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How to Litter Train a Kitten

As a new kitten parent, one of the first orders of business is teaching your fur baby to do her business in a litter box. Here's how.

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shaggy kitten playing on the windowsill in the morning playing with a ballriver34/Shutterstock

The kitty basics

If you’re worried about how to litter train a kitten, don’t panic. It’s actually a lot easier than you think. “Kittens are naturally drawn to use the litter box due to the sandy substrate we put in it,” says Shian Simms, DVM, Vice President of Veterinary Medicine at Bideawee in New York City. That said, it’s a good idea to know a few tricks of the trade to make this process go as smoothly as possible. If you follow these basic steps to success, your kitten will be good to go before you know it.

Cat litter box with scoop on wooden floorAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Set yourself up for success

Before you can litter train a kitten, you need to have the right supplies. At a minimum, you need a litter box, cat litter, and a scoop. (If you have a real newbie weighing less than four pounds, you may want to start with a small litter box with low sides that’s easy to get in and out of, suggests Dr. Simms.) Extras that may prove useful include a litter box mat to catch stray debris, a Litter Genie if taking out the trash frequently isn’t convenient, and litter box liners to make cleaning a snap. Believe it or not, you can also train a cat to use the toilet, along with a few other life-changing things.

Top view of a layer of ground clay cat litter.BW Folsom/Shutterstock

Select the right litter

You’ll find a wide variety of litter to pick from, which can admittedly feel overwhelming. Here’s the lowdown on the options. Traditional clay-based litter clumps well and is easy to scoop, but it is often dusty. Some pet parents prefer biodegradable options, such as those made from cedar, walnut shells, recycled paper, grass, wheat, or corn. Not only are they environmentally friendly, but they can also cut down on the debris your cat tracks around the house. And unscented litter is a popular option for kittens. But in the end, it’s up to your cat. If her litter bothers her for whatever reason, she may find somewhere else to go. And if you find yourself with a bag of litter your cat doesn’t like, don’t throw it away: There just might be another use for it.

British blue kitten in green plastic toilet tray box with litter.Lilia Solonari/Shutterstock

Prepare the pan properly

Fill the box with two to three inches of litter. (You can up it to four inches when she’s fully grown, if she proves to be a deep scratcher). Then, advises Dr. Simms, gently place her in the box and move her paw (or your finger) in the litter to demonstrate digging. This should give her the right idea. And if you hate cleaning up the cat poop, get yourself one of these these self-cleaning litter boxes that do the dirty work for you.

Close up of cute kitten sit near window and waitting in cat cafe Tokyo JapanANUCHA PONGPATIMETH/Shutterstock

Keep your kitten contained at first

“Make sure that she does not have full run of your apartment or house, and confine her to a small area or room where the litter box is easy to locate,” says Dr. Simms. “If she is unable to get into a box easily, she will eliminate in places she should not.” Also, the box should be in a low-traffic area where there’s some privacy and quiet. This isn’t just a smart idea when trying to litter train a kitten—it’s a smart idea for all cats. When your kitten’s got the hang of this and has the full run of your home, create a cat paradise in your backyard.

beige burmese kitten sleeps on a pillowbiggunsband/Shutterstock

Time it right

“Most kittens tend to eliminate after they wake up from a nap or after eating,” notes Dr. Simms. “If you want to remind yours to use the litter box, you can put her in the box as soon as she wakes up and after finishing a meal.” Speaking of food, this is the very best diet for cats, according to veterinarians.

Cat in litter box. White little kitten in toilet with sand filler. Home pet care and hygiene. Potty training for young animal. Litterbox for cats.FamVeld/Shutterstock

Leverage accidents

“If your kitten does not defecate in the box, you can put a piece of her stool in the box and leave it in there so that she gets the idea,” says Dr. Simms. “There is also a product called Cat Attract that you can put in the litter box to entice her to use it.” Of course, it’s likely that you’ll have at least one mishap to contend with when litter training a kitten. After all, your fur baby is learning! That’s why you should be prepared with a pet stain remover, which is formulated specifically to remove an animal’s waste stains and to discourage pets from returning to that same spot again. Here are another 10 easy ways to get rid of pet odor in your home.

cute ginger kitten peeking out of a wicker podAlexandra King/Shutterstock

But never punish your kitten

The last thing you want to do if your kitten has an accident is scold her. That will only frighten and confuse her, creating more problems than it solves. Cats respond much better to positive reinforcement, especially food, notes Dr. Simms. When first attempting to litter train a kitten, reward her with a small treat when she gets it right. Once she gets the hang of things, start to substitute the treat with praise, cuddles, and petting sessions, or, occasionally, a toy like a catnip mouse. A continuous stream of treats can result in an overweight cat. (Here are some tips if yours is already a bit pudgy.)

Cat's litter boxMiyuki Satake/Shutterstock

Keep it clean

This is a biggie in the unofficial “How to Litter Train a Kitten” handbook. Make sure to keep the litter box clean at all times. “They will not like using a dirty litter box,” emphasizes Dr. Simms. If you have more than one feline, it’s important to put out multiple boxes. “For example, if you have three cats, you may want to have a total of four litter boxes,” she advises. Don’t miss these other things your cat wishes you knew.

Young Asian woman holding and playing with her cute kitten cat with lovely moment, pet and human conceptNattakorn_Maneerat/Shutterstock

Is your kitty still having trouble?

If, after you consistently apply your best efforts, your cat still urinates or defecates outside the box, she could have a medical issue. Head to a veterinarian for an exam, says Dr. Simms. Of particular concern is if urination seems painful for your cat or if nothing is coming out. She may have a urinary tract infection—or worse, a urethral blockage, which is a true emergency. Go to a pet urgent care facility if your vet is not immediately available. Blood in the litter box is a sign of a UTI, which is one of 14 symptoms in cats that should never be ignored.

Christina Vercelletto
Christina Vercelletto covers pets for Reader’s Digest and Chewy’s Pet Central channel. She has 15 years’ experience on staff at national publications, including Parenting, FamilyFun, Scholastic Parent & Child, and Woman's Day and has appeared as a guest on Today, Good Morning America, and The View. Aside from Reader's Digest, Christina regularly crafts content for EatingWell, CNN Underscored, Livestrong, The Knot, Trip Advisor, and other prominent brands. She holds a summa cum laude degree in journalism from Long Island University. Her areas of expertise are lifestyle, beauty, travel, product reviews, and pets.

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