How to litter train a kitten

When bringing home a new kitten, litter box training is crucial if you don’t want to find any ‘accidents’ around the house and keep your house clean – although it’s improbable for a cat to have such accidents. Fortunately for us, cats have a natural instinct to bury their waste, whether it is in the dirt, soil, sand, or kitty litter!

Essential, but not complex, teaching your kitten how to use the litter box requires very little training! 

Kittens usually learn how to use the litter tray by observing their mothers, and this happens just a little after 4 weeks of age, coinciding with their weaning. However, if your kitten was stray or motherless, it might need some encouragement to adjust to a litter box. 

Let me give you the scoop before you jump right into the ‘how to’!

The supplies you’ll need 

litter box and poop scooper

Before you bring a kitten home, make sure you are prepared with the right items that a cat requires, mainly to avoid accidents and help your kitty have good bathroom habits. 

To successfully potty train your kitten you will have to purchase:

  1. A litter tray
  2. Cat litter
  3. A poop scooper
  4. A litter mat or drop cloth

It would be handy to have some treats available to reward your kitten for doing a good job using the litter box, but not necessary.

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Choose the correct litter box for a kitten

litter box kittens

There are so many different cat litter boxes out there that it can get confusing what to buy.

But for a kitten, it’s indicated to start with a smaller litter box although big enough for the kitten to turn around and squat in so they can comfortably bury their waste. A cat’s litter box should be one and a half times bigger than its length, so the litter box will need to grow with your kitten.

The box should have low sides, so the kitten can easily climb into it without having to jump over the sides, and it should be uncovered and made out of nonabsorbent material. Once your kitten is getting bigger you can opt for a bigger litter box with higher sides or covered. 

It’s ideal to have one more litter box than the number of cats you own, but if you’ll have only one cat or you live in a small apartment, having just one litter box will be enough. Many cat owners say that cats don’t like sharing litter boxes, but to be honest, my furbabies have only one litter box for both of them. I make sure to keep it always clean. 

hidden cat litter box furniture
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Get a kitten appropriate litter

different types of cat litter

There are a variety of cat litter types out there to suit any of your needs from inexpensive to high-end and eco-friendly. Still, for tiny kittens, it’s best to opt for a natural, unscented litter, preferably non-clumping cat litter or the pellet type until the kitten is about four months old, as they might try to eat some. As human babies do, kittens explore the world at first by touching, feeling and eating stuff, kitty litter included, so make sure it’s safe to ingest a little. Use litter as dust-free as possible since dust can irritate a kitties’ lungs and over long periods even cause breathing issues.

All-natural options for your kitten litter are made out of paper, pine, grass, walnut shells, corn, or wheat, but cats are drawn to a sandy kind of feeling under their paws and most cats won’t use wheat or corn-based litters because they smell like food. You can experiment with different kinds of litter as your kitten grows older.

Make sure you will always get the litter your cat prefers, not the one that is convenient for you to clean.  

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You might need a poop scooper and a litter mat

litter box drop cloth

Depending on the cat litter you’ll finally choose if you find a clumping type you’ll require a poop scooper to easily clean out the litter box. 

Because it’s suggested to have an open litter box for a kitten, it’s also wise to get a litter mat to place outside the litter box for minimizing litter tracking. Some kittens get excited and throw too much litter out of the box when covering up their feces.  You can also get a drop cloth to place under and around the litter box to prevent litter from spreading. 

Now that you are familiar with the essentials, here are a few things you need to consider doing to help you successfully potty train your tiny feline.

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It’s all about the litter box location

litter box location

A litter box should be placed in a quiet area of your home, away from clutter and foot traffic that it’s easily accessible and offers some kind of privacy with no sudden noises that can frighten your kitty. 

Preferably for kittens that are four to eight weeks old, you should confine them to one room, where they can easily find their litter box. Usually placed in the corner of the room, opposite the food and water location. The kitten should be able to see the litter box most of the time. When your kitten is getting older you will be able to gradually move the location of the litter box to another location. The best place for me is in the bathroom, right in the corner next to the toilet bowl. 

Once you find a good litter that fits your cat’s needs and yours and a location for the litter box that your cat likes, stick with it.

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Remove temptations!

kitten in potted plants

Consider removing or relocating large potted plants from your home, especially if they are not kitty-safe and placed on the floor. 

Depending on where you got your kitten from, a cat that used to live on the streets for a while is used to doing its needs in the dirt. So your potted plants will be very appealing to your new kitten and not safe anymore. You may need to remove your plants or cover the dirt with some foil during the litter training.

Kittens will teach you to be less messy, as they are attracted to clutter on the floor and piles of clothes so keep your floors clean to remove temptation.

