How to Litter Train Your Cat and Stop Bad Bathroom Habits

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22 Minute Read
Updated October 5, 2021

Is your cat peeing outside the litter box? Sometimes new kittens, and even old cats, struggle with bad bathroom habits. We put together some tips for how to litter train your cat and stop your cat peeing outside the litter box. 

Learning how to litter box train your cat is not that difficult. Your sweet little kitten or house cat is not that far removed from their wild ancestors. The instinct to use a litterbox is a part of the feline's DNA.

Yes, cats are obsessive groomers, but that’s not why they like to hide their business. Cats actually cover their urine and excrement as a survival mechanism.

Why Do Cats Use a Litter Box?

The instinctual act of burying their waste is a way for the cat to cover their tracks and prevent them from being eaten by predators. Hiding their body waste masks their scent. In the wild, the cats prefer soft dirt or sand to bury their waste, so they are naturally drawn to the sandy consistency of cat litter.

When a kitten feels the cat litter under its paws, instinct kicks in, and the cat starts to dig and bury their waste. In most cases, kittens learn basic litter habits from their mother and siblings, so even young kittens know the fundamentals of litter box training before you bring them home.

Essentials for Litter Training Your Cat

Before you start litter box training, you'll want to have all the correct supplies on hand to make litter training your cat a breeze. There are a few essentials that every cat mom should start with, and a few extras for kitties who need a little extra help.

  • Litter Box
  • Litter
  • Litter Scoop
  • Litter Mat
  • Pet Cleaner

All of these are essential to building good litter box habits and keeping your kitten’s litter clean and safe. Choosing the right gear for you and your kitten could have a huge impact on the success of your litter training process.

How to Choose the Best Litter Box

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You'll need to purchase one or two litter boxes. Ideally, each cat in the household should have a litter box plus one extra. If you have a single cat, then you'll want to buy two litter boxes, but if you have two cats, then you'll need three litter boxes. If you have three cats, then make sure you have four litter boxes. You get the gist.

Choosing the right type of litter box can make all the difference when it comes to litter training your new cat. If your kitten seems to have lost her litter box knowledge as soon as you brought her home, then your litter box might be the problem.

Many types of litter boxes are available, from simple short-sided pans and hooded pans to self-cleaning electronic litter boxes. Most cats are happy with a simple pan, but other styles offer additional benefits to you or your cat.

Some pet owners like a litter pan with a lid or high sides to keep the litter in the box more effectively when the kitty is trying to bury it. Here are a few of the pros and cons of the most common types of litter boxes.

Basic Litter Pans

Bergamo Birda Litter Tray MediumA standard short-sided litter pan, like the Bergamo Birda Litter Pan, is a great starter option. For young kittens who are still learning how to use the litter box, short sides make it easier for short legs to get in and out. The open style is also less intimidating to cats who are nervous about enclosed spaces.

Size matters too. Sometimes, a full-size litter box is intimidating if you have a tiny kitten, so you might want to go with a smaller tray that measures approximately 13 x 9 inches. Larger cats, on the other hand, will need a little more space to move around (and aim!). A larger or jumbo tray can measure upwards of 18 x 20 inches.

If a litter box is too small, a cat might refuse to use it and start urinating in the house – which is never good. Not only is it a pain to clean, but the smell of cat urine can, unfortunately, be somewhat permanent if not dealt with properly. Also, a small box can cause the cat to urinate over the side of the box and onto the floor.

High-Sided Litter Pans

Bergamo Pin-Up Litter TrayEvery cat is unique in how they use their litter box. Cats that like to cover their droppings very thoroughly may have a tendency to kick litter over the sides of the pan and leave a mess for you.

Or maybe your male cat likes to mark their litter box, especially if you have a multi-pet household, by marking the walls of the box to ensure their scent is easily distinguishable. Opting for a high-sided or framed litter pan, like the Bergamo Pin-Up Litter Pan, can help reduce how much litter (or worse) leaves the litter box. 

