How to House-Train a Cat

When you bring a new cat into your home, make sure the litter box is ready.

Unlike puppies, kittens are a snap to house-train. In fact, you don't really have to train a cat to use a litter box at all. Your cat's instincts to bury its stools will guide it to the sanitary litter box you have provided. We guide you through the necessary elements to ensure success.

Litter Container

Litter pans or boxes are available in a host of sizes and colors. Be sure to buy one that's at least 4 inches deep and large enough for your cat to use without being cramped for space. If you have 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.


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.

Litter Box Placement

Always place your pan in an out-of-the-way yet convenient location (if the pan is hard to get at, you might neglect to keep it clean), and add about 2 inches of litter to the bottom. If you add more than 2 inches of litter, your cat might scatter the excess over the surrounding floor.

Training Your Cat or Kitten

If you bring an older cat home, all you usually have 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. So 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.

Keep It Clean

The key to a happy cat is a clean litter box, so change the soiled litter frequently. 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.

Is Your Cat Missing the Box?

If your cat suddenly decides to abandon its litter pan 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. Cystitis (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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