitating their mothers, or they take to it easily when placed in the box after each meal.

An adult cat, on the other hand, especially one who has never used a litter box is another matter. We don't know if your new mother cat was ever litter box trained. If she was, we may be able to get her to fall back into her old ways, but that may not happen as long as she has access to the outdoors.

Your problem is compounded a bit by the fact that she's had kittens. You didn't say how long ago she gave birth, but I'm assuming it's recent.

Cats are creatures of habit, so what you want to do is restrict access so that she has to use the box. Also, make the box as attractive as possible in terms of litter type, box type, location, and cleanliness.

Let's cover that last part first. Normally, the best litter type is a clumping clay litter and the best box is an uncovered box placed away from food and water bowls. The location should have easy escape routes, but also some quiet and privacy.

Clumping clay litter resembles the texture of sandy soil that cats naturally like,
controls odors fairly well, and you can scoop it often to keep the box clean. A covered litter box may feel confining, and may retain odors, which doesn't seem anything like the outdoor bathroom she's used to.

Do not use scented cat litter. Buy unscented litter only.

Sometimes, adding in a bit of soil from outside along with some blades of grass will give the box that "outdoor feel." She may find it more attractive. Some people have had success with using Cat Attract litter as well.

The ASPCA recommends placing a second litter box at the door so that as she heads outside, she's confronted with a box instead. Once she begins using it consistently, you can, an inch at a time, move it to a better location.

For cats who have never been litter box trained, they also recommend confinement or isolation training, starting with a cattery cage or large dog crate and moving up to a small room after consistent box usage. In some cases, this may be the only method that gets results.

Again, having recently given birth complicates things, and mother cats often like to move their kittens to different locations as well.

To reduce her stress levels, Rescue Remedy or Feliway may help, as well as lots of praise and attention and some play time if she's up for it.

She may be too busy mothering and it may take a while for all these changes to sink in. When the kittens have started eating solid food and are ready to use the litter box (after four weeks or so usually), place them in the litter box shortly after each meal. If they take to it easily, their mother may just immitate them.

I hope that helps some and please let us know how it goes.


Anyone else have any suggestions? Disagree with anything I've suggested? Please comment away...

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Sep 10, 2011
Retraining is possible
by: Kurt (Admin)

Hi Samantha,

Cats love a clean litter box, so when it's not to their liking, they find other places to do their business (as you've seen). Retraining is certainly possible, though, unless there are some health issues that we don't know about.

I believe part of what you're seeing is the kitty-see-kitty-do principle at work. When one cat goes in the box, the others often follow. When one cat goes elsewhere, the others often follow.

The trick is to get at least one of the cats to start using the box again (preferably the mother or the top kitten), and to convince all the cats to trust that the litter box will be cleaned faithfully from now on.

I'd get a shovel and make sure all remnants of their bathroom activities are removed from the garden. I'd also scrub that litter box that they think is dirty until it's cleaner than an operating room, and/or get a brand new box.


Isolation retraining is an option (such as in a bedroom or bathroom), but I would probably start by simply keeping them indoors. Cutting off their access to their new favorite bathroom/garden will force them to look elsewhere and hopefully revert to the box.

To encourage that, place one or two litter boxes right at the exit they normally use to leave the house. Keep those boxes squeaky clean.

About box cleanliness...

I've always cleaned the litter box(es) at least daily, sometimes twice a day, and when vacationing I hire a pet sitting service that cleans them twice a day.

This gives me some peace of mind when I'm not around to monitor things, and I know the cats are being checked on twice a day. So it's a health/safety issue as well as good litter box maintenance.

With 5 cats, the one plus one rule says that you should have 6 boxes. You can sometimes get away with fewer boxes than that. The only problem with that is if things go wrong, you won't be sure if it's due to not having enough boxes.

With kittens, or when everything is running smoothly, 3 large boxes would probably work with 5 cats. You might have to clean them more than once a day, however, to keep them up to par.

I hope that helps. Please let us know what happens.


Sep 10, 2011
Outdoor Cat Family
by: Anonymous

I have a similar problem, hope you can help. I was given a trained year old cat who gave birth to 4 kittens. The mom was an outdoor cat and was using the litter box. The kittens followed and used it to my joy as well.

We have a large garden and when I left for a short vacation the litter box was not properly filled and cleaned. I am back to find the 5 cats pooing all over the garden and porch. I do want to keep the cats, is it possible to retrain them? The kittens are about 6 months old. Thanks, Samantha

Apr 03, 2011
I second that, Part II
by: Anonymous

Many vets will neuter kittens at six to eight weeks. Initial studies showed no difference in growth and stand by those preliminary studies. But a longer, more detailed study followed kittens over a ten-year period and discovered early sterilization did in fact stunt their growth noticeably. However, the fact most lived that long was a small sacrifice for a two-five year life expectancy for non-sterilized females.

One fertile female, with her kittens, can produce over 400,000 unwanted kittens over a five-year period. Kurt has offered a tremendous amount of great tips and tricks for the short-term in getting her litterbox trained. I'm concerned about her and her kittens'long-term prospects. You wouldn't have asked for help if your heart wasn't in the right place, so good luck and blessings upon you!

Spots and Stripes

Apr 03, 2011
I second that
by: Anonymous

You did a great job covering most if not all the bases Kurt.

A HUGE thank you for having the heart to bring mama into your home!

How "wild" is mama? Will you be "keeping" her? With our "Capture-Neuter-Release" philosophy, we kept a large bathroom as a "sterile room" for recovering cats. I just couldn't take them in for an operation and then turn them back to their colonies and risk losing them to a post-op infection. It also gave me a better chance to evaluate the degree of "feralness" and if we could rehabilitate them for adoption.

So, I've seen almost everything. Usually, it was poop on the floor or in the tub, oddly enough from the tamest of them. But the bathroom with the linoleum floor made it much easier to clean and disinfect afterwards. A while back we watched a show on the Animal Planet channel that dealt with a couple cats that didn't want to use the box. Their solution was to, literally, put litterboxes wall-to-wall in a room, even on a sofa,to find where the cats wanted their box. They would slowly, inch by inch, day by day, move the box to a location better suited for feline and caregiver.

That's a little extreme, IMHO. So, we like the idea of restricting the area the cat has available to roam and use the box, especially an uncarpeted area. We also use a lot of those hard plastic pieces that usually go under a desk to make it easier to roll a chair, and cover a carpeted room wall-to-wall with them. If they go outside the box, well that is where the box will go for the next time they will need it.

Kittens are cute, and mama is adorable I'm sure, but a balance should be struck between socializing and nurturing mother and kittens, and giving her a little privacy. She's probably both thankful and wondering "What have I gotten myself into?" The last thing she and her kittens need is for her to be allowed to roam outside (if possible) because of all the dangers she and millions of homeless cats experience on a daily basis, more so since she is now a mom.

In the end, so much is up to you, and you have a lot of decisions to make regarding her future, and that of her kittens. She will need to be spayed most definitely. Check around your area; there are a lot of rescue groups that can help with low or no cost spaying, but they will almost certainly require she get "ear-tipped" to assure she doesn't end up in the wild again and they can tell at a glance if she's been fixed or needs to be. This is relatively painless for the cat, but many if not most groups skimp on the pain medication to get a lower cost on the operation.

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