How to Litter Box Train a Stray Kitten

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

The great thing about kittens is that they are very easy to train, regardless of whether they are feral or domesticated. This is especially true with small kittens that have just been weaned. These little fellows are like sponges: they quickly absorb what they are taught. Therefore, litter box training a stray kitten can be a walk in the park if you arm yourself with the right tools and use a little ''feline psychology."

Things You Will Need

  • Dirt
  • Unscented cat litter (small grain is preferable)
  • A small shoe box
  • A litter scooper

How to Litter Train a Stray Cat

The main difference between litter box training a stray cat and litter training a domesticated one is that with a stray cat, you will use dirt. Stray kittens are accustomed to using dirt as their potty, so for this reason, the smell of dirt will attract your kitty to the litter box. Don't worry, this is only a temporary method.

  1. Pour the dirt into a small shoebox. If the kitten is very small (5 to 6-weeks-old) and has trouble climbing into the shoe box, you may use the shoe box lid to start.
  2. Once the box or the box lid is filled with dirt, place it in a very small room. A bathroom will work great, especially if it has tiles, which makes it very easy to clean up messes.
  3. The kitten must be kept in this small room for the first few days. The reason behind this is because kittens are very small creatures that can easily get lost in a normal-sized home. Unable to find their way back to the bathroom, most kittens will urinate or defecate wherever they find themselves.
  4. The bathroom should contain the cat's litter box in one corner, and in another corner, there should be a water bowl and food bowl. The reason we place litter boxes in corners is that kittens tend to look for corners when they urinate and defecate. Kittens also don't tend to defecate where their food and water is. This method, therefore, prevents your cat from urinating in two corners of the room. The other corners should be blocked by something like furniture or anything that will hide a visible corner.
  5. Kittens tend to defecate within half an hour of eating, so you should watch them carefully after their meals. Look for signs of needing to go, such as meowing, scratching the floor, or looking around. If this happens, place the kitten in the litter box immediately. If the kittens goes, praise and pet the kitten.
  6. If your kitten has an accident, do not scold her. This will only scare her. Instead, if possible, pick up the poop and place it in the litter box. This way your kitty will understand where it should go.
  7. Continue to monitor your kitten after every meal and repeat the sequence of picking up the kitten and placing him/her in the litter box.
  8. After a few days, your kitten should start to understand the process. Make sure to keep the litter box immaculately clean.
  9. Begin gradually adding some unscented litter to the dirt. After one week, litter should completely replace the dirt. At this point, your kitty should have a grip on litter box training.

By following these steps and practicing a little patience, your kitten will be going like a pro in no time. These smart little fellows quickly learn their way to the litter box and the way to your heart!

Questions & Answers

Question: I have two feral kittens. They are brother and sister, and both about four-months-old. Will the brother try to impregnate his sister when the time comes?

Answer: Yes, you will have to get them spayed and neutered before the female goes into heat. Usually, this happens around six months. Depending on where you live though, this may happen sooner than later. My kitten went into heat as early as five months and was told that was because we live in Arizona and the increased light triggered an earlier heat cycle. I had to keep her separated as her brother was trying to mount her. She was spayed once out of heat.

Question: At what age does a female cat start to menstruate?

Answer: Female cats do not menstruate in the real sense of the word. They instead go into "estrus." Estrus cycle in cats generally starts around 5 to 6 months of age.

© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli

7 Ways To Help A Stray Cat Use Litter Box

Stray cats as it goes are wild animals, they are not used to boxes or any methods of doing there business. If you have just adopted a stray cat, it can take upto 8 weeks for them to properly learn how to use a cat litter box and sometimes even longer. Hope is not lost yet, using our 7 ways to help a stray cat to use litter you can nudge your cat to using the litter box and making it a habit faster.

Adult cats are naturally very shy, and when you are training them to use a litter box you will have to manage between being there for the cat and just in same time not being there for them.