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5 steps to easily litter train your kitten

Using the litter box should come naturally to most kittens and should not take a lot of training at all. Cats are naturally attracted to cat litter and should instinctively know what to do once they feel it under their paws. Here are the most effective steps to potty train your kitten:

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1. Accustom your kitten with their litter box

how to litter train your kitten

As soon as you bring your new kitten home, show him or her where to find their litter box first.

Just place your kitten inside and let it explore, sniff around and examine the litter box and give them plenty of time to get used to it. If the kitten is reluctant to try it out at first, encourage them by running your fingers through the litter. You will see they also start to paw at the litter instinctively.

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2. Bring the kitten to the litter box frequently 

how to litter train your kitten

Cats are creatures of habit. The most likely times a kitten will need ‘to go’ is after every meal or when they wake up from naps, so pick up your kitten at these times and place it in the litter box. This should help the kitten associate the feeling of needing to go number one or two with going to the litter box. 

Also when you see your kitten crouching down, or speeding off to a hidden area of the house, or under your couch it might be a “gotta-go” sign. Pick them up and put them in the litter box immediately. After a while, you will learn which of these signs means the real business.

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3. Praise the kitten on its throne!

kitten treats

Reward your kitten with a treat every time it uses the litter box properly and by doing so you will make your kitten want to continue doing their needs only in their litter box. Later on, you can slowly start cutting off the treats.

Always use praise, not punishment! This brings us to:

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4. Accidents are bound to happen! 

Remember your kitten it’s small and excited, and even though digging in litter comes naturally to a cat, accidents will potentially happen. Maybe he tried to run to the litter box but didn’t make it in time. Or maybe you haven’t provided a clean bathroom, or it got scared and found a pile of dirty clothes hanging around, you will never know.

If your kitten drops a fresh one 💩 somewhere else in your house rather than its litter box, it’s important to thoroughly clean it so they don’t return to the same spot and do it again. Use warm water and soap to break down cat urine, or an enzyme-based cleaner and make sure all traces of the scent are completely gone.

Never punish your kitten for accidents. Firstly because cats don’t associate scolding with a single incident you are trying to point out, so it will not help stop it in the future, and secondly, it will bring unnecessary stress to your kitten making it fearful of elimination and associate being punished with going to the bathroom.

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5. Do the dirty work, clean the litter box!

clean the litter box (2)

Because you are just teaching your kitten where to go, and you place it in the litter box by yourself a few times per day, try to scoop right after he or she goes to the bathroom to have a consistently clean litter box. Then you can start scooping daily once your kitten is potty trained.

You should scoop up the litter clumps at least two times per day at the very least and replace the litter removed with some fresh new litter. Cats like to dig around so fill up the litter box with at least 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cm) of litter. Clean the entire box after one week if you are not using a clumping litter, most litter bags have recommendations on how to use them. To clean the box, empty all the contents, use a mild soap and hot water, and rinse well after.

Scooping more frequently saves you having to replace the litter often and also saves you some money and bad smells. By not keeping clean the litter box will make your kitten stop using it and encourage accidents in other places of your house. 

Keep in mind that non-clumping litter needs to be changed more often than clumping litter, but luckily it’s normally cheaper than clumping litter.

Later when your kitten grows up, you can opt for a self-cleaning litter box, they work like meowgic!

  • 1. Leave a small bit of poop in the litter box during the first few weeks of training, it will help your kitten understand what the box is for.

  • 2. Feed your kitten at regular times to be able to predict better when he or she will need the toilet ( about twenty minutes after meals)

  • 3. After you have placed your kitten in the box a few times, when you next think your kitten needs to use the bathroom, take it to the litter box and let him or her climb inside by themselves.
  • Dot adjusted to using the litter box quite fast, in just a few days,  but it was because Dobby was there to show her how to do it, even though he never used one before himself. When I first got Dobby, he used to do his needs in the shower, which I know might sound disgusting but, it was convenient and handy for me to clean every time I would go to the bathroom myself, without buying any litter box or litter for months until we got Dot and we moved house. Because he was an outdoor cat he was used to digging around, so when trying out the litter box the first time he immediately knew what to do and taught Dot how to use the litter box too, because she just copied him. 

    cat in the litter box
    Here is Dot having her first 💩. Proud moment!

