Feline Friday: Ask Amy & Kitten Litterbox Training

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Did you get a kitten for Christmas? Today’s Feline Friday is the kitty version of Woof Wednesday’s dog house training tips. Most cats come pre-programmed to use the potty but you’ll need help if the baby is very young. Felines are great imitators and simply “copy cat” their mother’s behavior when they watch and follow her to the litter box. Most kittens and cats will already know what a litter box is for and how to use it by the time you adopt them.

But if you hand-raise an orphan or adopt a kitten younger than 8 to 10 weeks, you’ll need to do the job of the mother cat. Transitioning outdoor cats to an indoor lifestyle also may mean re-training bathroom etiquette from “going” among the flowers to aiming for the litter box. Check out the Ask Amy video below, and you’ll find more of the basics here.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

Felines are naturally clean creatures and dislike eliminating where they sleep or eat. They also appreciate privacy when (ahem) doing their duty. Build allegiance to the litter box by positioning it correctly, in a low-traffic area away from the cat’s bed and food bowls. Also remember that kittens may not have the physical capacity to “hold it” long enough to run clear across the house or down the stairs. Provide a box on each end of the house, or one per floor.

SIZE MATTERS

A regular size box may be too large for new kittens to climb in and out. A disposable cookie sheet works until he’s bigger. Average size adult cats do well with standard commercial litter pans, but jumbo-size cats (Maine Coon kitties come to mind!) may need larger toilets or risk hanging over the sides when they pose. Translucent plastic storage bins with a cat-size hole cut in one side may be ideal.

FILLER ‘ER UP WITH…WHAT?

A variety of cat box fillers are available, from plain clay to pine pellets and recycled wheat or corn crumbles. The ideal material absorbs moisture, contains waste and odor, and most important of all, suits the cat. Fine textures such as the “clumping” clay litters seem to be the feline favorite. Fill the box an inch or so deep with the filler.

If you’re transitioning an outdoor cat to an indoor box, do a bit of research and follow him to find out his preferred substrate. Dusting a bit of plain garden dirt, or a layer of grass or leaves over top of the commercial litter may help give him the idea of what you have in mind.

TRAINING TO THE BOX

Kittens and cats new to your home won’t know where the box is, even if they do know what it’s for. Place the kitty on top of the clean litter, and scratch around with your fingers to prompt imitation. Even if the cat doesn’t need to “go,” a pristine box often tempts them to dig a bit, which may lead to the first deposit.

When he’s creative in the box, reward your cat with verbal praise, a toy, or even a tasty treat reserved only for training. Don’t pick your new kitty up out of the box. Let him make his own way out of the box and the room, so he’ll better remember how to get back there the next time nature calls.

For tiny kittens, leave one recent deposit in the box after he’s been productive. The scent is a reminder of where the box is, and what he’s supposed to do once he’s there. But remember to keep the box clean or the cat will avoid the dirty toilet and find a better spot—such as under your bed.

CREATE A POTTY SCHEDULE

Until you’re sure the kitty consistently uses the box, make a point of scheduling potty times. Kittens need to eliminate more frequently than adults do. Take the baby for a pit stop after each nap, meal, and play period.

Teaching basic bathroom allegiance from the beginning ensures your kitten gets off on the right paw—and saves your carpet. You’ll find even more of kitten “must knows” in the book Complete Kitten Care.  Have you ever had problems training kittens to “go” in the right spot? How did you manage?

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