Just make sure the entrance to the box isn't too tall. Smaller kittens may not be graceful enough yet to get in and out of this tall pan, and it could prevent them from using it.

Hooded Litter Boxes

Catit Jumbo Hooded Litter BoxThe most preferred style of litter box for most cat families is a hooded litter box. These have a detachable covering and a flap door that not only keeps the litter inside but also helps to contain the smell.

While this style is great for you, not all cats like having their bathroom feel so claustrophobic. Make sure you choose an appropriately sized litter box, like the Catit Jumbo Hooded Litter Box, so that your cat can move freely and comfortably. 

A big litter box can be difficult to fit into a smaller living space. To ensure your cat gets enough space to do her business, you may want to consider the Bergamo Ariel Covered Corner Litter Box.

To help your cat get used to a hooded litter box, try letting them use the box without the lid for a while. Once your cat is comfortable, you can reattach the lid, but leave the door off to allow her to adjust.

One last thing to keep in mind, hooded litter boxes make it easy to not notice the smell or sight of a soiled litter box. If you choose this style of litter pan, make sure you keep a strict cleaning schedule to prevent harmful bacteria from building up in the closed box.

Self Cleaning Litter Boxes

For the ultimate convenience, you may want to go with a self-cleaning litter box. These are great for keeping the litter box extra clean and great for cats that hate using a dirty little box.

There are lots of benefits, but this style of litter box comes with a few downsides too. For starters, they are much more expensive and require a unique disposable tray that needs to be replaced frequently. This means a monthly upkeep cost.

Electronic litter boxes can also be quite frightening for nervous cats. They have a motor that makes noise as the litter is raked. They are designed not to go off while your cat is in the tray, but your cat may still be freaked out that their litter moves all on its own.

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What’s the Best Cat Litter

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Walk down any pet supply section of the store, and you'll probably be overwhelmed with the wide assortment of kitty litter types. You'll find clumping, non-clumping, biodegradable wood or paper pellets and crystals.

Most people think that litter is litter, but different smells and textures may turn your cat off from using her litter box. Some cats prefer one type over the other, and you may need to try a few before you find the right one.

Check out the different benefits and drawbacks of litter to find out which one is going to be the best option for you and your cat.

Clumping Cat Litters

Clumping cat litters are often more desirable because they are easier to spot clean. Your kitten's waste will absorb into the liquid and form a clump of litter that can easily be scooped out. Daily maintenance will reduce smell and bacteria without having to replace the full litter tray.

Here are some of the most popular types of clumping cat litters:

Clay Litter

Clay is the most common type of cat litter. It’s cheap and easy to find, and the texture is usually well accepted by most cats and kittens. Clay litter is what most cat parents are used to, but there are concerns about the quality and safety of some clay litters.

A high-quality clay litter is made from sodium bentonite clay and contains little to no filler ingredients. Bentonite clay is natural and highly absorbent, which makes it useful as a cat litter. Unfortunately, not all cat litters are pure bentonite clay.

To make litter even cheaper, some clay litters contain other fillers that make the clay brittle and easy to break apart, creating dust. This dust is a respiratory irritant and is thought to lead to respiratory problems after long-term exposure.

Look for a high-quality clay litter, like Cat Love Odor Defense Unscented Litter that is 99.9% dust-free. 

Even low dust can be a problem, so if you choose to use clay litter, stick to open litter pans that don’t trap the dust in the box with your cat.

If you are concerned about the smell, then a scented clay litter might seem appealing, but be careful of artificial scents as they can not only aggravate your cat but could irritate her breathing. Unscented or naturally scented litters are a safer option. 

Some natural scents can be beneficial though. Dr. Elseys Kitten Attract Litter contains a natural herb blend to attract young kittens to the litter box and reinforce good bathroom behaviours. 

Natural Litters

If you aren't willing to take the risk of using clay litter, then natural litter is a great natural alternative. There are a lot of different options, so you may have to test out different kinds to find the right one.

