Before you bring a new cat into your home, make sure the litter box is ready. We explain how to house-train a kitten or cat in a few simple steps, plus we'll give you helpful hints for keeping the litter box (and your house) as clean as possible.

By Doug Jimerson
Updated October 28, 2019
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Unlike puppies, kittens are a snap to house-train because they're fast learners and are naturally inclined to lead a tidy life. Your cat's instincts to bury its stools will guide it to the sanitary litter box you have provided. If this is your first experience learning how to house-train a cat or kitten, relax! We'll walk you through the necessary elements to ensure success, starting with which basic cat supplies you'll need to tackle training. Here are a few of the most-asked questions about training a cat to use a litter box, litter box placement, and buying and changing the litter.

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What Type of Cat Litter Box Should I Buy?

Litter pans or boxes are available in a host of sizes and colors. Be sure to buy one that's at least four inches deep and large enough for your cat to use without being cramped for space. If you have to house-train multiple cats, aim for a litter box per cat, plus one additional, so there's always one available. Also, be sure to buy a litter pan that's easy to clean and sterilize.

Some litter pans come with a cover that helps camouflage the litter (they look like a little doghouse). It may be tempting to choose one of these pans to hide the area, but pet pros advise against this. Litter box covers may make your cat feel cramped, nervous about potential approaching animals or humans, or overwhelmed by stuffy air.

Is All Cat Litter the Same?

For litter, you can use sand, shredded newspapers, or wood shavings, but commercially prepared cat litter made of ground clay or other materials is the most convenient and sanitary. There are two types of commercial litter available: clumping and standard (nonclumping) litter. With standard litter, you will have to change all the litter whenever it is soiled, but with clumping litter, you can easily rake out the dirty clumps of litter and leave the rest in place. You might find that your cat has specific likes and dislikes about the type of litter you are using, so if it scoffs at using the litter box, try using a different litter.

Where Should a Litter Box Be Placed?

Always place your cat's litter box in an out-of-the-way yet convenient location that is clean, quiet, and low-traffic. Animal Planet suggests using a corner of your family room or a spare bedroom. It's important for the location to be easily accessible yet tucked away. (If the pan is hard to get at, you might neglect to keep it clean.) Once you've selected the perfect spot, add about two inches of litter to the bottom. If you add more than two inches of litter, your cat might scatter the excess over the surrounding floor.

How to Train a Cat to Use a Litter Box

If you bring an older cat home, all you typically need to do is put the cat in the litter pan once to show it where it is. After that, the training session is over. Kittens, on the other hand, might not always remember where the pan is located. Though PetCoach says kittens are able to instinctually use litter boxes at as young as three weeks old, it's important to get your kitten familiar with the location of the box so he or she doesn't get confused. For the first few days, keep the kitten contained in one or two rooms in close proximity to the litter box. It won't take long for it to find the litter box even when it has free run of your home. But remember, never move the litter pan to another location too quickly or your kitten might continue to use the old spot whether the pan is there or not.

How Often Should a Litter Box Be Cleaned?

The key to a happy cat is a clean litter box, so change the soiled litter frequently. The Humane Society suggests changing the litter twice a week as a general guideline. Depending on your cat's behavior, you may need to replace the litter as often as every other day or as little as once a week. Your cat is a fastidious animal and won't enjoy using dirty litter. Many cats will start to relieve themselves elsewhere (behind the sofa, under the bed, and other unwelcome spots) if their litter pan isn't kept clean.

If you are pregnant and must clean a litter box, wear gloves and thoroughly wash your hands afterward to limit the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection, and passing it on to an unborn baby. The Humane Society says cats can get toxoplasmosis from consuming contaminated animals, raw meat, and soil. An infected cat will shed the parasite in its feces. Though it's unlikely you'll get toxoplasmosis from your cat, it's important to be cautious while cleaning a litter box.

What If My Cat Stops Using the Litter Box?

If your cat suddenly starts peeing outside the litter box even when it's clean, there could be something wrong. Often an upset in the family (perhaps a move to a new house or a new baby) will cause your pet to abandon its usual tidy habits. A common cat health problem like a bladder infection could also be causing your pet to urinate in unusual places such as your kitchen sink or bathtub. You might also see a bit of blood in the urine if your cat has a bladder infection. If this is the case, take your cat to a veterinarian for treatment. Your veterinarian might prescribe antibiotics for the infection and a low-ash food to help prevent future outbreaks.

Another reason your cat might abandon the litter box is if it is not neutered. Male cats, in particular, might begin to mark or spray your house with urine to mark their territory. This is why if you haven't gotten your cat neutered as a kitten, you should do so as soon as possible. An unneutered male cat can quickly ruin furniture and draperies if left intact.

Of course, in most cases, a happy, healthy, neutered cat will never skip a trip to its litter box unless you forget to keep the litter fresh.

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