    Fur-ther more, when your kitten understood the use of the litter box you need to:

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    Observe the litter box behavior

    When your kitten is already litter trained and uses the litter tray consistently, it’s important to monitor their litter box behavior and watch out for sudden changes. If your cat or kitten is relieving themselves anywhere else but the litter box out of a sudden, there can be several reasons why they do so. But I will tell you more about that later in the frequently asked questions of the article.

    how to litter box train your kitten

    Persistent eliminations outside the box can be a warning sign of a medical problem that irritates your kitten like diarrhea or any other reasons your cat might try to get your attention to. Frequently getting inside the box with no sign of use can indicate constipation. Please schedule a visit to the vet, especially if your kitten is crying and meowing whilst in the litter box, or there is blood in the urine or stool. 

    Keep in mind that spraying is a different kind of elimination. It’s territorial urine marking that cats do on vertical surfaces like furniture and walls. This happens when your kitten becomes a cat and is in heat. If a kitten starts spraying, spaying or neutering helps stop it or considerably reduces it. If the problem of spraying persists contact your vet. 

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    Frequently asked questions about litter training kittens:

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    When should I start litter training with my kitten?

    As newborns, kittens get stimulated by their mothers to go to the bathroom and their mothers clean them up afterward, so they won’t need to use a litter box until three to four weeks of age.

    After that period you can familiarize the kitten with the litter box and start the training. If your kitten is older, you can start the training as soon as you bring it home. 

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    How long does it take to litter train a kitten?

    Very young kittens can take from a few days up to four weeks overall to complete their training. If they have a mother or older siblings to teach them, they will learn quite quickly. If not, they might need to be placed in the litter box a few times per day after meals/naps to get the hang of it. Some kittens, especially older ones just need to be shown where the litter box is and they will understand the purpose of it immediately, requiring no additional litter training. 

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    How often do I need to change the litter and clean the litter box?

    clean the litter box

    Cats are very clean animals so they prefer clean litter boxes. Every day you should scoop out the waste twice, or at least once, and replace the discarded litter with a fresh one. Every week empty all the contents of the litter box and scrub and wash the litter box with warm water and mild soap. If using clumping litter you can wash the litter box every month. Every year, or every six months if you can afford to replace the litter box. 

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    Why won’t my kitten use the litter box?

    There are many reasons why your kitten won’t use a litter box, but some cats might be just picky, so try to see if any of these reasons fit your situation, if not, there might be a medical problem and you need to schedule a vet appointment. 

    • You changed their litter brand or box and they don’t like it;
    • The litter is strongly scented;
    • The litter box is not big enough;
    • The litter box has not been cleaned enough;
    • The litter box was moved, probably in a noisy area or in a dark area or; 
    • The litter box placement doesn’t have enough privacy or is way out of the way;
    • They don’t like sharing a litter box with other cats;
    • You recently moved house/apartment;
    • The kitten was scared when inside or around the box;
    • The kitten is in heat and started spraying.
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    How do you dispose of dirty cat litter?

    Place the dirty litter in disposable garbage bags and tightly close them, then put it in the trash. Do not use it in your garden or mix it with compost! 

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    Where is best to place a litter box?

    litter box

    My preference to place a litter box is always in the bathroom, or a spare bathroom, unless your cats are spoiled and have their own room. A bathroom is a quiet place, private, and safe so your cat to do its needs in peace, and you can easily clean up any spilled litter from the floor tiles. Plus, the smell of the litter box won’t be that unpredictable as anybody that comes into your house won’t expect your bathroom to smell like roses, right?

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    Can a kitten be toilet trained?

    cat toilet training

    Toilet training cats is possible and toilet training a junior kitten should be easier than training an adult cat. There are many cat toilet training kits on the market that help gradually train a cat on how to use a human toilet and although it’s super cool, don’t try it with little kittens that can’t jump up on the toilet bowl or with senior cats that have joint problems. Never force your cat to do it. The downside of toilet training a cat is that you can not properly monitor their health by observing their feces or urine, so you might miss some warning signs. 

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    What is the fastest way to litter train a kitten?

    litter box for kittens

    To easily potty train your kitten follow these 5 steps:

    1. As soon as you get the kitten home, place him or her in the litter box and let it sniff around, and examine the litter under its paws.
    2. Frequently bring your kitten to the litter box after meals and after naps.
    3. Reward your kitten whenever you notice he or she is properly using the box.
    4. Don’t punish or scold your kitten for accidents.
    5. Maintain proper cleanliness of the litter box every day
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    Whether it may be messy or fairly simple at first, cats have a strong instinct to cover up their feces so they are way easier to potty train than a puppy. Sometimes all you need to do is show them where the litter box is and they will know what to do. Other times they will require your constant assistance and patience, but overall it will be worth it for your kitten to have good bathroom habits. Happy scooping!

    We paw-litely ask you to let us know if we missed anything or purr-haps you have any insightful stories to add to our article in the comment section below.

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