Training an Adult Cat to Use the Litter Box

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

27 September 2016

While kittens may require some training, the vast majority of older kitties are already experts at relieving themselves. They’ve been doing it for years, and won’t need any training even when transitioning into a new home. However, sometimes a change in environment - such as moving in from a shelter - can cause a cat to stress and regress in the toilet department. If this has happened to your kitty, read on.

Making the right preparations

Before you start any training, make sure conditions are optimal. Often, correcting one of these issues will solve the whole problem:

  • If you’ve changed your brand of kitty litter, consider going back to the old one. Or, if your cat is new to your home, see if you can get your hands on the brand they’re used to. Most cats prefer sandy, unscented litter (even if you prefer the fragrant type), but as you know, every kitty is unique.
  • If your cat is an outdoor cat transitioning to the cat enclosure lifestyle, and isn’t showing much interest in its litter box, you could try filling it with garden soil, slowly transitioning to regular litter over time.
  • Make sure your cat’s litter box is large enough for it to comfortably turn around in - especially for larger cats like the Ragdoll or Maine Coon. If your cat is getting older, it may have trouble getting into a high-walled litter box, and you may need to offer an alternative.
  • If you have multiple cats, each cat should have at least one cat litter box to itself - although they’ll happily eat off your plate, our feline friends don’t really like sharing with each other.
  • Keep the cat litter box away from your cat’s food and water - you wouldn’t wine and dine in the toilet so why would your cat? A hidden spot is usually preferred by most cats, but your cat may be an exhibitionist. See what clicks!

Training your cat

If everything is in proper order and your Persian cat still prefers peeing on your Persian rug, then it’s time to deploy some bribery. Litter training your cat uses the general cat training principles found in this article - namely, let your cat investigate the litter box on its own time, and immediately reward its explorations to create a positive association. Give your cat a tasty treat when it comes close to the litter box, give it another treat for sniffing, another for pawing at it and so on until your cat is comfortable stepping into the box. Once your cat feels safe inside its litter, you should have no more smelly surprises. Keep training sessions short, and frequent, and you’ll have a well-mannered kitty in no time.

Other problems

If a cat is still not using its litter box, or suddenly stops using it, it’s often a sign of other problems. This can be as simple as stress caused by a change in its living situation, or it can be a medical issue. If your cat seems to be having difficulty urinating or defecating, its urine or faeces is a strange colour, is drinking unusual amounts of water, or is showing any other signs of illness, you should talk to a vet right away. These can all be signs of serious health problems.

If you want to know more about these symptoms, check out our Healthy Cat Checklist.


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