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Cat expert: litter training

Grey cat next to a litter tray advice © Shutterstock

The litter tray: a key part of the cat-owner’s paraphernalia. But what are you supposed to do with it? And how can you talk your cat into using it?

By G. John Cole

Cats are a little more sensitive about their toilet habits than most dogs. While a dog may resist toilet training because it ain’t much fun, your cat feels actively threatened when faced with a new bathroom scenario. This is why their toilet habits can become weird if you don’t learn how to litter train a cat.

Litter training cats: what litter do I need?

Cats like to bury their poo. But if you want your cat to toilet in a sanitary way indoors, you need to provide an alternative to garden soil. (Be warned: with no alternative, your cat is likely to use your houseplants).

To get around this, a human named Edward Lowe invented cat litter. His first idea was to use absorbent, granulated clay. This material has the added bonus of absorbing urine and cat toilet smell. To Mr Lowe’s credit, it’s still in wide use today. But in the 1980s, silica (a component of sand) and other alternatives were proposed, since they ‘clump’ when wet. This makes it easier to just remove the dirty litter and re-use the untouched stuff.

But you shouldn’t use clumping litter for a kitten, as they’re likely to eat it. And then it clumps in their belly, which is bad news.

You might also think about using something more sustainable (or cheap) for your cat to poo on. It’s possible to make your own litter using a mix of newspaper, wheat, woodchips, orange peel, and even peanut shell meal.

Litter training cats: what tray do I need?

You can also think green with your litter tray. Have a look around the shed to see if there’s something you can upcycle before you resort to buying a new one. The tray should be big enough for a full-grown cat to take a couple of steps this way and that way. A cat likes to pick its spot.

It’s possible to make, buy, or upcycle a covered box to reduce the smell and make your cat more comfortable while pooing. Cats are kind of paranoid they’re going to be attacked while they perform their toilet. Which would be a catty kind of trick to pull.

Litter training cats: how to train a cat to use the litter box

So now you’ve got the gear, and your cat is all fed-up and ready to poop. How do you get the creature to do it in the approved zone?

Tip #1: Give your cat a tour of the bathroom

You should start the moment that kitten or rescue cat comes into your home if possible. Put your new kitty straight on the litter tray so it knows that it’s a cat place.

Tip #2: Stay vigilant

Be quick to pick kitty up and plonk her back in the tray whenever the creature is likely to perform. First thing in the morning, last thing at night, and after meals. And if you see the beast squatting, sniffing the floor, or scratching at the carpet.

Tip #3: Keep trying

Be consistent, be patient, it will learn – but it may take different amounts of time for different cats.

Tip #4: Treat good behaviour, don’t punish bad behaviour

Don’t shout at your cat or punish it for pooping in the wrong place. It may be good for your blood pressure, but it’s unlikely to teach the cat a single thing. Instead, treat the cat when it does good. Throw it a toy or a snack.

Litter training cats: problem-busting

So you’ve picked out the finest litter known to humanity. You’ve spent a whole weekend in the shed building your kitten a bespoke tray. And still the demon pees in your shoes. What are you doing wrong?

Again, it comes down to feline weirdness about toilet situations. Remember that cats hate to go where it’s already dirty. Unfortunately you need to change the litter regularly.

Otherwise, it could be that your cat feels threatened. This could be for as daft a reason as the presence of a new baby, or noise from a nearby street-facing window.

Try moving the tray somewhere more private, and/or providing a second tray in an alternative location, so your cat always has another place to go if the family hamster happens to be watching when it needs to perform.

There are smelly, damp moments ahead. But stick with it, and everything will come up smelling of roses.

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