Some natural litters, like World’s Best Cat Litter, have a similar weight and texture to clay, but it’s made of corn instead. This is a great option if you are switching off of a clay litter and want an easy transition. Another bonus of this litter is that it’s flushable!

Most natural litters come in a wide variety of textures and can be sourced from wheat, corn, walnut shells, pine, or even coconut husk. The pieces of litter can range in size and texture too. Some are fine like sand, while others are the size of small pebbles.

Another factor to consider is the scent. Natural litters, like Swheat Scoop Litter, are rarely scented artificially, but some have a natural scent depending on what it’s made of. These natural scents are usually pretty mild, but could still be a deterrent for kittens that are picky. 

Non-Clumping Cat Litter

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If you’ve never heard of a non-clumping cat litter before, you are not alone. Non-clumping litters aren’t as widely popular, but they are known for being better for controlling the strong urine odour that cat owners hate.

They work differently than clumping litters because they are not designed to be scooped, but they are more absorbent than normal clumping litters and lock in odours to compensate for not scooping.

There are a few types of non-clumping litter, each with its own pros and cons:

Pellet Cat Litter

Pellet litters are a natural litter option that is highly absorbent. They are usually made from wood, like pine, or recycled paper. This type of litter is a very environmentally friendly choice for pet owners that worry about all the clay litter that is filling up our landfills.

The quality of pellet litters can vary, but pure wood or paper products are best for those looking for the most natural options. Natural options are very safe for cats because there is no harmful dust, but they can have some downsides.

Though they are great for absorbing urine odours, they don’t do a whole lot about poop. The large pellets don’t sift through a scooper the same way that clumping litters do, so spot cleaning isn’t as easy.

Additionally, cats who are used to pellet litter tend not to cover their waste, which doesn’t do much to cover the smell of a fresh deuce. You can spot clean as best you can, but the full litter pan will need to be emptied and replaced weekly.

The pellets are tightly packed and very absorbent, but eventually excess liquid will pool at the bottom of the tray if left for too long.

Silica Litter

Another non-clumping litter option is silica cat litter. These beads or crystals can hold up to 40 times their weight in liquid, so they are great for controlling urine odours, even superior to other non-clumping litters.

As an effective odour controller, silica is often preferred to pellet litter, but there are some things to be aware of before making the switch.

Unlike those toxic silica packets found in packaged products, silica used for cat litter is different. Silica litters are made using amorphous or precipitated silica, which is non-toxic if ingested but can still pose a risk.

Ingesting large quantities of these ultra-absorbent beads can lead to severe digestive issues, and possibly even a blockage.

Another drawback of silica litters is the texture. While some are formed into large beads, others are smaller crystals that feel sharp to the touch. While they aren’t sharp enough to actually cut your kitten's paws, they may deter her from using the litter.

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How Much Cat Litter Should You Use

Most cats like to dig, so make sure that there are at least two inches of non-clumping litter or three inches of clumping to give the cat enough depth to dig and leave enough litter in the basin of the pan to absorb liquids effectively.

It may seem like a waste to add so much litter, but having the right amount of litter in the pan can encourage better bathroom habits. If your cat doesn’t feel they can bury their waste properly then they may choose to “go” elsewhere.

Additionally, cats don’t want to stand in their own waste. An underfilled litter box could lead to the day's waste being in the way of where your cat needs to walk, again possibly deterring her from using the litter box altogether.

Litter Accessories

While the box and litter are the very basics of what you need to maintain healthy litter habits for your cat, there are other accessories that can help make the process of litter training and maintenance easier.

Scoop

Whether using clumping or non-clumping cat litter, you'll want a scoop to sift through the waste and dispose of it. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Many are made from durable metal and others lightweight plastic.

The type of scoop you use will depend on the litter that you choose. Smaller grated scoops are good for fine clumping litter, as it only allows loose pieces of the litter to fall back into the litter tray and catches and clumps of waste.

