How to litter train a kitten (+ troubleshooting tips)

August 25, 2023 - 6 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
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 restroom; 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 box, which could lead to some unpleasant outcomes around your home.

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

Choose the Litter Box

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

Litter 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 box intimidating. A smaller litter tray may be a wiser choice.

As a general rule of paw, aim for a litter box that’s roughly 1 ½ times your kitten’s body length. And make sure the sides of the tray 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.

Adorable little kitten scratching around in his litter box on the floor of his new forever home

Privacy vs. Accessibility

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

Some kittens may prefer the coziness, 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 behavior and adapt the litter box style to match their preferences.

Location, Location, Location

Find a quiet and easily accessible spot for the litter box. 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 box is just for pottying—the last thing you want is for your kitty to associate their litter box 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 box if people keep walking by.

Domestic Cat Using Portable Litter Box.

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.

High Angle View of Curious Devon Rex Kittens Examining Dirty Cat Sand in Litter Box

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. (Yes, cats eat litter sometimes; it’s a whole thing.) 

Introduce Your Cat to the Litter Box

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

You can start by bringing your cat to every litter box in your home and letting them take a good whiff. Then you can start gently placing them in their litter box (or boxes) 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 box. 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 the box after meals or naps can play a role in establishing that routine.

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

calm kitten british cat sitting on the sofa

If your kitten seems uncertain or hesitant to use the box 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 boxes in different areas. That way, your cat won’t need to launch into an urgent litter box whenever they have to go, reducing the risk of accidents.

FYI, pretty much all animal behaviorists 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 behaviors or even engage in new ones like scratching and biting.

Yep, filling your cat with fear and anxiety can lead to behavioral problems—who’d have thought? So never yell 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 box 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 box 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.) 

Pet Owner Cleaning Litter Box and Putting Remains in Small Garbage Bin.

Occasionally, you’ll need to give their litter box 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 once per week, while others say twice a week is fine.

The key is to keep your litter box clean and odor-free.

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

One last note: Don’t place the litter box 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 box habits. Factors like illness and diet can play a major role as well. Routine vet visits may help your pet stay healthy and litter-box proficient. Your vet can also offer crucial dietary advice. And if a sudden change in your cat’s litter box 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. And the (optional, non-insurance) ManyPets Wellness Plan can help you afford preventative care so your cat STAYS healthy.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.