Unless you’ve rescued an orphaned kitten who is still in the bottle-feeding stage, chances are you won’t have to teach the furry little one how to eliminate but you will, however, have to create a litter box set-up that’s conveniently located and easy to get in and out of. You will also have to provide guidance and help your kitten with timing. Some kittens get the hang of the litter box right away and others need more hand (paw) holding. Just don’t assume that kittens come pre-programmed to know where all the pee and poop belong. They need your help!
A Box Fit for a Kitten
As the kitten grows, she’ll appreciate having a big box with lots of room, but for now, the litter box set-up needs to be kitten-friendly. The box should be easy for a young kitten to get in and out of. A high-sided box will be too difficult for a youngster to crawl over, especially with a full bladder. Keep in mind that a kitten won’t have the bladder control of an adult cat so when she has to “go” it’s usually urgent.
Choose a low-sided box. This will not only help in terms of being able to get into it, but also, if the kitten can see the litter, it may serve as an added reminder. Seeing the soft substrate may remind her that this is the place to dig, eliminate and cover her waste.
As the kitten gets older you can then place a larger box next to the smaller one to start a gradual transition. You can even place the smaller litter box inside the larger box to get her used to the new set-up.
The Litter Choice
There are many types of litter on the market but in general, the best choice for a kitten is one of the soft, scoopable types. A texture that resembles sand on the kitten’s paw pads will be much more comfortable and will make it easier for her to dig and cover. It’s also more comfortable for her when she’s perched in elimination position. Standing on traditional clay litter that has some sharper edges or hard crystal-type litter may not be as comfortable for a kitten who is just learning the ropes when it comes to bathroom etiquette.
To Clean or not to Clean
With an adult cat you would hear me telling you over and over again to keep the litter box conditions absolutely pristine. With a kitten though, it’s a good idea to leave a little (notice, I said “a little”) of her liquid or solid waste in there. This will help serve as an added reminder of where the pee and poop go.
If you find a little solid waste outside the litter box, instead of tossing it in the toilet, place it in the litter box so she’ll have a little scented reminder of where it should’ve been placed.
Litter Box Location
For a kitten, the box needs to be really, really ease to find. Kittens don’t have great bladder control so you shouldn’t expect your new youngster to be able to get all the way across the house or down a flight of stairs to find a the box.
Confine your young kitten to a smaller portion of the house so she can easily get to her litter box. Once she starts having access to more of the house, place litter boxes in multiple locations.
Litter boxes should be in open areas where the kitten can easily see them. They should also be in quiet areas so kitty isn’t easily distracted. The location should be safe and secure so the kitten doesn’t have to worry about the family dog sticking his nose in there or a child or other family member startling her.
Help Remind Your Kitten
Typically, cats may eliminate after a nap, after playing or after eating. Your kitten will probably be on that schedule and then some because she’ll need to eliminate more frequently than an adult cat. Gently bring her over to the litter box on a regular schedule as she learns to perfect her potty timing.
When You Need to be the Mother Cat
If your kitten isn’t getting the whole dig, eliminate and cover routine, or if she was taken from her mother too young and didn’t get that lesson, you’ll have to assist her. When you bring your kitten over the little box for a potty break, use your finger and dig a little in the litter. The sound and sight of that might entice her to do the same. If she eliminates but doesn’t cover it, take your finger and cover it a bit so she can see what the sequence is supposed to be. DON’T take her paws and cover the waste. That will only cause her to pull away and can start you off with potential litter box aversion. Just let her see YOU do the covering. Cats often learn through observation.
Never Punish for Potty Accidents
Your kitten is just learning and she may not make it to the box in time. Don’t punish her in any way for missed litter box attempts. Instead, look at what you might be able to do to make it easier for her next time. Perhaps she was playing too far away from the box and you didn’t bring her back for a potty break in time. Maybe the box is too hard to get into? Was someone in the family holding the kitten for too long time while she was squirming to get away in order to get to the box? Litter box accidents aren’t the kitten’s fault. Any punishment will only start to create a fear of you (not what you want when you’re establishing a new relationship) and potentially cause a litter box avoidance problem.
Need More Information?
For more specific information on training a young kitten to the litter box or if you need more help on litter box issues in general, refer to the book, Think Like a Cat. If you’re having a cat behavior problem and would like a consultation with cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, contact our office.