One of the wonderful things about being a cat owner is that kitties tend to be self-sufficient. Sure, they rely on you for all those cuddles, chin scratches, laser sessions, and their grub, but on the whole cats are pretty good at looking after themselves. They’re self-cleaning, love their alone time and, when it comes to litter box training, they’re total naturals!
That being said, kittens need a bit of guidance in order to be set up for success. New pet parents can also learn some non-intuitive tricks to ensure their kitten uses the litter box.
More than anything, cats simply need easy access to a clean, safe, appealing litter box. “It is instinct for cats and kittens to pee and poop in loose material, so if you provide them with what they need then they will find it and use it,” says Dr. Mikel Delgado, veterinarian and cat behaviorist for Smalls.
“If you really feel that your kitten needs a nudge — though most will not — you can place them gently in the litter box after meals, letting them decide whether they want to stay,” says Dr. Delgado. “Just make sure to never hold a kitten in the box. You don’t want your kitten to have any negative or scary experiences in a place where they need to feel safe.”
If you’ve followed all our advice and your kitten is still not using the litter box, then it’s officially time to call in the veterinarian. It’s possible that your pet is dealing with an ailment that must be treated, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), liver or kidney disease, or diabetes.
Dr. Lisa Killian, the medical director for Fuzzy Pet Health, agrees. She adds, “A pet parent should consult their veterinarian if their kitten will not actively use a friendly and accessible litter box, if the kitten has a sudden change in urination or defecation, if the kitten is not producing any urine or stool, or if a male kitten is straining to urinate and nothing comes out.”
We mentioned that cats do have different litter preferences. It’s sort of like how we humans have our go-to toilet paper. Dr. Delgado says that, for kittens, a general rule of thumb is to hold off on using clay-based clumping litter until your kitten is at least three months old. Strange as it might sound, kittens sometimes ingest litter.
“Aside from that, I recommend using a soft-textured litter because cats have very sensitive feet and research shows that most cats prefer a sandy litter to eliminate in,” says Dr. Delgado. “The harder and chunkier the litter, such as pellets, the greater the chance of rejection, and the more attractive other available soft items — such as blankets, towels, or bathmats — will seem to your kitten.”
As a rule, it’s best to avoid scented litters. Though it’s nice for us humans to cover up the smell with “fresh breeze” or “orange citrus,” cats have very sensitive noses and can be easily put off. (Litter brands containing herbal attractants are okay; they can help your kitten better locate the little box.) You’ll also find made-for-cat pheromone plug-ins and sprays you can use in the area that make the space feel safer.
Generally speaking, trouble with litter boxes is the top behavioral reason for cat parents to surrender their cat. “According to this study conducted by Purdue University, cats that have issues using litter boxes make up about 30% of cat intakes at shelters,” says Dr. Killian. “Given these statistics, I would advise that cat guardians put in additional effort to ensure that their kitten’s bathroom is safe, accessible, and clean at all times.”
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The Ulti-Mutt Guide for Rescue Pets and their Pawsome Pet Parents.