How To Train A Kitten To Use The Litter Tray

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Toilet training your new kitten

Cats are naturally very clean and, chances are your kitten will already have learned how to use the litter tray from their mum. All you'll need to do is buy a plastic litter tray big enough for your kitten to move around in and fill it with enough litter to cover the bottom of the tray. If you can use the same one used at the breeder's house, your kitten will appreciate the familiar smell and texture. 

Show your kitten where the litter tray is and put them in there after meals. Also do this if you see them sniffing around, crouching or generally behaving like they need to 'go'. They will often seek out hidden, dark, quiet places, so keep a close eye on them creeping off after meal times.

Cat in litter box

Litter tray dos and don'ts

View your cat’s litter tray as you would a public toilet. We would not like to go to the toilet in a noisy, busy place where every passer-by could see us, and cats are the same. Place the litter tray away from their bed and food, and make sure it’s somewhere as private and quiet as possible. Many people put them in the laundry room, but the noises of such places can be very frightening and off-putting for a kitten , or even an adult cat.

Empty the litter tray regularly, as your kitten will not want to use it if it's 'dirty.’  Ideally, you should have one more litter tray than you have cats. These should be in different locations so that there is always an unoccupied, clean tray available. You should clean the litter trays at least daily. Some disinfectants and bleach are toxic to cats, so it's best to only use hot water and detergent. If you're pregnant, try to get someone else to clean out the tray or make sure you wear rubber gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. This minimises the risk of toxoplasmosis which, thankfully, is very rare but can cause serious problems to unborn babies.

Once your kitten is old enough to venture outside, you may want to dispense with the litter tray altogether. You may find that once they have access to the outside world, they no longer want to use it at all. Don't dispose of it too hastily, though. The outside world will be daunting to your kitten at first, so be sure to give them the option of having a litter tray. It’s also useful to keep your litter tray in case of events like if you move house, when you’ll need to keep your cat inside for a few weeks to get used to the new house.

Accidents will happen

Even the cleverest kitten is bound to have the odd accident. Whatever you do, don't punish them. Praise them when they do use the litter tray and maybe offer a small reward, and you'll soon be back on track. If you catch them in the act in the wrong place, try to gently pick them up and put them in the tray before they finish. This way they will do the post-toilet scratching and digging activities in the tray and it will reinforce where they should be going.

If your cat or kitten is experiencing a sudden bout of accidents around the house and seemingly doesn’t want to use the litter tray, then this could be a sign of an underlying medical or behavioural issue - particularly if it involves an older cat. You should consult your vet if strange behaviours occur suddenly during the toilet training process or later in life.

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA and Dr. Emma Milne BVSc FRCVS