How to litter train a kitten, fast

30 August 2023 - 6 min read
Shot of a fluffy black and white kitten curiously checking out the kitty litter box

Think about the last time nature’s call forced you into a suboptimal public loo; it wasn’t exactly a good time, was it? What a relief it must have been to return to your home bathroom, air freshener, decorative soaps, and all.

Your kitty deserves some prime potty space too.

Otherwise, they might not learn to love their litter tray which could lead to some unpleasant outcomes around your home.

Fortunately, a smart approach to litter training can help your kitten master the kitty litter shuffle in no time.

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Choose the litter tray or box

When it comes to successful litter training, nothing’s more important than picking the right litter and litter tray.

Litter tray or box size matters

Humans get spacious bathrooms, dogs get the great outdoors, and your cat should get all the room they need as well.

But “all the room they need” may mean something different for a kitten than it does for an adult cat. Some kittens may find a full-sized litter tray or box intimidating. A smaller litter tray or box may be a wiser choice.

As a general rule of paw, aim for a litter tray or box that’s roughly 1 ½ times your kitten’s body length. Make sure the sides are low enough to let them climb in without jumping or straining.

Then, as your cat grows up, you can start switching to bigger trays or boxes. Actually, some kitty litter-training kits come equipped with multiple trays in escalating sizes.

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Privacy vs. accessibility

Not all kitty-training rules are universal—every kitty has their own personality!

Some kittens may prefer the cosiness, seclusion, and security of an enclosed litter box. However, many kittens will feel trapped, anxious, or claustrophobic in such confined spaces.

It’s wise to start your kitten on an open litter tray. But you can try switching to an enclosed box if your kitty seems too nervous or shy to do their business there.

The good news is that many litter boxes have detachable covers. This means you’ll be able to observe your kitten's behaviour and adapt the litter box style to match their preferences.

Location, location, location

Find a quiet and easily accessible spot for the litter tray. Keep it away from your kitten's food and water bowls; if you hadn’t noticed, cats are pretty big on cleanliness.

This separation also reinforces the idea that the litter tray is just for pottying—the last thing you want is for your kitty to associate it with eating.

Also, many cats covet privacy when they’re doing their business. (Who doesn’t?) Your feline family member may have a harder time using their litter tray if people keep walking by.

Pick the right type of litter

There are So. Many. Litter. Types. 

There are litters made of wheat, corn, grass, shredded paper, silica gel, pine, walnut shells, and more. Some are scented, some are unscented. And there’s no telling what your cat will like or hate.

Your best bet is to start with a soft-textured litter. Some kittens have sensitive paws, and litters with large, coarse grains may cause discomfort. Fine-grain litters are often the most comfortable for kittens to walk on, and dig in.

But if your cat appears to be suffering, or if they’re eliminating somewhere they shouldn’t, it may be time to try a different litter type. If need be, keep trying new types of litter until something works.

Oh, and if you’re the careful type, you might consider using biodegradable and natural litters, which are less likely to cause harm if your kitty ingests them.

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Introduce your cat to the litter tray or box

Shockingly, cats don’t get litter trays or boxes in the wild. As a result, they don’t instinctively recognise them! That means you’ll have to help familiarise your kitty with their new lifelong potty routine.

You can start by bringing your cat to every litter tray or box in your home and letting them take a good whiff. Then you can start gently placing them in there shortly after meals or naps.

You can even help them gently scratch the surface of the litter with their paw. This will help give them a sense of the litter’s purpose, as kittens naturally gravitate toward burying their waste.

Reinforce good potty habits

When it comes to any kind of pet training, consistency is key—in all areas of your pet’s life.

For one thing, you should maintain a regular feeding and play schedule, which will help you get better at predicting when your kitten is likely to need their litter tray. Developing a routine can make it easier for you and your kitten to adapt over the course of training.

And again, regularly placing your kitten in there after meals or naps can play a role in establishing that routine.

Whenever your kitten successfully uses the litter tray, offer them praise or a small treat. This reinforces the behaviour, making it more likely they'll repeat it. But remember, kittens are still learning, and accidents are bound to happen.

If your kitten seems uncertain or hesitant to use the tray in the first place, try to create a positive association with it. You can place treats around it or even play with your cat right next to it.

If you have a large home, it might be a good idea to place multiple litter trays in different areas. That way, your cat won’t need to launch into a litter tray urgently if they suddenly need to go, reducing the risk of accidents.

Incase you're wondering, pretty much all animal behaviourists frown on negative reinforcement. Aside from being cruel, it’s counterproductive. Negative reinforcement, well, reinforces the negative: It can cause your pet to double down on existing unwanted behaviours or even engage in new ones like scratching and biting.

Yep, filling your cat with fear and anxiety can lead to behavioural problems—who’d have thought? So never shout at your cat if they’re struggling to master their litter box, and never punish them. It’ll just impede their progress even more.

Maintenance, hygiene and troubleshooting

No one likes an unsanitary potty!

A clean litter tray makes your cat feel invited. A smelly, dirty one also makes them feel invited…to your rug.

The upshot is that you’ll need to scoop out their litter tray every day. Sometimes, you may need to do so twice. To put it bluntly, you’ll need to keep track of how much they’ve been peeing and pooping-you’ll know if it’s a two-scoop day.

Occasionally, you’ll need to give their litter tray a deeper clean, washing it with mild soap and refilling it with fresh litter. Experts differ as to how often you should do this. Some say as often as twice a week, while others say once a week is fine.

The key is to keep your litter tray clean and odour-free.

But no matter how rapidly your cat learns, they’ll inevitably have some accidents around their litter tray, especially during their first weeks of training. As a result, you’ll need to continually clean the area around the tray to remove any lingering odours or stains.

One last note: Don’t place the litter tray on a rug, carpet, or towel. Not only is it harder to remove the stains, but your cat might find them more enticing than their kitty litter.

How veterinary care can help

Training isn’t the thing that impacts your cat’s litter tray habits. Factors like illness and diet can play a major role as well. Routine vet visits may help your pet stay healthy and litter-tray proficient. Your vet can also offer crucial dietary advice. And if a sudden change in your cat’s litter tray habits is the result of an illness, your cat may need more intensive veterinary treatment.

Veterinary care can be extremely costly. The good news is that ManyPets kitten insurance can help ease the financial burden of treating an illness. There's up to £15,000 of vet fee cover available and policies include unlimited, 24/7 online vet advice.

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