3 Methods to Train Your Cat

Purchasing Supplies

I). A Large Kitten Box

Since your cat is growing, you need to select a larger kitten box. Small ones are available for little kittens though not economical. Soon, you will be back to the shop to buy a larger one.

To allow your kitten to enter quickly, ensure one side is shorter. You can also fix a piece of plywood on one side of the box. Once the kitten manages to get inside without the plywood, remove it.

Ii). Use an enclosed litter box

The litter box, have a top around it. It is beneficial, especially if you live in a small house. You will minimize the bad smell. Some cats feel more comfortable staying in an enclosed litter box.

A large box is essential when you decide to enclose it. It will create enough room for the kitten to rotate around. Enough space will also satisfy the behavioral needs of some cats. Before bullying their feces, they have to sniff it first.

Once you decide to enclose, be patient. Some cats may not feel comfortable in an enclosed box. You need to make the transition smooth patiently.

Iii). Buy kitty litter

There is a variety of kitty litter to select. Most are okay with an 8-month-old cat and above. Before purchasing, ensure that its dust free. Dust is harmful to your cat and can irritate its lungs.

When selecting a kitty litter, put a few things into consideration. The clumping cat litters are harmful to the kitten. The kitten may eat it and have serious problems when it sticks to their gums.

Most people opt to have a scoop-able litter. You can easily use it to remove the cat’s waste.

Ensure that the litter has no scent. The strong smell may cause respiratory problems to your cat. It can also cause some irritation in the eyes and nose. Cats’ hates scented perfumes and may refuse to use the litter box.

Iv). Purchase a Scooper

Apart from the scooper, you also need to buy a drop cloth. The scooper is useful when removing waste. To avoid messing up your house with the litter, use a drop cloth.

How to Teach a Stray Cat to Use a Litter Box?

Taking on the task of training stray and feral cats is a massive undertaking and it requires a lot of dedication and patience. If you realize that part of adopting a stray cat is that the cat doesn’t know how to use the litter box, this means that you are naturally going to need to teach it how.

Unfortunately, the process for this can be a little bit different than teaching a kitten that you have adopted from the shelter. First things first you are going to need to determine if the cat that you are trying to train is a feral or a stray, as the way you should approach this will be different depending on where the cat’s roots are.

Stray vs. Feral Cats and Litter Box Training

Many people use the words feral and stray to refer to cats who live outdoors and have no owners. While this is certainly true of both cats, there is a difference between the two that you will need to be aware of. Stray cats are cats who may not have an owner but who are accustomed to some degree of human interaction. This can be in the form of having a previous owner or it could be that the cat trusts people enough to interact with them on occasion even if the cat is a little bit skittish. Generally, stray cats are going to be far easier to litter train than feral cats. Depending on how open the cat is to learning, this can take a matter of days or weeks.

By comparison, feral cats are cats who have had no human interaction. These cats were born in a situation without any people and they were raised in the same type of environment. These cats are considered to be unsocialized, meaning that they do not know how to interact with people and may see people as predators or threats and will react to that accordingly. Trying to train a feral cat how to use the litter box is going to be much more difficult as you will first need to establish a sense of socialization and trust with the feral before you can begin trying to teach it. This process can take months, depending on the cat’s attitude toward you and what actions you take.

When it comes to using the litter box, there is a common trait between both feral and stray cats. Both cats have naturally not used a litter box before, although if you are working with a stray who used to have owners, it will be easy to bring back the cat’s old habits. Out in the wild and on the streets, there are no litter boxes for the cat to use. When you present a stray cat with a litter box, it is not going to understand its purpose and this is where the litter box training is going to come into play.

Litter boxes are designed to mimic what a cat would do out in the wild, only in a single localized place. You are going to need to use that fact, as well as your cat’s own natural instincts, to your advantage to try and help the cat learn that the litter box is where droppings go.

