While owners of puppies may often struggle with toilet training, cat owners can be pretty smug here! Most kittens learn to use the litter tray by watching their mother, and, being naturally clean and fastidious, generally pick it up very quickly indeed. If your kitten comes from a good breeder or rescue centre where the litter have been with their mum, they will probably already be using a litter tray with regularity and a fairly high degree of success! Now it’s your job to build on this early education as your kitten gets used to her new home.
Make sure you have a large, open-top, shallow litter tray that is easy for a kitten to get in and out of. High sided trays and covered boxes can be used later but to start with, you need to make sure things are as easy for your kitten as possible.
Find out what kind of litter your kitten has been using up till now and start off by using the same kind. This will lessen any confusion about where the toilet is! You will have to make sure however that any litter you do use is safe for kittens – and this includes not using products that are highly perfumed, have harsh chemicals or that clump. Like most babies, kittens explore by putting things in their mouths and clumping litter can be dangerous if eaten and shouldn’t be used till your kitten is older. Do not use soil from the garden as it may harbour disease from other cats. The litter needs to be deep enough that the kitten can dig and also fully cover her faeces.
The world can be an enormous scary place for a tiny kitten, and so to start off they should be kept in one room. This will give them a chance to get used to their new home without getting overwhelmed and it makes toilet training easier as the litter tray is more obvious.
Kittens tend to be drawn to corners or secluded areas away from their bed and living space to go to the toilet, so start by putting the tray in a clutter-free, easily accessible, visible corner. A puppy pad or similar placed under the tray will make clean-up easier as some kittens can be messy learners – and either miss the edge of the tray or send litter flying everywhere!
Make sure the tray is in a quiet spot where the kitten won’t be disturbed by people or other animals. Cats prefer to go to the toilet in peace with no audience, and interruptions can discourage a kitten from using the tray! The tray shouldn’t be next to food or water bowls, as cats are understandably reluctant to use a tray close to their food.
While litter training, be aware that kittens will probably want to go to the toilet after meals, waking from a sleep, after or during play – or when you see them sniffing the floor, scratching or beginning to crouch. This is the time to encourage them to use the litter tray (take them there and then retreat to a safe distance – some cats really don’t like to be watched!).
Praise your kitten when they use the tray correctly and never punish mistakes. If your kitten uses an area outside of the tray, immediately clean and disinfect the area so as to avoid the scent soaking in and the kitten making future toilet associations from the smell!
No-one likes a dirty toilet and cats are no exception. Remove all soiled litter immediately (or as soon as possible) and clean out the tray regularly.
You can try several trays with different types of litter in it so you can discover which your kitten prefers to use – most cats have a preference and some cats will refuse to use certain kinds of litter. Learn your kitten’s preference, as that will make her happier to use the litter tray and make toilet training easier.
Once your kitten starts exploring further afield in the house, have a tray (or two) in every room so the kitten is rarely any more than 12ft from a tray until she really gets the hang of using them. Once she is looking for the tray, or showing a preference to certain ones, you can reduce the number of trays in the house until you have just one that your kitten always has access to.
If, once your kitten is fully vaccinated, you want your kitten to go to the toilet outside, you can gradually move the litter tray towards the door. A few handfuls of cat litter from the tray spread into the soil outside will encourage your cat to dig there – but don’t remove the litter tray from the house until your kitten has constant access to the outside and has started to use the garden by preference.
Your kitten may be reluctant to use the tray if:
- It’s too small (it should be big enough that your kitten can easily turn around in it and use several times without getting dirty)
- It smells of strong chemicals or perfume
- It’s dirty!
- Your kitten doesn’t like the litter you are using
- The tray is in the wrong place – either near the food bowl or in an area the kitten doesn’t feel relaxed.
About the Author
Carolyn is an accredited behaviourist and trainer with over 20 years experience working with dogs and other companion animals. She has written books, over 500 published articles and trains owners and professionals alike both nationally and internationally. Carolyn is also an experienced broadcaster and presenter, has appeared in five TV series’ and countless radio shows. Her passion is for helping owners build a strong and positive relationship with their dogs and fully develop the potential of the bond between them.More articles from Carolyn Menteith
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