You’re ready for the addition of your future feline and you have checked off every item on the supply list. Plus, you just can’t wait to start dangling feathered things for your kitten to bat. There’s just one question: will your new kitten have accidents in the house? Though many kittens learn how to use the litter box from their mothers at a young age, some need a little guidance on the appropriate place to go when nature calls.
You’ll need a litter box for each cat in the household (plus at least one extra), cat litter, and a scoop. When selecting a size for the box, err on the larger side to ensure your cat has plenty of room to take care of business. Pour enough litter in the box to cover the bottom of the tray. Litter boxes should be placed in quiet, private areas away from your cat’s bed and food dish.
When you bring your new kitten home, show her where the litter boxes are by placing her inside one. If she jumps out, no problem! Place her back in the litter box a few times throughout the day, including after she wakes up, after meals, and after vigorous play. If at any point you notice your kitten digging, sniffing around, or acting like she may have to go potty, pick her up and place her in the litter box. When she successfully goes, praise her with words and a small treat or piece of kibble. Be sure to clean the box regularly so your cat always has a fresh place to go.
As with most learning experiences, there are bound to be a few accidents along the way. If you aren’t able to rush your kitten to the litter box on time, simply let her finish and don’t scold. Thoroughly clean the mess with an enzymatic cleaner to remove all traces so she won’t be tempted to continue going in the same place. Additionally, you can pick up solid waste with a paper towel and place it in the litter box to teach your cat that’s where it goes.
Repeated offenses in the same place are frustrating, but with a little trial and error, you’ll likely find the solution. First, double-check that the soiled area has been thoroughly cleaned. Next, you can either move the litter box to that area, or put a piece of furniture like a chair or end table or your cat’s food and water dishes there to prevent another bathroom incident in the same spot.
If your cat continues to avoid the litter box, there are a number of fixes you can try to make the litter box more enticing.
What else could be the problem?
You’ve tried making all of the suggested adjustments, but your cat is still choosing not to use the litter box. Here are other reasons you may be having trouble.
Stress: Some cats eliminate outside of the litter box during stressful times. Big changes or disruptions to your cat’s routine such as throwing a party or bringing home a new baby can cause your cat to become anxious or stressed. Try to minimize these reactions by providing your cat with a safe place to escape from temporary disruptions and preparing her for long-term changes well in advance.
Medical issues: Suddenly going outside of the litter box can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Additional symptoms like weight loss, vomiting, or decreased energy mean it’s time for a trip to the vet.
Spay/neuter: If your cat is over 6 months of age, they should be spayed or neutered. Intact cats are motivated to find a mate and will mark their territory by leaving “accidents” around the home. Neutering typically solves the litter box problem for younger cats, but a rescued stray that is neutered at an older age may have developed a habit that is hard to break. Consider working with an animal behavior specialist to correct the problem.