Blending the Lines Between Wild and Indoors

Adult cats who have never used a litter box are not going to connect the fact that this is where the droppings and deposits should go. You can, however, help your cat come to this connection on its own. Assuming that you have a litter box as well as some pellet litter that the cat seems to like (you may have to make several attempts to find a litter it likes, though pellet-type litter seems to be the most accepted for cats who are not used to litter boxes), you will want to consider adding something to help the cat associate the litter box with where droppings go.

You will want to try and find some soil and leaves from where the cat would typically relieve itself. If you do not know where the cat previously would eliminate, then you can usually just find any patch of soil and some leaves and use that. This will help the cat associate the litter box with what its purpose is, although you will still need to wait a bit before your cat develops this connection completely. Using soil and leaves from an area where the cat would frequently mark its territory will help tremendously.

Litter-Training the Cat

Next, you will want to give the cat some time to investigate the litter box. Remember that the litter box is something completely new and foreign to your stray cat so it may be wary of it at first. You should let the cat jump in and out of it, walk around it, and generally explore it in any way the cat pleases. You shouldn’t try to restrict your cat doing this or it may develop negative associations with the box and avoid it completely.

As the cat gets more used to the presence of the box, you will then want to help it further associate the box with what it will be used to do. About 25 minutes after your cat has finished a meal or after a session of play time, you will want to try and guide the cat toward the litter box. If the cat trusts you enough to carry it, you should carry the cat and place it in the litter box. From here, you will want to stir the litter, soil, and leaves around. Cats learn through imitation so if the cat sees you doing this, there’s a chance that the cat may follow suit and try it out, realizing that this has a similar texture and feel to where it would normally defecate.

And finally, you will want to provide positive reinforcement. While you shouldn’t watch the litter box constantly because cats enjoy their privacy, if you notice that your cat has successfully used the litter box, you should reward the cat in some way. For some cats, this may be with praise and pets. For others, it may be with extra food or a treat. You should praise your cat in a way that will help associate using the litter box with treats so that you can further reinforce the idea of using the litter box in its mind. Repeat these last two steps as needed before your cat begins using the litter box on its own and you will have a stray cat that is now litter-trained.

Help! He’s Not Using the Litterbox

Elizabeth Teal and Micky Niego, Companion Animal Services, ASPCA

Contrary to popular myth, Garfield wasn’t born using a litter box, he was drawn that way! Cats do not come into this world ‘knowing’ how to use a litter box, that is, a colored plastic box filled with sterilized clay gravel. Cats learn what and where the “bathroom” is from their mom at about four weeks of age. Learning can happen so quickly that the casual observer may be unaware that any active instruction has taken place. In the case of orphan kittens, the caretaker must introduce the box concept otherwise the kittens will randomly choose a spot and imprint on the texture (cloth towels, dust balls, carpeting, etc.). The kitten should be placed in the litter box upon waking, after meals and vigorous play. The front paws can be dragged through the litter to simulate digging/covering. Most kittens take over and successfully use the box. The trick is to keep watch to make sure that the box is the only spot the kitten uses. An unsupervised kitten can easily lose track of the litter box if nature calls, the kitten will use whatever is nearby.

Strays and Feral Cats

If the kitten was born outside, mom may have designated a clump of leaves or soft garden earth as the bathroom. Imprinted on that texture, recently homed feral and stray cats may have to be actively trained to use a box filled with clay litter. While some strays catch on quickly, others don’t. Try a fine grained sandtype litter rather than gravel textured clay. In some cases it may be necessary to start off with the substance the cat was used to (soil, sand, newspaper) and gradually make the switch by changing the proportion of old type to new type over a period of several weeks. Clean the solids out of the litter box daily completely change the litter and wash out the box as often as necessary to keep it clean and dry. Remember, a cat who lived outdoors had many sites to choose from a dirty box will drive the cat away from the box to a cleaner, drier spot (the back of your closet!). If the cat refuses to use the box at any stage, back up to the last stage at which he was successful.

Is She Spayed… Is He Neutered?

