Cats are fastidious and intelligent creatures that instinctively cover their waste, which makes litter box training a kitten so much easier than house training a puppy. Score one for kitties in the “cats versus dogs” debate!
If you adopt a new kitten that was raised indoors with its Mama, it will most likely already be trained to use the litter box. However, if you are fostering young kittens for a shelter, raising a litter of kittens, or adopting one that isn’t using a cat box yet for some reason, you will need to do some training.
If you’re lucky, your litter box training might involve little more than placing the kitten in the box a few times. As I said, cats are smart (okay, maybe I am biased just a little) and they generally use their litter box right away. Nonetheless, there are some Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind. Establishing good litter box habits at an early age is the key to avoiding problems in the future.
Litter Box Do’s
* Choose an appropriate box. My friend adopted a kitten recently, and I went with her to pick it up. When we arrived at her house with kitten in hand, she showed me the litter box she’d bought. It was a splendid covered cat box with a flap door, just like the one I use for my cats. Unfortunately, the entrance is a good 8” from the floor – which is fine for an adult cat but definitely not a tiny six-week-old kitten! We both had a good laugh, and then we went out to get a kitten-sized litter box with low sides that her new little fur-baby could easily climb over.
* Choose the right cat litter. Kittens often taste their litter, and there is concern among some cat lovers that the clumping clay litter can harm their digestive systems. I don’t know anyone who’s experienced that, but if you want to err on the side of caution, there are several natural alternatives you can try. My favorite natural cat litter is made from finely ground corn; others include wheat, sawdust and pine pellets.
*Location, location, location. As in real estate, the location of your cat’s litter box is very important. It should be placed in an easily accessible area that’s relatively quiet and offers some privacy. Make sure the cat box is not located near appliances that make startling or loud noises, such as washing machines or refrigerators. If you have toddlers or dogs, put the litter box in an area that you can make off limits to them with a baby gate. This is to make sure kitty doesn’t get ambushed while doing his business, and also to keep curious hands and mouths out of the cat litter.
* Provide more than one litter box if you have several cats, or have multiple stories in your home that the kitten will have access to.
* Confine a young kitten to a small area until you know they are consistently using the litter box, particularly at night while you’re asleep.
* Take your kitten to the litter box throughout the day, particularly if you see it sniffing around as though looking for a spot to “go.” The first few times, you can very gently scratch the litter with the kitten’s paws to simulate the digging, although it’s not really necessary. When your kitten uses the litter box, it’s a good idea to praise and pet them, to let them know they did a good thing and you’re happy with them.
Litter Box Don’ts
* Accidents may happen. Never, ever punish your kitten by spanking or rubbing his nose in the mess. This only creates fear, distrust, and a cat that will grow up not wanting to be in your company. Be sure to clean the area they soiled with a product containing enzymes which remove the scent.
* Don’t change the type of litter if your kitten seems to like the one you have. If you do decide to try a new cat litter, mix it into the old litter gradually if the type of litter is compatible. For instance, when I switched from clumping clay to corn-based litter which is also a clumping type, I added a little of the new along with the old for several weeks.
* Don’t forget to clean the box regularly. For some cats, that may mean daily scooping.
* Don’t move the litter box to a new location suddenly. If you want to change the location, leave the old box where it is and place a second box in the new spot until your kitten is using it regularly.
* Don’t tempt fate by leaving a large potted plant at floor level. The dirt is attractive to kittens, and they might use it as a toilet or just have some fun digging in it.
Your litter box training should be a breeze if you remember three simple things: start early, stay consistent and provide a suitable environment for your “feline loo.”
Read more articles by Julia Williams
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