How to litter train a kitten
Litter training your kitten shouldn’t be a difficult challenge, since it is common for them to learn how to use the litter tray after only a couple of days. Nevertheless, there are certain things you must do to make it as easy and stress free for them as possible.
Think about the size of the litter tray you would like to buy for your kitten. They may not use it if they think it is too small, and they are only going to get bigger. Introducing a litter tray large enough for an adult-sized cat from the start might be best, as they can then continue to use the same one as they grow without any disruption. However, there are many smaller litter trays available that are specifically designed for kittens.
Sometimes a simple open tray will not suffice, as cats often like to relieve themselves in private. If this is the case, buy an enclosed litter box with walls. Their ability to retain odours might keep your house smelling clean, but could discourage your kitten from using it. Whichever type of tray or box you choose, you need to ensure your kitten will be able to get in and out of it easily. Buy one that has a lower lip on one side so they can easily access it.
Think about investing in some litter tray liners to help absorb urine and odours, keep the tray clean and make removing the litter easier. Bear in mind that some cats don’t like the feel of the plastic material and their claws can go through it. Holes result in urine or litter falling through, whilst some scented liners may put your kitten off.
There are various types of litter you can buy for your kitten, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Clay litter can sometimes be used as a starter type for kittens, as they tend to eat litter granules. It is absorbent and enables them to dig, but can get stuck on their paws and be trailed around the home.
Clumping litter includes a type of clay called sodium bentonite. When wet, this component expands and forms hard clumps, making scooping out any soiled litter relatively easy. The issue with this type is that it can cause intestinal blockages if ingested by kittens. Also, the dust that rises from the clay when the litter is being changed can result in respiratory problems, particularly if you or the kitten suffers from asthma.
Non-clumping litter tends to comprise of pellets of recycled newspaper and sawdust. It is easy to remove solid waste using this type, but has to be cleared quickly to avoid any unpleasant smells.
Silica gel is one type of litter that has been recently introduced, but can be rather expensive compared to others. Although effective at absorbing fluid and eradicating odour, it can feel sharp on some cats’ feet.
Many types of litter feature deodorisers, but these aren’t necessarily the best option for your kitten as the smell can put them off the tray. Some claim to be biodegradable, but the level of acidity in cat urine makes the litter unsuitable for placing on or around plants. Also, manufacturers of the same or similar types of litter claim they can be flushed down the toilet, but this can cause blockages.
Don’t put soil from your garden in the litter tray as it could carry diseases from other cats that can be passed on to your kitten, as well as fungal infections such as ringworm.
Before bringing your kitten home
Before you bring your kitten home, you need to consider the type of tray you will buy for them, whether you want tray liners, what type of litter you will use and where you will position the tray. Something else to think about is whether you want your kitten to become an outdoor cat so that eventually, they will learn to eliminate outside.
Prepare the litter tray by filling it with litter and placing newspaper underneath to allow for any accidents or digging. Position it in a quiet area that is easily accessible for your kitten. It needs to be free from disturbances as cats generally don’t like to be watched when using the tray, but don’t keep it in an area that is too far away from them or you to access, should you need to. It must be separate from where the kitten will sleep and eat, as they are unlikely to use it otherwise.
If your kitten has already been litter trained, buy the same type of tray and litter. Some cats will not use anything other than what they have been trained with, and it can be difficult to alter their habits.
Buy more than one litter tray if you have multiple cats at home, since they will not usually share the same one. Think about placing more than one tray around the house as well because this may help your kitten if they are having accidents.
Bringing your kitten home
Establish a routine for your kitten as soon as you bring them home. Their small stomach coupled with their need to be fed little and often means they will probably have to use the litter tray a lot to begin with. Gently and without fuss, lift your kitten up and place them in the tray first thing in the morning, straight after meals, and last thing at night. Also look out for signs they might need to use the tray such as sniffing, crouching in a corner and scratching, especially after they have been asleep. They will gradually learn where they are supposed to go when they need the toilet. Leave them alone to relieve themselves, and make sure you praise them if they are successful.
Accept the inevitability of accidents, as you must remember your kitten is still learning. Don’t shout or reprimand them as this could make them afraid of eliminating, which can lead to medical problems if they begin holding their waste in. Furthermore, the kitten will associate the tray with being punished if you place them in it after disciplining them. Instead, gently pick them up and say ‘no’, and praise them when you put them in it. Placing some of the accidental waste in the tray may also encourage your kitten to use it.
Remember to clean the litter tray regularly, as some cats will refuse to use it if they deem it to be too dirty. Thoroughly scrub it at least once a week using hot water and detergent, and scoop out soiled litter every day. Ensure you maintain this routine, otherwise your kitten will find somewhere else to relieve themselves. Bear in mind that the smell of certain disinfectants is actually similar to cat urine, which can put some off using the tray, and that some disinfectants can be toxic to cats.
As time progresses
You will have decided whether or not you want your kitten to eventually go outdoors, and if so, you can train them to eliminate outside. Gradually move the tray closer to the door, and spread a couple of handfuls of litter on to soil to show them where to eliminate. Keep a tray indoors until your cat begins to use the garden consistently. A kitten should not be let outside until at least a week after the first course of their vaccinations has been completed.
If your kitten stops using the litter tray, this may be due to something as simple as where the tray is positioned in the home. However, it can also indicate a medical problem, so consult your vet to be sure.
We need to litter train kittens as they don’t yet have the experience to intuitively choose the correct course of action – and this lack of understanding can sometimes result in unfortunate incidents. See our "Kitten insurance" page to discover how cat insurance can help you to cover the cost of veterinary treatment if your kitten gets injured or falls ill, helping you to provide security for your feline friend when they need it most.