If you use a non-clumping litter, like pellets, scoops with wider slots work well, allowing the pellets to fall through and catch pieces of stool and swelled pellets that are too large to fit through.

Litter Mat

Cats are meticulous groomers and hate being dirty. It’s no surprise that they prefer a clean litter area, and frankly, so do you. This is why the right litter mat can be a useful tool to help your cat get used to her bathroom.

Litter mats have two main purposes. The first and foremost is to catch litter as your cat leaves the box. The entrance to the litter box is the shallowest part, so if your cats like to cover their litter rather aggressively, the litter that gets kicked out will land on the mat, making it easier to clean.

The second function, and the reason that litter mats are textured rubber or fabric, is to scrape any loose litter off your cat's paws as they exit the box. Cats with longer fur tend to get a lot of litter stuck to their paws, so a good litter mat can help reduce the amount of litter that makes it all over your house.

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Pet Stain and Odour Removers

Whether you are cleaning up an accident outside of the litter box or just keeping your cat’s litter box clean and sanitized, the right pet cleaners are important.

Tips for Cleaning Up an Accident

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When your kitten inevitably has an accident outside of the litter box, you need to act quickly to break this habit, but just because you can’t smell the urine anymore, doesn’t mean your kitten can’t.

Cleaners specifically designed for pets not only get rid of bacteria but can eliminate the pheromones left behind that encourage your cat to pee on inappropriate surfaces over and over.

Here are a few tips for cleaning up a cat pee so that your cat doesn’t return to the same spot:

      • If you catch your cat in action, calmly pick them up and bring them to the litter box. Running at her or yelling will only scare her.
      • Clean the spot immediately, or as soon as you find it. The longer it stays there, the harder it will be to get rid of. An all-purpose pet cleaner like Nature’s Miracle Advanced Platinum Stain and Odour Remover will work for most common pet stains and remove odours so your cat doesn’t return to the scene of the crime.
      • For porous surfaces, like carpet or furniture, it’s best to let the cleaner soak and sit for 10 minutes before scrubbing. This will ensure that you don’t just clean the surface, but penetrate the fabric below. For carpet, try Skout’s Honor Urine Destroyer Carpet Pad Penetrator.
      • Keep your pet away from the area while it dries. Depending on how bad the stain is, you may need to clean it a second time.
      • If this area is targeted multiple times, then try a deterrent spray, like Pet Organics No Mark Spray. This scent-based spray will discourage your pet from returning to this area while you help build better litter box habits.

Tips for Cleaning Your Cat’s Litter Box

It's essential to keep your cat's litter box clean, especially if you are trying to figure out how to get your cat to stop peeing everywhere. Many cats stop using the litter box if they feel that the spot is not clean enough.

Remember, cats are spotless animals, and they are also survivalists. If the cat believes the litter box is filthy or smells, it could attract predators, putting the cat's life at risk, so they may find somewhere less conspicuous to relieve themself.

Here are some pro tips for keeping your cat’s litter box clean and safe.

      • Scoop the cat's litter box at least once a day. Ideally, you should scoop several times per day to ensure that the kitty always has a fresh box. Many cats will not use the litter box if they feel it is too dirty. Think of scooping the litter box like flushing the toilet.
      • Using a Litter Locker lets you store your cat litter out of the way and hygienically. Each Litter Locker Refill can last up to a month.
      • Use relatively dust-free, unscented litter that is easy on the cat’s airways and doesn’t cause respiratory distress. Silica pearl litters, such as Catit Silica Power Mix Cat Litter, easily soak up liquid waste and neutralize odours. They're also very low on dust.
      • Use a litter deodorizer to effectively eliminate odors. Try Nature's Miracle Just for Cats Litter Box Odor Destroyer, in between cleanings to keep the litter smelling fresh.
      • Clean your cat's litter box with a natural cleaner every week or so to keep odours down. You’ll want to dump the cat litter and then scrub the box. Be sure to use an unscented and non-toxic cleaner so that you do not offend your cat's sensitive nose.

