You never have to teach kittens to use the litter box, I’d tell people. The mom cats take care of that. And I’d back up my argument with stories about how my Dawnie used to walk kittens — her own and others — to the litter box. Or how Phoebe would show the foster kittens how to cover up after themselves.
Well, I’ve come to find out that I wasn’t absolutely right. Not all kittens are quick studies, and not all mother cats make a point of putting them through litter box maneuvers. In fact, Dawnie and Phoebe were overachievers in that respect.
I currently have 3 kittens and their mom in my study. She looks after them with great tenderness, but she is also blithely indifferent about whether they ever figure out what that purply pink plastic box is for.
Early (Non) Training
“Cats do not come into this world knowing how to use a litter box,” observe Elizabeth Teal and Micky Niego of the ASPCA. “Cats learn what and where the ‘bathroom’ is from their mom at about 4 weeks of age.”
So the kittens watch and imitate mom. Their training “can happen so quickly that the casual observer may be unaware that any active instruction has taken place.”
The word “active” is key. Some mother cats are indeed more active than others. Or, as Teal and Niego point out, a kitten born outdoors may learn to regard “a clump of leaves or soft garden earth as the bathroom. Imprinted on that texture, recently homed feral and stray cats may have to be actively trained to use a box filled with clay litter.”
How to Encourage Litter Box Use
Here are a few things you can do to help your kitten(s) along:
1. Fencing In
Use a modified variation of the crate principle. First, section off part of the room. Then place the litter box, bedding, dishes and toys in there and add kittens. This forces them to use the litter box, explains Susan Graham of Aksum Abyssinians.
Still, there may be setbacks along the way, especially as the kittens get used to new foods. So stock up on paper towels, cleaners and patience. (By the way, Lysol may kill germs, but it can be poisonous, especially to a tiny animal. Go nontoxic.)
2. Litter Matters
Your kitten should be comfortable when using the litter box. Foster & Smith advises using a litter “that has the consistency of beach sand or garden soil” and that is unscented.
Sometimes, young kittens eat bits of cat litter, which can lead to dangerous blockages. For this reason, Graham recommends using the corn-based World’s Best Cat Litter. They might still eat it, but it won’t harm them the way the clay litter will.
A cheaper alternative when litter training your kitten is chicken “crumbles” or feed. It, too, is corn-based and you can find it at feed stores.
Watch these adorable kitties quickly learn how to properly use a litter box for the first time:
3. Less Is More…
…except when it comes to litter boxes. Once the kittens leave their enclosure, be sure to have more than 1 litter box around. If your house has more than 1 floor, have at least 1 litter box per floor. Place the boxes in quiet, private places. And don’t fill the boxes to the top; a couple of inches of litter should more than do the trick.
Don’t Miss: Keeping the Peace in a Multi-Cat Household
4. Going Through the Motions
If you are the mom cat by default, this means placing the kitten in the litter box upon waking or after his meals. You then gently take his paw in your hand and show him how to properly hide the evidence.
“The kitten should get the idea from doing this,” according to Cats of Australia. “If this doesn’t work, scratch at the litter with your fingers. Try to make it look like a fun game so you attract his interest.”
5. A Little Help From the Doctor…
…or from Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Ultra Litter Attractant (affiliate link), to be exact. A little goes a long way, and it draws the kittens to the litter box like a magnet.
In a few weeks, my kitten friends will go to their forever homes. They are healthy, well socialized and utter charmers. And they’ve got that litter-box thing down pat.