How to Litter Box Train an Outdoor Cat

If you’re transitioning an outdoor cat to indoor life, you may be initially concerned with how to train the cat to now start using an indoor litter box. For some cats, the transition to a litter box will be very easy but for others, it may take a little more finesse on your part.iStock 000013636071XSmall How to Litter Box Train an Outdoor Cat

Start With an Appealing Litter Box

Look at the box from your formerly-outdoor cat’s point of view. When he was outdoors he had the wide open spaces when it came to choosing an elimination spot. The box you choose as his new indoor box should be:


easy to find

the right size

All-too-often, when it comes to litter boxes, cat parents choose types that are appealing to us but not the cat. A covered box or a self-cleaning model may be too confining, too noisy, too small, or just too confusing when an outdoor cat is learning Litter Box 101. Box size should be:

large enough for the cat to completely stand inside and move around

good rule of thumb is one-and-a-half times the length of the cat

Typically, many of the litter boxes on the market really aren’t big enough for most cats. In that case, get a plastic storage container instead. You can choose one with very high sides to control litter scatter. Cut a “U” shaped entrance on one side of the box so it’s easy for your cat to go in and out. Also, don’t use liners in the box. Cats generally hate those.

Correct Number of Boxes

Ideally, a cat household should contain the same number of boxes as cats. If you’re transitioning a cat to the indoors, make it even easier for him to learn by providing more than one box.iStock 000018830650XSmall How to Litter Box Train an Outdoor Cat In the outdoors he was used to being able to eliminate anywhere so the indoor boxes need to be easy to find. Don’t create so much privacy that the boxes become forgotten.

Type of Litter

An outdoor cat who has never used a litter box is more familiar with soil, sand and unscented substrates. Your best bet is to choose a very soft sand-like, unscented scoopable litter. If your outdoor cat is only comfortable eliminating in soil, you may have to initially mix a little soil and litter together and then gradually reduce the amount of soil in the box until you’re left with just scoopable litter.

If the cat isn’t using the litter box and you’re unsure just what substrate to use, set out a few boxes and offer several choices.

Location of Boxes

Put one box by the door so that when your cat goes near the area in an attempt to get outside for elimination, he’ll see the litter box conveniently located. Place the other box in the area where he spends the most time (but not right near the food).

In some cases, it’s best to confine the cat to a small area of the home until you’re sure he has mastered Litter Box 101.

Be Patient

The longer the cat has been used to eliminating exclusively outdoors, the longer it may take for him to get the hang of now using a litter box. Don’t punish him for mistakes or else you’ll create a fear and that will set you back in the training and trust-building process. Instead, make any necessary adjustments in the set-up and the environment to help him succeed.

Need More Information?

For more specific information on how to set up a litter box or deal with your cat’s litter box problem, refer to the book Think Like a Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett

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About Pam Johnson-Bennett

Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of the international hit TV series "PSYCHO KITTY" airing in the UK on Animal Planet and in Canada on Nat Geo Wild. She is award-winning author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.