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How to Potty Train a Cat

Just because your kitten learned a thing or two about the litter box, doesn’t mean they have mastered the skill. It’s not uncommon for new kittens to need a little direction and training to get them used to use the litter box properly in their new home.

To help your cat build good litter box habits, you’ll need the right tips and tools to help your kitten learn appropriate and consistent bathroom behaviours. More often than not, kittens pick up these skills very quickly but be prepared for a setback or two along the way.

To help you get started, we put together some tips for how to litter train your cat.

Litter Training Your Cat in 5 Simple Steps

Once you bring the kitty home and have all the supplies, one of the first things you should do is start the litter training process. Most cats already know the fundamentals, but need help building good habits.

Regardless of how new your kitten is to litter training, starting from the basics is always recommended.

  1. Introduce your cat to her litter box, or in some cases, re-introduce her. This may seem unnecessary, especially if you have an older kitten or adult cat who is struggling with litter box habits. Start with a clean litter box and fresh litter.
  2. Bring your kitten to the litter box and encourage her to check it out. You can use treats to coax your cat into getting close to the litter box, and again if she interacts with the litter in any way.
  3. Location is important when it comes to litter training. You probably want the litter box out of the way, maybe even hidden from guests and high traffic areas of your home. While we can certainly understand, having the litter box tucked away may discourage your cat from using it. Pick a spot that is easy for her to get to and in her usual living space.
  4. Build a routine by taking your kitten to the litter box routinely. After meals, after playtime, and even after a little kitty nap, take her to the litter box. If she uses it, make sure to reward her with praise and treats.
  5. Don’t reprimand mistakes. We know it’s frustrating when your cat pees on the carpet or your clean laundry, but cats don’t respond well to getting yelled at. If anything you’ll likely scare them further and perhaps even worsen the poor litter box habits.

Cats learn differently than dogs, so training a stubborn cat may take time. The most important thing is to stick to a routine and be consistent. Some cats, especially older cats that need help re-learning their litter box skills, maybe a little more stubborn and need some extra help.

Litter Box Training Tips for Stubborn Cats

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Here are a few tips that might help you successfully litter box train your cat or kitten:

    • Keep the litter box clean. This means scooping every day, replacing litter routinely, and sanitizing the litter box. Even your cat’s own dropping and scent could cause her to not want to use the box.
    • Stick with the same type and brand of litter that your cat or kitten is used to using. If you are bringing home a new kitten, then be sure to find out what type of cat litter the kitten has been trained to use. The change could be enough to cause problems.
    • If your cat is not responding well to the litter that they’ve used in the past, try different types of cat litter to determine which brand or form your cat prefers best. You'll also want to factor in depth. Some cats prefer only a few inches of litter and others like more.
    • Have a litter box on all levels of the home if you live in a multi-storied home. Some senior cats or kittens won't want to traverse multi-levels in a home to reach the litter box, so a container should always be readily accessible for all cats in the household.
    • Try using a cat attractant litter, such as Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract Cat Litter. This can help your cat learn where the appropriate place to go to the bathroom is.

How to Stop Your Cat from Peeing Outside the Litter Box

Is your cat urinating outside the litter box? Sometimes cats that have had years of practice using the litter box appropriately, suddenly start to develop bad litter box habits. Learning why your cat is peeing outside the litter box is the first step towards stopping this unpleasant behaviour.

Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, Dipl. ACVB, states in Veterinary News that at least 5 percent of cats will eliminate outside of the litter box every week and 1 percent daily.

    • Typically, a cat will eliminate on a horizontal surface, carpet, or rug (however, if the cat is spraying to mark its territory, it will often back up against a vertical surface).
    • They may use two or three locations in the house repeatedly.
    • The cat will rarely use the litter box to urinate, but it might use it for defecating or vice versa.

Why Does a Cat Stop Using the Litter Box?

