Some people say that teaching cats to use the litter box is impossible, because no one can teach or train cats to do anything. However, we know better! We do know a secret, however: the trick to potty training cats lies in the cat him/herself.
As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, each cat is just as unique as every human, canine, or any other living creature. Just like other beings, cats have their own personalities, preferences, and learning curves and/or disabilities. That means cats learn at different rates and in different ways, and within their own time frames, for sure!
As we hooman pets well know, we don’t always have all the luxury of time our felines do. That’s when many of us become frustrated with the potty-training process. However, we understand your struggle (we’ve tackled this particular task more than once, ourselves!), and we have a few ideas that can help you and your kitty establish the basics of litter box use and, with a little luck, show you how your cat learns best and fastest!
A cat’s age plays a big part in his or her potty box training. For instance, if you put a young kitten in a litter box where other cats do their business, it often won’t take him or her long to get the general idea. However, if you adopt an older cat, and you introduce him or her to your other cat’s potty area, he or she may refuse to even frequent the area, let alone use the box. In fact, your new (old) kitty may decide to start using everything BUT the designated boxes as a potty.
In these instances, you may need to buy a brand-new litter box and keep it several feet away from the boxes for your other cats. Of course, your other cats will become very tempted to use this new box, because… well, it’s in their house, it’s a litter box, and that’s what you taught them to do, right? If keeping your other babies away from the new box until your new cat learns to use it becomes a problem, put the new box in a “secret” spot, set up only for your new guy or girl. We suggest putting it in or near your own bathroom, especially if you have more than one bathroom in your home. This helps your new feline associate that room, and that potty box, with doing “business.”
Often, a cat’s hesitation with using a potty box comes down to something as simple as the litter you use. Maybe it’s a bit sticky once it’s wet, and it sticks to your cat’s paws when they exit the box which, as we know, drives these well-groomed angels crazy! Or, maybe there are pieces or shards that, for some reason, are sharper or rougher than others, and hurt more delicate or dainty paw pads. Some cats dislike the dust produced by certain kinds of litter; others seem bothered by the way some types or brands of litter smell.
No matter what the reason, we’ve concluded that some cats just won’t learn to use a litter box if they do not like the litter that fills it. If it seems that your cat avoids his or her potty box, no matter how clean, fresh, or brand new it is, try changing up his or her litter. You can even use well-sifted sand or dirt from outside, if he or she seems to prefer the texture to that of cat litter. However, dirt-filled boxes tend to need more frequent scooping and dumping, and they don’t combat potty odors like many litters do!
Sometimes, the reason cats can’t, or won’t, learn to use a litter box is because they can’t make the concept make sense in their minds. We catch them sniffing or scratching around the house, jump up and race to put them in their box… but were they really looking for a good potty spot? Or, did they catch sight of a fast-crawling bug? Maybe they smell a new scent, and they’re trying to investigate it. In this case, they can’t imagine how that strange, grainy box relates to their important investigation or hunt. This only adds confusion to the idea, which can stress out your feline, and do the opposite of teach them.
If you don’t have other cats, but you have a relative neighbor with a calm, tolerant feline, arrange a playdate. The first two spots cats love investigating in a new place are the one(s) that smell like food, and those that smell like… business. If you’re lucky, your cat will get to witness his or her new friend use the litter box, which, of course, teaches by example. Worst case scenario, he or she will find the other cat’s leavings in the box, which will make him or her feel the need to leave behind his or her own “mark” to the spot. This gives your cat some idea of what you want him or her to do in the strange box in your home and gives you a foundation on which to begin successful training.
If, however, you don’t know anyone with a cat willing to help you with this experiment, check the ground outside. If any small animals use your yard as a giant potty, use a pooper scooper and a baggie (gross, we know, BELIEVE us, but it often works!) and collect a sample. Leave it in your cat’s litter box and wait. Cats often learn faster when they think we aren’t paying attention, and they’ll definitely want to get rid of the strange animal’s scent!
Just like any living critter, cats like to get rewards for… well, for being awesome! The best way to encourage any behavior you want your feline to repeat is to give them their favorite treats or toys when they do well. While bribery alone will not TEACH your cat what to do, it offers positive reinforcement when they execute the action or behavior you’ve been trying to teach, and it helps them to remember what earned them the reward in the future. So, when training your kitty to use the potty box, be sure to keep lots of snacks and toys (especially cat nip) on hand!
Potty with Us!
Do you have an unusual success story with potty training your cat? Did you use a method we haven’t mentioned when teaching your feline the business? We wanna know! Please, feel free to share your potty stories with us!