Mastering Litter Training: Tips for Successfully Training Kittens

Let’s talk about litter training kittens. Cats and kittens are naturally inclined to cover their waste, so they instinctively understand the litter box most of the time. But! There are some tips and tricks that’ll help ensure that your litter training experience goes smoothly.

What you need

To litter train kittens, you’re obviously going to need a litter box and litter! But it’s important to know what you need to get. For your box, a small, cheap, shallow box is where you want to start with these little guys. Nothing covered, nothing too tall, nothing with a door or steps or anything like that. In fact, when they’re first learning, I just use these cardboard trays as their first training boxes. The cardboard trays that hold canned food are perfect for litter training kittens. We love using these because they’re so shallow the kitten can just walk right into it. And once they get really gross, you can just toss them in the trash. This means a clean box for the kittens and less hassle for you.

If you’re working with kittens under 8 weeks old, we recommend using a kitten-safe litter, meaning something that is fragrance-free and non-clumping. Remember that kittens navigate the world just like human babies – with their mouths. Highly fragrant litters can be bad for tiny kittens if ingested, and clumping clay litter is definitely a no-no, since it clumps up when it touches liquid. Instead, I recommend using something like an unscented paper-based litter or even a corn or wheat-based litter until they’re 8 weeks old and confidently exploring the box without munching on it. Once the kittens are closer to 6 or 7 weeks old, I move them into a plastic litter box that is more like what they’ll have as an adult. You still want this box to be shallow and lidless, but it can be a bit bigger and more sturdy than those cardboard trays.

When to start

If you’re raising baby kittens, you know that they don’t go to the bathroom on their own for the first few weeks of life. From zero to three weeks of age, kittens will be stimulated to go to the bathroom by their mother licking them. If you’re caring for an orphan kitten who doesn’t have their mother, you’ll have to help them go to the bathroom by stimulating them with a soft tissue.  Once the kittens hit three weeks old, their bodies start being able to gradually go to the bathroom independently, so you might start to notice that they pooped or peed in their bedding between feedings. That’s a perfect time to start introducing the litter box. If you’ve been stimulating kittens to go to the bathroom, you can even start stimulating them right into the box around three weeks of age. They’ll be able to associate the scent of their urine with the box, and this can kick-start their understanding of good litter habits.

Kittens naturally understand the box because they want to cover their waste, but there are several things you can do to ensure that they do use the box. First, you want to make sure that it’s easy for them to find. That means when they’re learning, they should really never be more than 10 feet away from a litter box. If they don’t know where it is, they might start looking for somewhere else to go. Put out as many boxes as you need depending on the size of the space. For instance, a little baby in a playpen only needs one. But if you have a rambunctious eight-week-old kitten running around your house, you should ideally have at least one box in each room while they’re still learning. Kittens will typically be drawn to go to the bathroom in a corner, so I recommend starting by putting a box in one to two corners of the room. Of course, limiting the amount of space they have while learning will really help because they’ll be right next to the box at all times. So consider keeping your babies confined to a playpen or a single room until they’re totally trained to use the litter box.

Once the kitten starts using the box, congratulate them! Kittens do well with positive reinforcement. You can use an encouraging voice and give them some extra pets while they’re exiting the box. You also want to make sure they don’t find alternate places to go to the bathroom. Maybe you have a pile of laundry in the corner of your room or some blankets all bunched up in their playpen. This might be okay to you, but to a kitten? They might think this provides a good place to cover their waste. Kittens also learn by example and imitation. If you have one kitten that isn’t getting it, bring them over to the box to watch their buddies so they have a chance to learn. You can also put the kitten in the box and run your fingers through the litter to show them that it’s a place to dig, or even gently run their paw through it to encourage digging behaviours that ultimately lead to potty time. This will also teach them how to cover if you’ve got a baby that isn’t covering their waste. If you have a kitten that just really isn’t getting it, make sure you try a few different litter brands. Some kittens will have preferences or may be sensitive to the feel or smell of certain brands. You also want to think about the kitten’s history. If it’s a feral kitten that’s been living outdoors, the bathroom to them might look like some dirt and some leaves. So there’s no harm in putting a couple of leaves on top of the litter box if that’s what it takes to help them make the association. Remember, they have the same goal as you do – a clean environment. So have patience while you’re helping steer them in the right direction, and never use negative reinforcement or punishment if they get it wrong.

Clean the box

This is where a lot of people mess up. They don’t clean the box enough! This is a big pet peeve of mine because it’s so unfair to the animal, and it gives people the impression that cats are smelly animals. Cats aren’t smelly animals! You’re a smelly animal if you don’t clean the litter box. One way to think of it is, whenever you feed them, you should also check out the box and see if it needs a scoop. If it does, it’s easy to just toss that small amount into a toilet, a trash bag, or a smell-proof pail. When kittens are litter training, it’s so important to keep a clean box so that they’re incentivized to use it. Otherwise, they might think it’s super gross and start looking for somewhere else to go. The more they go elsewhere, the more they think it’s okay to go elsewhere. So do yourself a favour and keep that box clean. That goes for kittens and adult cats too.

Ultimately, litter training is all about meeting them where they are and thinking like a kitten, not like a human. So make sure you’re putting out a box that’s safe, shallow, and easily accessible at all times. Keep it clean and encourage those good habits, and your kittens will be litter box champions in no time.

TLDR – Summary version

  1. Getting the Right Supplies: To begin litter training, you’ll need a litter box and litter. Opt for a small, shallow, and easily accessible box for the kittens. Cardboard trays, like the ones used for canned food, are ideal for initial training. Additionally, choose fragrance-free, non-clumping litter for kittens under 8 weeks old. Unscented paper-based litter or corn and wheat-based litter are safe options. As the kittens grow, transition to a plastic litter box resembling an adult box.
  2. Timing is Key: Understanding when to start litter training is crucial. For kittens under three weeks old, their mother stimulates them to go to the bathroom. Orphaned kittens require human assistance using a soft tissue. Around three weeks of age, kittens begin to develop the ability to eliminate independently. This is the perfect time to introduce the litter box. For recently adopted kittens, immediate introduction to the litter box is essential.
  3. Setting Up the Litter Box: Make the litter box easily accessible and appealing for the kittens. Place multiple litter boxes within a 10-feet radius during the initial stages of training. Position the boxes in corners, as kittens are naturally drawn to these areas. Limit their space by using playpens or confining them to a single room. Positive reinforcement and imitation play a significant role in training. Encourage good litter habits by congratulating kittens after successful use.
  4. Troubleshooting and Tips: If a kitten is struggling with litter training, try different litter brands to find their preference. Consider their previous environment and mimic it if necessary, such as adding leaves to the litter box. Keep the litter box clean to incentivize proper usage. Scoop the box regularly, ideally whenever you feed the kittens. This helps maintain a clean environment and reinforces positive litter habits.

Litter training kittens requires patience, consistency, and understanding. By providing the right supplies, introducing the litter box at the appropriate time, and creating an appealing environment, you can ensure successful litter training for your kittens. Remember to keep the litter box clean and use positive reinforcement throughout the process. With these tips, your kittens will become litter box champions in no time!