Whether your cat is 3 months or 3 years old, it’s always possible to litter train her. When it comes to learning how to potty train a cat, luckily “cats are easy to litter train because they have the natural instinct to dig, eliminate and cover feces in a soft, sandy substrate,” says Pam Johnson-Bennet, a certified cat behavior consultant and author of CatWise. “In other words, nature already did much of the work for cat parents.”
Even better news—if you provide the right box and substrate, maintain a good scooping schedule, and place the box in a cat-friendly location, there should be little difficulty learning how to litter train a cat, no matter the cat’s age.
So, are you ready to find out how to litter train a cat? Here are the steps to follow, according to Johnson-Bennet:
1. Get the right cat litter box. Choose a box that’s large enough for your cat—typically one and a half times the length of the cat, from tip of the nose to base of the tail, is a good size. “Choose an uncovered box to prevent the cat from feeling cramped in there, and to provide escape potential,” suggests Johnson-Bennet. “Being in the litter box is a very vulnerable time for a cat, and the ability to have an escape route in case the cat feels threatened is very important.” If you can’t find a large enough litter box you could always use a plastic storage container, although the Petmate Hi-Back Litter Pan with Microban is a good option to consider.
2. Find a good location. Place your litter box in a location that’s convenient for your cat. “You may want to place a box in a closet or in the basement, but that probably isn’t the type of location your cat will view as safe and convenient,” says Johnson-Bennet.
3. Pick the perfect cat litter. Learning how to potty train a cat has to do with mimicking what a cat might use in natural world, so when it comes to the litter, try sticking with something that closely resembles what your cat would use outside. “A soft, sandy litter substrate is typically the most appealing,” says Johnson-Bennet. “Soft, unscented, scoopable litter is a good choice. Cats can have a texture preference, and they often prefer something that feels soft under their paw pads. Try Frisco Multi-Cat Clumping Cat Litter or Elsey’s Precious Cat Ultra Litter Attractant if you’re looking for options.
4. Keep it clean. Cats are very clean animals by nature, so it’s important to keep the litter box as clean as possible. “Scoop the box at least twice a day,” suggests Johnson-Bennet. “It only takes a few seconds to check the box and scoop waste out, and your cat will greatly appreciate having a clean accommodation when it comes time to take care of personal business.” If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, try the ScoopFree Original Self-Cleaning Cat Litter Box.
5. Know when you need more litter boxes. When it comes to understanding how to litter train a cat, the number of litter boxes matters. “The rule of thumb is to have the same number of boxes as you have cats, plus one extra for the house,” says Johnson-Bennet. “Scatter the boxes throughout the house so one cat doesn’t have to pass through another cat’s preferred area—this can be a bit factor in maintaining peace in a multi-cat household.” Even if you only have one cat, Johnson-Bennet suggests keeping one litter box on each floor to make it convenient for your cat to use them. “I’d much rather scoop multiple litter boxes each day over having to clean a soiled carpet because a cat was unable to safely get to the box.”
6. Introduce your cat to the litter box. Place your cat and their litter box in a small room. They should gravitate towards the litter box after they eat or after a nap. If you see them using it, give them treats and praise afterwards. If they just need some help locating the litter box, try a litter attractant to draw them to it. If you catch your kitty eliminating somewhere else, this could be a sign of an underlying health issue, or an issue with a dominant cat not allowing them near the box. In these cases, consult a vet or animal behaviorist.
How long it takes to litter train your cat will generally depend on a number of factors, but for older cats, Johnson-Bennet suggests making the setup appealing, clean and easy to access. “Older cats may not have great control of their bladders anymore, or they may have mobility issues,” she said. “Make sure the litter box is convenient to get to and easy to step into. An older cat with arthritis may need a box with lower sides, or you can cut a low entrance on one end with a utility knife. You also may need to increase the number of boxes so the cat doesn’t have far to walk when nature calls.” To help keep your older cat’s litter area tidy enough for her to keep using, you could consider trying the Tidy Cats Breeze Cat Litter Box System, which uses specially designed, cat-friendly Breeze Litter Pellets that are 99.9% dust-free. These pellets allow urine to pass through to an odor-controlling Breeze Cat Pad in a protective tray.
With a little patience and the right products, you should be able to have your cat—no matter her age—litter trained in no time. And remember to always be patient. “Be tolerant and understanding, and never punish a cat for eliminating outside of the box,” said Johnson-Bennet. “Never hit, yell or rub a cat’s nose in his mess. Punishment will only create a greater fear of the box and of you. Instead, pay attention to what your cat needs, and provide it.”