Cats are naturally clean animals, and, as a result, toilet training is usually a relatively simple procedure. Cats tend to be rather secretive about their toilet habits, so give them the opportunity to relieve themselves in private.
Young kittens often learn how to use a litter box by watching and copying their mothers, so your kitten may already be trained — or almost — by the time you bring her home. If she has not been trained or has been used to a different type of litter, you’ll have to start a simple training program. Begin as soon as you get her home, but don’t worry – most cats learn very quickly.
Unless the kitten is old enough to go outside, start her using a litter box as soon as possible. Deep sides or a removable hood are preferable for adult cats, so that the litter is not scattered everywhere when it is scratched up, but for a kitten, the sides should not be so high that she cannot climb into the box.
The litter box should be placed in a quiet, inconspicuous spot so that the cat may use it comfortably and in private — she doesn’t like an audience when she is eliminating. Don’t place the litter box near the cat’s feeding bowls — she doesn’t like to soil her feeding area. Place newspaper or cardboard under the box to catch any scattered litter.
A new cat or kitten should be introduced to her litter box as soon as she arrives in the home so she is aware of its location. Young kittens often want to use the box when they wake up and after they have eaten, so place them in the litter box (or on a suitable spot outside) first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and after every meal. By doing this, you reinforce the association between the litter box and toilet functions. Praise your kitten when she performs correctly.
Between meals, it is usually easy to tell when a kitten is looking for a suitable corner to use as a toilet — she starts sniffing, scratching, and will begin to crouch. Catch her at this stage, if you can, and place her directly in the litter box. Don’t scold your kitten if she has an accident, and never “rub her nose in it.” Instead, avoid accidents by giving her plenty of opportunity to eliminate on her box or outdoors, praise her when she does the right thing, and pick her up and place her in the box if she looks like she is about to eliminate.
Clean any soiled areas on your carpet since the smell might encourage your cat to mess again in the same spot. Don’t use products containing ammonia as your cat may perceive this as being similar to urine.
There are several types of cat litter commercially available. Whatever litter you use, it should be absorbent. Some commercial litters are deodorized to minimize smells from the box.
Cats do not like to use a soiled litter box. Remove the soiled litter at least once a day, and remove feces as soon as you find them. At least once a week, change the litter completely and wash the box thoroughly. You might also disinfect the box, but be careful to use disinfectants that do not contain phenol, which is extremely toxic to cats. Other strong disinfectants may smell offensive to cats and deter them from using the box.
Remember, always wash your hands after handling the litter box.
If you let your cat outdoors, first make sure that she has had two or three weeks to get used to her new accommodation. Don’t let your kitten come into contact with strange cats until she has completed her course of vaccinations. Rather, let her have access to a confined area of the yard that is supervised and escape-proof. If, however, your yard is visited regularly by other cats in the neighborhood, keep your kitten indoors until her vaccinations take effect. Ask your veterinarian for advice.
Many owners provide their cats with a cat flap in an outside door so that the cat can go out as she pleases and enjoy a degree of independence from her owner. Cat flaps are hinged to allow the cat to pass in either direction and are usually constructed of a fairly lightweight material so as not to bruise the cat’s head as she passes through. She can also get into the house quickly if, for example, she is fleeing from an enemy. Many modern cat flaps have a light spring or magnet which automatically closes the flap after the cat has passed through which prevents a draft from blowing through the house.
Most cats will soon learn how to use a cat flap. For the first few days, prop the flap open so that your cat can see what awaits her outside.
Uncastrated male cats will often mark their territory by “spraying” objects with their urine, which has a characteristically unpleasant smell. Neutered males and both neutered and entire females may also spray objects with urine, but they do so less frequently and the odor is less pungent.
Although the action of spraying is a perfectly normal behavior to cats, it is unacceptable to most cat owners, especially when it occurs inside the home. Spraying indoors may be a particular problem where cats are trying to establish their social rank in multi-cat households or if there is a new cat (or other animal, including humans) in the neighborhood.
Most often, castration of tom-cats solves the problem. Your vet may recommend hormonal treatment in some circumstances, as well. Females that spray urine may also be neutered. Please check with your vet.
A breakdown in toilet training can often be traced back to a particular incident, such as a bout of diarrhea or a disruption in the cat’s normal daily routine. If a kitten or cat persists in soiling an inappropriate area, the following guidelines may help to solve the problem.
- Make sure the litter box is kept clean – but be careful because many cats don’t like the smell of strong disinfectants.
- Make sure the litter box is private and not situated close to the feeding area.
- Make sure that the litter box is large enough for the cat.
- Make sure that the sides of the box are not too high for a young kitten.
- If the cat chooses to eliminate in one particular area, make that spot as uninviting as possible. Alternatively, move her feeding bowls or bed to the area – most cats will not soil where they are to eat or sleep.
- Try to minimize any disruptions to the cat’s routine and check whether there are any new cats (or dogs!) in the area.
- Try using a different type of litter. The deodorant in some cat litters may be repellant to your cat.
- If you catch your cat in the act, startle her by squirting him with a light spray of water from a water pistol or bottle spray. This will not harm the cat but it may deter her from repeating the mistake.
- If these strategies have no effect, have your cat checked by your veterinarian to ensure that she does not have an underlying medical condition.