Sexually mature cats use urine and feces to mark territory and advertize for a mate. If your cat is over 6, months of age, it should be spayed or neutered male cats are neutered, females are spayed. This is a relatively simple surgical procedure preformed on an anesthetized cat by a veterinarian. Call your vet or your local SPCA to get more information. An intact cat that does not use the litter box is very difficult to train the behavior is hormonally influenced.

Spraying… What Is It and WHY!

Is the urine puddle up against the wall or along the side of the sofa? If so, the cat is not urinating out of his box, he is spraying. When a cat squats, he is emptying his bladder to get rid of bodily waste a cat does not squat when he sprays. He is standing with his tail straight up when he sends a stream of urine sideways it hits the wall and runs down onto the floor. It is not clear whether spraying claims territory or warns trespassers to stay away, but it is clear that is has nothing to do with ‘having to go to the bathroom’. It commonly accompanies stress. Although -both males and females spray, males tend to do so more frequently, and unneutered males almost always do it. The good news is if the cat has just started to spray and is an unneutered male, very often neutering will put a stop to the behavior. Unfortunately, if the cat has been allowed to spray for some time, as is the case with many rescued tom cats, neutering may not solve the problem. Once the behavior becomes habitual, the cat may continue to spray. It may be necessary to work with a professional behavior counsellor in order to modify the behavior.

Clean Box… Clean Cat

Cats will often refuse to use the litter box if it isn’t kept clean. For some cats this means cleaning out the box after each use, for others once a day is more than enough. If the cat thinks the box is dirty, he may use the area around the box (throw rug, sink or tub), especially if he kicks litter out of the box and it scatters,

Is He Really Box Trained?

Some cats can become oriented to-the location of the box. You may think he is trained to the box when he is really trained to use the space in which you have placed the box. In this case, the cat will continue to eliminate where the box used to be. If you must change the box’s location, move it a few feet each day until it reaches the new location. If you have moved into a new home, actively show the cat where the box is after he’s eaten and when he wakes from napping or at times when you know the cat ‘has to go’.

For some- cats changing litter texture (clay to cedar chips or stripped newspaper) or switching to a scented litter may cause the cat to go elsewhere. Switching back to the former litter usually solves the problem. Changing the size/type of box (covered/uncovered) can also send the cat elsewhere. After all, that’s not what his bathroom looks/feels/smells like!

He Uses the Box… Sometimes!

Now we come to the cat who is ‘box-trained’ but has “accidents”. Has the cat ever used the box reliably for any length of time? Does he have accidents once a week, once a month or once a year? A cat who has frequent accidents is not box trained. This cat is demonstrating that he doesn’t know that there is only one place to eliminate. . . the box!

Use close supervision or confinement (see following pages) to train the cat to use the box and ONLY THE BOX. All previously soiled areas must be cleaned and treated with an appropriate odor neutralizing product. Whenever possible, visually change the areas most frequently soiled. Add a chair, an end table, a garbage can or umbrella stand! If it doesn’t smell or look like the ‘old bathroom’, he will be less likely to return. If you see the cat sniffing or scratching around a forbidden area, gently but firmly direct him towards the litter box. If your cat has infrequent or predictable (‘he always does it when I come back from vacation’) accidents, this may be stress related behavior. Read on.

Don’t Yell… Clean It Up!

Never hit or become aggressive with a cat for not using the box punishing the cat after the act will not teach him to use the litter box when he’s “got to go’. Shouting, hitting, and general stomping around will only serve to damage your relationship with the cat it will teach him to watch out for you, that you are an unpredictable and frightening human.

It is important to clean the soiled area thoroughly with an enzyme based cleaner that will remove the source (urine/feces) of the odor as well as take out the stain. If you can’t get to a pet supply store, an adequate substitute can be made from equal parts of seltzer and white vinegar. Never use ammonia or ammonia based products to clean up they will attract the cat back to the spot. Frequently soiled foam-backed carpets or carpet padding can “breakdown” emitting an ammonia-type odor when this happens, enzyme cleaners may not work. In these cases, remove the padding and replace it. Follow package direction carefully make sure you are using the product best suited for your type of clean up (old, dried spots new spots spots previously cleaned, etc).

