Starting Out Right With Your New Cat And The Litterbox

Starting at around three weeks old, kittens will naturally begin using the litterbox. They may need a little guidance, but it is a natural process and usually no “training” is needed. 

Cats are individuals with their own preferences, but here is a guide for what most cats will prefer when it comes to their litterbox set up: 

  • Litterbox: extra-large (cat should be able to turn around comfortably, bigger is better), uncovered, not automatic, no box liners  
  • Litter: unscented, clumping*, fine grained, about 2 inches deep. Once you find a litter the cat likes, be consistent and don’t switch brands. 

*Kittens under 8 weeks should not have clumping litter since they may eat it and it can clump in their stomachs.  

  • Number: If there are multiple cats in the home, there should be a total number of boxes equal to the number of cats +1 (ex: 3 cats = 4 boxes). Don’t line the litterboxes up – cats will view this as one single litterbox and it allows a single cat to guard access to the litterboxes. 
  • Cleaning: Scooped AT LEAST once a day. Every 1-2 weeks, completely dump the litter and clean the box with warm water and a mild, unscented non-toxic soap.  Avoid air fresheners near the litter box. 
  • Location:
    • Litterboxes should be placed somewhere that is easy for the cat to access with at least two sides exposed to allow the cat to exit easily. 
    • Boxes should be in a quiet, ambush-proof space near where the cat spends much of their time. The box should not be hidden or far away such as in a basement or garage, but also should not be in a high traffic area. 
    • It is important to have a variety of locations and at least one litter box per floor of the home. 
    • Avoid placing the litter box in areas where the cat is fed or where children or dogs spend a lot of time. 
    • Litterboxes should be kept away from appliances that make noise, so the cat doesn’t get startled mid-use.  
    • Food, water, and bed should be at least 2 feet away from the litterbox, though preferably in a separate space.  
    • If there is a dog in the home, try to set up a way to keep the dog away from the litterbox (i.e., baby gates). 
  • Other factors to consider: Cats who are seniors or arthritic may find getting into and out of high-sided boxes uncomfortable and may do better with a box with a low entry point. Obese or declawed cats may find standing on or digging in the litter painful and prefer an especially fine-grained litter. Cats with long hair may get feces stuck in their fur, so a sanitary shave may help their litterbox habits.   

If you suspect that the cat does not like the feeling of litter, starting with playground sand (which is very soft) and then slowly transitioning to a more conventional litter may help. In some cases, if a cat has a strong preference for eliminating on a certain material (for example carpet), you can place that material in the litterbox and then gradually cover it with litter to train the cat back to using litter.