Kittens should remain under the care of their mothers until about 12-14 weeks of age in an ideal setting. However, in situations such as families taking in young strays or orphaned kittens require the human owners to assume the roles of teacher and surrogate mother. Regardless of the circumstances, kittens can be trained to successfully use a litter box.
Think Out of the Box
Of course, step one involves getting the right litter box. This process could be a piece of cake, but it also has the potential to be a bit more complicated—depending on your kitten’s preferences.
Selecting a proper box depends on the rules of SCH: Size, Covered (or not), and Height.
Litter Box Size: Box size does matter for cats. Cats need a pan they can fit into and have amble room to cover up their deposits. Kittens require a smaller space but may grow into a much bigger box. A litter box that is too small may discourage them and they might find a more spacious restroom spot, one they’re not supposed to use. Going bigger is usually a better idea. Luckily, these boxes are not an expensive cash outlay so you can start with a smaller pan and then buy bigger ones as needed.
Litter Box Covered (or not): Next, should the box be covered (lidded) or not? Good question. Cat preference plays a role in this option. Many cat parents might start with a covered receptacle to help keep litter from being scattered and help keep the smell confined a bit. Cats may then mature and always use a covered box because that is their norm.
Other felines, however, may act out if they feel too confined. In that case, use an open box. Just like raising children, each kitten will have their own ideas about what works and doesn’t work. The important thing is to pay attention and provide a workable solution for both feline and human creatures
Litter Box Height: Finally, the box’s height can pose challenges. Kittens may not be able or willing to climb in a pan that is too high. Older cats with joint mobility issues may also struggle to get in the box. From this cat’s perspective, it might be easier to just go under the end table or behind the couch with no pain involved. From the cat owner’s viewpoint, this is less logical.
Select the Right Spot for Your Cat’s Litter Box
Pick a spot that is accessible but not near too much traffic. Cats prefer quiet, undisturbed areas and will avoid areas with too much hustle and bustle when they need to do their business and will eliminate elsewhere. Most surprises are great, but not in this case. Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) can result if a cat decides to hold it instead of relieving themselves. The same rule applies for bowel movements, which can lead to constipation and blocked intestines.
For kittens, starting out in a small, enclosed area with a cleanable floor surface is best. Keep your kitten confined to this small area until they master litter training. If older cats are in the house with the new fur baby, it may be necessary to confine the kitten until you are home to supervise. Established cats may pull rank on the new feline recruit and make her life miserable. Slowly bringing all the animals together under a watchful eye will also keep everyone safe and satisfy their curiosity.
There are a number of ways you can encourage your kitten to use the box. One is to play with her for a few minutes and then place her in the box. Cats often need to “go” after some exercise. When you are not home to supervise, make sure the kitten has toys to entertain herself within the spot. A baby feline can also be awakened after a couple of hours and placed in the litter box to help them relate to the bathroom idea. Strays and extremely young orphaned kittens may need a human parent to teach them the ropes. This may involve using a finger to cover up fecal deposits so the young feline can observe the process. These lessons may take some time, but most kittens will figure it out. Petting and giving treats to successful potty breaks can help the kitten make the connection faster.
Keep track of your kitten’s feeding schedule and place her in the litter box a few minutes after eating. Eating often stimulates the need to remove waste so this will help the litter training process.
One last note. Never put a litter box near your kitten’s food and water. Felines consider their feeding space as a sort of sanctuary and do not like their bathroom spot in close proximity to their bowls. Depending on how your home is set up, it may take a bit to discover the best spot for the box. It is a balancing act of deciphering the best needs for your kitten and serving your prime interests in terms of space, convenience, and harmony. Food and water can be placed in the room, but farther away from the box. That is a good way to monitor your cat’s baby bathroom usage and food intake since she is the only one using the space.
Buying into the Process
Just like the right box and its placement in your home matters in litter training so do several critical factors called TACS: Type (of litter), Amount (of litter), and Scent (of litter).
Several kinds of litter are available, including clay and non-clumping clay, crystals, recycled paper, pine, corn, wheat, walnut shells, and even a new line of grass-manufactured fibers. Clumping litter generally gets a double-paw approval from most cats and their human sanitation specialists. It is easier for young feline to cover her deposits and it is more convenient to clean up for kitten parents. Interested in using an environmentally friendly product? Try out some of the biodegradable options out there. This can be a simple test with two pans of different litter for the kitten. See for yourself what works for both animal and owner.
How much litter should a litter box contain? The suggested amount varies from expert to expert with recommendations varying from two to four inches. The important thing is to have enough depth so cats can bury their eliminations successfully. Too much litter will make a mess while an insufficient amount will not get the job done well. The great thing about litter is if you start with two inches and it does not seem to be working well for the kitten, just add a bit more until things are operating smoothly.
Cats are very clean creatures by nature and if they feel their litter box has not been properly maintained, they might decide to make deposits elsewhere. Some pet parents clean daily. Some clean them weekly. Others pick a schedule in between. The important thing is to do it on a regular basis and keep your feline happy with the box. Every cat will have its own preferences.
As far as pan cleaning is concerned, dump the old litter and replace it frequently. Wash the pan, too, but make sure to use a good dish soap and hot water only. Don’t use harsh chemicals, bleach or such to sanitize boxes. The disinfectant smell may be a real-turn off to kitten’s sensitive nose and she won’t use the box because of it. Your baby feline might get sick, too, if too much chemical residue remains. One easy trick is to place plastic liners in the litter box to help contain the mess and make cleanup easier. Liners can be purchased in bulk and are fairly economical. Cat claws do nick the liners, but in theory it should help corral the litter a bit more.
The nose has it for cat litter. Humans might prefer a scented and deodorized cat litter, but kitten may turn up her nose and posterior to this idea. A good smelling litter box that a cat won’t use will not help if the cat leaves stinky messes in new spots.
Speaking of scent, for kittens it is a good idea to leave some feces in the box at first so the young feline associates the place as the place to go! Once she masters this, a pet parent can create her own scooping schedule.
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Accidents Will Happen
Accidents will happen during the litter training process for your kitten. Make sure you react logically when it does. Cats will not respond to yelling and this may make them feel intimidated about using the box. If you see the kitten going outside the box, pick it up and place it in the box to help it make the association. Place feces you discover in another spot in the litter box so the cat will connect the smell with the place.
For persistent urination problems, make a veterinary appointment to test for a UTI. A UTI will often be the cause of inappropriate peeing. Blood in stool and urine deposits can be a sign of a serious health problem. Some cats may howl or cry when using the litter box and a vet should know this when you take the kitten to see her. Older cats that have a history of good potty patrols and suddenly have accidents might have blockage or kidney or bladder stones. Cats can also suffer from intestinal issues like inflammatory bowel disease that will have an effect on bathroom habits.
Kittens or cats with recurring problems that are not UTI related may require a continual confinement to an enclosed area like a small room or bathroom. Pet parents can also move the feeding area closer to the potty area since cats are not likely to soil the food area.
Should I Have More Than One Cat Box?
Rules regarding the number of litter boxes in a house are not set in stone. One cat can have two litter boxes if your residence can accommodate it. For several cats, the general rule is to have one more litter box than the number of cats owned. A three-member feline household would need four. It works best if the boxes can be scattered to a couple or three locations, too. This will allow for cats to be able to use a box not near other felines that may bother or intimidate younger furry family members.
So like ducks take to water and flies should find using a litter box a pretty simple and easy task to master. Done early and done well, kittens should grow up to be life-long litter box users all through adulthood. No feline doctorate needed to do this. Luckily for humans, it comes pretty naturally.