How Do Cats Know To Use The Litter Box?

How Do Cats Know To Use The Litter Box

One of the not always so easy tasks a new cat parent has when bringing home a cat is how to litter train her. Cat urine is notoriously smelly which makes the task even more important. Surprisingly, litter training is a breeze with most cats. Read on and let us discover the reasons why. 

How do cats know to use the litter box?

Cats know how to use the litter box mainly through instinct.  Cats have an inherent desire to bury their waste to conceal their scent from other animals. Cats are naturally drawn to the litter box since the texture and consistency of commercial cat litter makes it easier for them to cover their wastes. 

Domestic cats may have to be trained to use the litter box but it does not take much fuss for most of them.  They often get the message with minimal training. However, if you have a multi-cat household, there may be rare instances where the dominant feline will not cover or bury his waste. 

Why are some cats not using their litter box?

Most of the time, cats will stop using their litter box because of an underlying reasons. They may poop or pee everywhere in the home because the box is located in an inaccessible area,  it is too small for them or it may be located in a noisy or busy area of your home. Cats want peace and quiet when doing their business just as humans do. They are also particular with scent and once they detect that the box is unclean they will stop using it.  

Behavioral and health concerns may also trigger a cat to stop using her litter box. Stress and anxiety may contribute to a cat’s inability to use the box while medical conditions like urinary tract infection and kidney problems may also be contributing factors.

How to litter train your cat 

Here are some helpful steps on how to litter train your new cat:

1. Get to know your cat’s schedule first. 

Try to observe your cat’s schedule first so you can direct her to do her business in the box and not on the floor, the sofa or elsewhere. Cats will usually pee or poop after a nap, mealtime or playtime. 

2. Schedule some playtime near the litter box. 

Have some playtime with your cat in the vicinity of the litter box. This will also allow your cat to familiarize herself with the box. Once you notice that your cat feels the need to do her business, lead her or bring her to the litter box. If it is located in a room with a door, stay with her in the room and close the door. Bring her toys along and allow her to play with it until she eventually needs to pee or poop. 

3. Show your cat what to do. 

If your cat looks clueless once she is in the litter box, call her name and show her what you are doing. Use your fingers to scrape some litter aside and once she has done her business, use your fingers again to cover the waste. Your cat will eventually get the process after a while. It may take time and patience but cats easily learn as they are inquisitive and smart.

Some important things to remember about your cat’s litter box:

Choose a large or spacious litter box.

Make sure that your cat is comfortable when using the box. It should be large and roomy enabling her to move about.  If your cat is small or already a senior cat, opt for a box that has low sides so she can get in and out easily.  Litter boxes come in both covered or uncovered types so try to experiment and see what your cat prefers. Covered litter boxes provide privacy but it may also trap odors that may prevent your cat from using it.  

Provide an extra litter box for your cat and the same goes for multi-cat households. Make sure that the box is accessible and placed in a quiet and secluded area of your home. Also, do not place it near her feeding and drinking area as it may make her anxious. 

Decide on what type of litter to use.

There are many commercial cat litter brands that you may want to try out but a popular choice is clumping litter as it is easier for cats to cover their wastes. It is also easier to scoop the clumps and clean the box.  Avoid using scented litter as it may trigger allergic reactions and most cats hate strong scents. Use just the right amount of litter and try to experiment by putting at least two inches of litter first but if your cat is not satisfied with it you may add at least two inches more. 

See to it that the litter box is regularly cleaned by scooping out waste clumps at least twice daily. Wash the box at least once a week with warm water and gentle soap with no strong scents and dry it off before refilling it again with litter.  Check out our earlier article on litter box hacks for more useful tips. 

What to do if your cat is eliminating elsewhere?

If your cat is not using her litter box and prefers to pee or poop somewhere else, do not yell or scold her. Clean out the spot where your cat eliminated and use an enzyme-based cleaner to remove traces of stain or odor. 

You may also try to move her food and water bowls to the area where she keeps on relieving herself. Cats avoid doing their business around their eating area and this may deter her from eliminating in that area again. 

Closely monitor your cat for any physical or behavioral changes as the inappropriate elimination may indicate underlying health or medical conditions. If you notice blood in her urine and your cat has diarrhea, losing weight, lethargic and vomiting, bring her to the vet for prompt treatment. 

Final thoughts

Most cats learn to use the litter box through and instinctively cover their waste as a means of protecting themselves from perceived enemies and predators. Cats are naturally drawn to the litter box because of the litter that is closely identical in texture to soft dirt or sand.  

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