As your kitten ages and reaches adulthood, some stop using the litter box because of the same reason: instinct. A dominant cat (an unneutered male) will often leave their waste uncovered to mark territory. Typically only subordinate cats cover their waste to display submission.

Litter box problems can occur in multiple cat households where one cat is trying to establish dominance over the others. An unneutered or unspayed cat is more likely to suddenly stop using the litter box and instead seek inappropriate places to do his business in order to establish a territorial perimeter in your home.

Litter Box Problems: Cats and Stress

Many cats quickly become stressed when there are big changes to their environment or lifestyle. Anxiety in cats can be the source of a host of issues, but litter box problems are usually at the top of the list.

They will react by choosing not to use the litter box. Here are a few ways you can help your cat cope with stress:

    • Maintain a strict grooming and feeding schedule.
    • Spend one-on-one time with your cat, including playtime, exercise, and cuddles. 
    • Try an herbal calming remedy like Pet-Tek Calm Aid. It can easily be added to food to reduce stress naturally.
    • Use a Thundershirt for cats which helps reduce the feline's anxiety and provides comfort.
    • Try a Feliway calming diffuser or spray that mimics the pheromones that mother cats use to calm their kittens. 
    • Never hit, yell at, or punish the cat for eliminating outside the litter box because punishment will only increase the animal's stress level.

If your cat is showing sudden changes to bathroom habits, it's important to loop in your vet. Urinary tract infections and other health issues could be the cause of bathroom problems.

Once you've ruled out health issues, then you can assume a behavioural problem and start treating your cat's stress. 

How to Potty Train a Cat Without a Litter Box

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Many people install a pet door in their home and allow their cats to go outside using the litter box. A cat will naturally seek a place outdoors to take care of its private business. Most cats prefer eliminating outdoors because it's more natural and comfortable.

However, many people do not allow their cats to free range due to danger, so they must use a litter box.

Some pet owners successfully potty train cats to use the toilet.

    • Start by placing the litter box beside the toilet and then move the litter box to the toilet's seat by raising the height of the box slowly. You can use a stack of books or a small table to increase the size of the litter box.
    • Transfer the litter box to the seat of the toilet. Velcro strips work great for adhering the box to the toilet seat so it doesn't move when your cat uses it. 
    • Slowly remove the cat litter an inch at a time over the course of a week to allow your cat to get used to using very little litter. 
    • Cut a small hole in the middle of the litter box. Make sure you only use flushable litter, like World's Best Zero-Mess Cat Litter. Let your cat practice for several days, even weeks if necessary. 
    • Cut the hole a little bit bigger each week until your cat is used to going in the toilet and hearing their waste and small amounts of litter to fall into the bowl. 
    • When your cat is ready, remove the litter entirely and let your cat practice using just the empty ring of the litter box over the toilet seat. 
    • Once your cat regularly uses the toilet, remove the tray, and start flushing the waste after your cat finishes.

This process isn't the easiest for cats to master. With the right steps and patience, many cats can learn to use the toilet, but it's not for everyone or every cat. Small cats or cats with mobility issues may not take well to using the toilet if they don't feel confident balancing on the seat. 

If it's something you are interested in trying, then there is no harm in doing so, but it's not guaranteed that your cat will pick up on this funny trick, so hang on to your litter accessories. 

Why are Good Litter Habits So Important?

The World Atlas reports 37 percent of pet owners in Canada share their lives with one or more cats. One of the main reasons the felines are so popular is their low-maintenance bathroom needs, making them excellent apartment pets. 

Beyond just convenience, good litter habits are important for your cat's health, both mental and physical. When your cat is feeling unwell, the litter box is the first place you should look for signs of illness. 

Changes to your cat's bathroom habits are a sign that something is wrong, so being vigilant about keeping your cat's bathroom routine consistent and their litter box clean is the best way to monitor their health. 

Does your cat have an odd or frustrating bathroom habit that you'd like to ditch? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by

Homes Alive Pets

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