By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 8 January 2015)
Even if you plan to have an outdoor cat, you’ll need to have a litter box for the first two or three weeks because kittens need to be kept indoors until they’ve received their first vaccinations. Good litter training is very important during this time to prevent future problems.
Choosing a Litter Box and Kitty Litter
Choose a box that is relatively deep and a fine-grained kitty litter. Many cats avoid the litter box because the litter is too shallow or coarse. Don’t buy litters that contain perfumes or deodorants, as cats usually dislike them. Also, avoid using clumping litters with young kittens, as they can be harmful when ingested and kittens sometimes eat kitty litter.
Some people use newspaper in place of kitty litter with a new kitten, but this is a bad idea, as it is not very absorbent and toxic ink may be transferred to the kitten’s paws and then ingested during grooming. Also, if a kitten learns to use newspaper on the floor, he’s just as likely to use any newspaper that is lying around on a sofa or table later on, so this is not a good habit to encourage.
Litter Box Placement
Location of the litter box is important. A cat needs to feel secure when using the box or he will find a more secluded place. The box should be in a low-traffic area of the house where disturbances are unlikely, and nowhere near the kitten’s water and food bowls or his bed. Boxes in noisy areas or near food and water sources will generally be avoided. Also, if you have more than one cat, each cat should have his own litter box in a different area of the house, as the new cat may view the old box as the territory of the resident cat and not want to go near it.
Putting a wide tray under the box helps prevent litter from being kicked onto the floor by a rambunctious, enthusiastic kitten. A small mat placed at the entrance to the litter box is also useful because it removes litter from the kitten’s toes so that it doesn’t get tracked into other areas of the house.
Litter Box Training
Most kittens learn quickly, as cats have a natural inclination to use a sandy area as a toilet. Litter training will be particularly easy if the kitten has watched his mother using a litter box. In this case, all you need to do is show the kitten where the box is and the training will likely be complete.
When bringing a new kitten home, take him to the litter box before doing anything else. If the kitten doesn’t seem to know what to do, place him in the box and gently move his front paws back and forth to simulate scratching and digging. Bring the kitten back to the box at regular intervals, particularly after eating or sleeping, or when he is showing signs of needing to go, until he uses the litter box successfully.
If you see the kitten scratching the floor or going off to a quiet corner, this may indicate that he needs the litter box. Carry him to the box if he engages in any of these behaviours, and praise him whenever he is in the box.
If the kitten urinates or defecates elsewhere in the house, use paper towels to transfer the mess to the litter box as the smell will encourage the kitten to use the box in the future. If you catch the kitten in the middle of an accident or directly after, carry him to the litter box.
Be sure to thoroughly clean up any accidents. Use a product such as Nature’s Miracle that removes all traces of urine so that the kitten won’t come to associate other areas of the house with toileting. Don’t punish the kitten or rub his nose in the mess, as this will cause anxiety, which will lead to further accidents in other places around the house.
There are a number of hazards faced by outdoor cats, but many people feel that the benefits outweigh the risks. If you plan to have an outdoor cat and don’t want to maintain a litter box, once the kitten has received all the required vaccinations, you can begin mixing increasing amounts of soil into the kitty litter during each litter change until the box is completely filled with soil. You can also begin moving the litter box a little closer to the door each day.
When you are ready to start encouraging your kitten to go outside, pour the used litter box dirt into the garden near where the kitten will regularly exit the house in order to associate the smells with the dirt outside (though this step should be omitted if dogs or small children play in your yard). Finally, move the litter box just outside the door where it will remain until the kitten stops using it.
If you have an outdoor kitten and a sandbox for children in the yard, the sandbox should be covered whenever it is not in use, or it may be viewed as a giant litter box.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Neville, P., & Bessant, C. (1997). The Perfect Kitten: How to Raise a Problem-Free Cat. Octopus Publishing Group, Ltd.