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How to Train Your Cat to Use a Litter Box

by Lisa Sefcik

If you train your cat to use a litter box from the time he's a kitten, it is less likely that your cat will have accidents later on. However, how do you train an adult cat to use a litter box if he's never used one before? Also, what do you do if your litter-box trained cat suddenly begins to have accidents in other parts of your home? Here are some pointers on how to train a kitten or retrain your adult cat to use a litter box as well as a few suggestions for cat supplies that will help you address the possible underlying causes of inappropriate elimination.

Litter Box Train Your Cat:

  1. Address the problem. If your cat is litter box-trained but suddenly stops using her litter box, she might have a medical condition, or she might have other reasons for not using her box. Make note of any new changes around the house and take a look at the area around the litter box. Have you recently changed the style of litter box and other cat supplies or the type of litter you normally use? Have you moved the litter box recently? Is the litter box clean? Making changes to your cat's litter box or allowing the litter box to become too dirty can cause your cat to stop using it. If nothing has changed around your home, pay attention to your cat's behavior. If she seems lethargic or is not eating and drinking like normal, take her to a veterinarian. Your cat may be suffering from feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, constipation, or inflammatory bowel disease.

  2. Clean soiled areas thoroughly. Properly cleaning soiled areas can prevent your cat from returning to that spot the next time she needs to use the bathroom. Carpeted areas are notoriously difficult to clean, and even if you can't see a stain or smell any odor, your cat can still smell her scent in the soiled area. To be sure the area is thoroughly clean, first clean it with the appropriate household cleansers and then spray the area with a pet enzyme cleanser. An enzyme cleanser will break down the odors completely, making it less likely that your cat will return to that spot to use the bathroom.

  3. You may need to retrain your cat. If all else fails, you might have to retrain your cat to use the litter box in much the same way you would a new kitten. Place the cat in a small room with a hard (uncarpeted) surface. Make sure to put his food and water bowls in the room, as well as a soft place to sleep, but place these as far away from the litter box as possible. If your cat has gone outside of the box, "seed" the litter box with his feces or the rag that you used to mop up his urine. Marking your cat's litter box with his own scent tells him, "It's OK to go here" and helps with cat training.

  4. Clean the litter box often. Keep your cat's litter box clean and use sandy, clumping litter, as cats tend to prefer this texture under their paws. Their second choice is plain clay litter, and last in line are "alternative" litters made of paper, wood shavings, and pellets. Avoid using scented products, such as deodorized litters and liners. If your cat refuses to use the litter box, he might have a texture aversion to the litter itself. Note if he shakes his paws after he uses the box, straddles the sides of the box while urinating or defecating, or fails to cover after using the litter box. You might need to switch to another type of litter while cat training.

  5. Choose the right spot for the litter box. Keep your cat's litter box away from noisy places in the home, such as the laundry room, and out of small, confined spaces. Make sure that your cat knows she has easy access to her litter box as well as an easy way to "escape" after she uses it. If you have a nervous cat, try using a calming diffuser. A diffuser is like a plug-in air freshener, but instead of diffusing pleasant scents, it disperses a calming pheromone to make your cat feel more calm and comfortable near her litter box.

  6. Keep pet areas distinct. Place your pet's food and water as far from the litter box as possible -- ideally, in another room in your home. Litter box-trained cats generally will not urinate or defecate in the same area where they eat and drink.

Litter Box Tips:

  1. Never punish your cat or lose your temper with her when she doesn't use her litter box. "Rubbing her nose in it" won't get the desired results, either; this sends your pet the message that she is at fault simply because she needed to relieve herself.

  2. Adult cats that are not spayed or neutered will "mark" areas outside of the litter box. This is very common and even expected in whole (unaltered) cats. To avoid unwanted marking, have your cat spayed or neutered as soon as your veterinarian tells you your pet is old enough to undergo these procedures.

  3. Do you have a multi-cat household? The rule of thumb is to have one more litter box than you have cats.

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