Correct use of the litter tray is one of the easiest things you can train a cat to do, as cats have a similar view to humans on the best place for a toilet, and tend to get the concept of the tray pretty quickly.
None of us likes to eat too near the toilet, and none of us likes to relax near it either, and so it is for cats, so you’re already two steps ahead from most training tasks.
Unfortunately when litter training is not working it can also be one of the most unpleasant and frustrating problems to try and solve – but if you’re having problems in this area do not despair.
A cat will urinate for only one of two reasons, the first being waste disposal the second being territorial ‘spraying’. A cat will only defecate for waste disposal. It is the waste disposal aspect we are dealing with in this article.
If your cat is spraying then the problem is beyond the scope of this article, but there are some excellent resources on the web that deal specifically with spraying problems.
Getting a cat to do anything is almost always a matter of psychology. If you can work out how the cat sees the situation and change the environment to promote a different point of view, then often all that is needed is a little encouragement.
So, how does my cat see the situation?
When your cat chooses a place to use as a toilet their reasoning is a balance of convenience, cleanliness, somewhere unlikely to be disturbed and somewhere away from the other areas that are already allocated for eating, socialising, relaxing or some other activity.
Getting your cat to use the tray is simply a matter of making the litter tray the most appropriate choice and minimising the suitability of other areas.
Step-By-Step Litter Training
Step 1: Choose an appropriate litter tray.
The regular large litter trays available in our shopping section are perfect for training with most cats. The only advice with these is to make sure you get one large enough that your cat could comfortably lay down in it (although hopefully that’s not what he’ll be doing there) so we also offer extra large litter trays which are suitable for larger cats.
If you’re keen to avoid direct contact with cat litter then cat litter liners are a great help, and the disposable litter trays from Katpak are also a viable option. You will have to cut your own access hole in the top of each new Katpak during training, but that’s a simple enough ask for the convenience they provide.
I would definitely encurage anyone to try the disposable trays once the cat finished this training – I can’t tell you how pleased I am to know that I never need to clean another litter tray! Our cats went from the normal litter tray to the Katpak without any encouragement or effort on our part, but scroll to the bottom of this article for a supplemental section on how to encourage cats to make the switch if they don’t do it all by themselves.
Step 2: Choose some litter.
There are so many types of litter that it would be impossible to go into detail here, but the commonly available plain types, such as wood pellets, paper or clay, are fine for most cats.
Don’t use anything with strong perfumes or antibacterial chemicals during training, and whichever you choose, try to avoid changing it until the training is complete.
Step 3: Choose the right spot.
Make sure the location of the litter tray meets all of the criteria to make it an appealing spot (as discussed above), being careful not to hide it.
In a nook of a utility room or garage is ideal, somewhere near the cat flap might be good too. It doesn’t matter if the tray is in an area with less heating than the main parts of the house. The cat will not spend much time there and they are perfectly prepared to go outside, so the shelter of a garage is almost considered a luxury.
The corner of a bedroom is not a bad place to start with a litter tray, but the associated smells can sometimes be unpleasant, so you might not want it in the bedroom for longer than necessary.
Wherever you put it, make sure you put some newspaper down underneath it – even well trained cats can sometimes have ‘boundary issues’! (If your cat is a persistant offender in this area then you’ll love the extra large cat litter trays)
Step 4: Introduction
Having found the perfect spot, you now need to show the cat where the tray is. Make sure to have a generous layer of litter in the tray (3cm or so will be fine) and gently place the cat in the tray.
You might like to have a dig around yourself, partly to show the cat that this is OK but also so they can hear the sound and see that it might be something they would like to do.
Don’t worry if the cat seems disinterested, even if they go off to another room straight away. Almost certainly they will have made a mental note of the location, and it’s even quite possible that they will already know what to do and are just waiting for the need to arise, or some privacy, or possibly delivery of the morning paper for some reading material.
Step 5a: Creating a positive association
(Mainly for indoor cats – you may skip this if your cat is currently using the garden)
When you next see the cat using an area he is not supposed to, pick him up and immediately put him in the litter tray. Make a fuss of him and let him know he’s good, especially if he used the tray. (If you’re using the disposable ones then cut a large hole in the top to allow this)
Do not under any circumstances scold your cat for using the wrong area. This will create a negative association in the cats mind between yourself and his toilet habits, and may make it harder to create the right association with the litter tray.
Make sure you clean the undesirable area thoroughly and eliminate any smells. Any remaining smells will make the cat more comfortable returning there next time.
You can buy some excellent smell/stain removing products from any pet shop and even many supermarkets. The best products contain an enzyme that breaks down the smell, the presence of which will be clearly labelled on the bottle – these are definitely more effective than the ones without the enzyme.
You might also want to cover the undesirable area with a chair or something else, to prevent access entirely.
Repeat step 5a as necessary. Most cats will get the idea of using the tray pretty quickly, even if it takes a while longer to discourage use of their previous choice of latrine.
Step 5b Creating a positive association
(For outdoor cats – if your cat is an indoor only cat you can skip this step)
Prevent access to the outside for up to a few hours and wait for your cat to ask to be let out. This may not take very long. When your cat asks to go out, pick them up and put them in the litter tray. (As above, you will need to cut a large access hole in the top if you’re using the disposable litter trays)
If the cat uses the tray, congratulate him and reinstate access to the outside immediately. You’ve now begun making a positive association between using the tray and getting rewarded.
If your cat doesn’t use the tray, congratulate them, but do not reinstate access to the outside unless they become agitated or insistent – we don’t want to create a negative association with the litter tray.
Repeat step 5b a couple of times each day until litter tray use becomes ‘the norm’. This may be just a matter of a day or two, but if it takes longer be persistent. Don’t, under any circumstance, get angry at the cat or make a big deal when they don’t use the tray.
Some more things you need to know, or,
Zen and the art of Litter Tray Maintenance
Keeping a litter tray is really not difficult, especially not with disposable ones, but improper maintenance will usually lead to the cat choosing a better spot – better for the cat, that is, it probably won’t be so good for you!
Here are a few extra things that should be done to keep everything working right.
- Whilst training, scoop away any clumps or solids at least once a day.
- Keep the litter topped up to between 2cm and 4cm of coverage at all times
- Change the litter box entirely at least once a week, but more often if you find it develops a strong odour
- Don’t over clean plastic trays or use products with strong chemicals or smells. If it smells ‘wrong’ the cat just wont use it
- Until the cat is used to the tray, try not to change the type of litter used
- Don’t use scented or antibacterial cat litter until the cat has been using the litter tray for a while and it has become established as normal.
Most cats can be persuaded to use the litter tray by following the above steps. If you find that after a couple of weeks the cat is still not willing to use the tray, first consult a vet to eliminate medical problems and then seek specialist advice. The vet should be able to recommend a good cat-psychologist.
Supplemental – encouraging a cat to use the Katpak disposable litter
trays when they are used to the old style trays.
If your cat is used to the hooded litter trays then moving to the disposable ones should be no problem, but some cats who are more used to the open plastic trays don’t know what to do with the hooded type.
Here are a few ideas you can try in conjunction with the above instructions to show kitty what’s what.
- Place the Katpak in the (cleaned) plastic litter tray
- Set up a regular litter tray and as soon as it’s been used transfer the litter into a Katpak (this makes it smell ‘right’)
- Cut the top half of the Katpak off and use it like a normal tray. You can, of course, stop doing the above steps once Kitty is used to using the tray.
This is not an exhaustive list and the tips are in no particular order. We haven’t had enough time with Katpaks yet to write a training guide, or even to know if one is needed – maybe you could write one for us?
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