Is It Spite? No, It’s Stress

Environmental stress takes its toll on house cats. Studies indicate that there is a high correlation between ongoing stress/stressful events and house soiling. Cats are as individual as people. Some are bold, outgoing and adventurous they’re resilient and forgiving. Others lack confidence they’re timid. They slink from room to room and run from strangers. Most cats thrive on the predictability of a daily routine. Personal crisis, a new family member (spouse/baby) or redecorating are significant events from the feline point of view. A dinner party (a bunch of noisy strangers all over the place), going away for the weekend (isolation/change in routine and/or care giver) or having the plumber come in to fix the sink (trespasser) may cause the cat to feel threatened and become anxious. Anxious cats may spray or urinate/defecate outside the box.

Take the time to learn who your cat is and how you can meet his needs and minimize his stress. Whenever possible, insulate the sensitive cat from stressful events. Create a sanctuary for the cat now bed him down there during the big party or when you’re using power tools. Prepare the cat well in advance of a change in routine. Have the cat sitter come and feed the cat several times before you leave on vacation.

Dealing with stressful situations can be more difficult than the retraining exercises. Both objectives should be worked on simultaneously. The cat may continue to avoid the box and/or urinate on personal objects like bedding, clothing and your favorite chair in the presence of unresolved ongoing/escalating stress. This is not to say you must eliminate the stressful element but you must alter the cat’s perception of that element through socialization or desensitization. Consider working with a professional behavior counsellor to modify your cat’s behavior.

The Multi-Cat Household

It is known that cats have a social hierarchy that includes not only dominant and subordinate roles, but pariahs or outcasts as well. It is perhaps important to note that there are no hard and fast rules that structure is dependent on the individual personalities and characters of the cats involved. This is most applicable in the case of the outcast cat. These cats hide most of the time or spend their days on the highest spots they have access to, rarely touching the floor. The other cats may fight with them regularly they rarely fight back. If you find that the house soiler is an “outcast’, the best thing may be to find the cat a new home where he can be the only cat. A cat who was a outcast in one group, may fit in well with a different or smaller group.

Ongoing stress within a multi-cat household can drive one or more members to spray (mark territory) or urinate/defecate out of the box. If the presence of a new cat is causing the existing cat to house soil, confine the newcomer. Make every attempt to keep the first tenant’s life as stable as possible. Other solutions for the multi-cat household include multiple litter boxes placed in separate spaces, and creating more ‘cat places’ with multiple levels (scratching posts with hideout/lookouts, carpeted shelves etc.).

Retraining… Can He Be Helped?

The first step towards a solution is to rule out any, health problems (worms, cystitis, intestinal disease) by having the cat thoroughly examined by a veterinarian. Once is has been determined that the cat is in good health training can begin.

The combination of confinement and supervised freedom is the method of choice. The cat starts the program in confinement. Most cats do well in small rooms. The bathroom is recommended as it typically has non-absorbent tile flooring and offers privacy. Since the bathroom is an essential one for humans, the cat is not isolated for extended periods of time. In addition to those necessary trips to the bathroom, you should make time for 3 to 4 twenty minute sessions with the cat either playing, grooming, talking or feeding. Put a bed for the cat in the room along with some toys. Remember to place dishes and bedding in the corner of the room farthest from the litter box.

Some cats may require a space smaller than a room (with no opportunity to choose the wrong spot) in order to learn to use the box. For these cats, a cattery cage or vari-kennel is useful. It must be big enough to accommodate the cat bed at one end, and the litter box at the other. If the cat urinates on the cat bed, it must be removed. Feed the cat two meals a day, leaving the food down for approximately 20 minutes. Keep a diary note when the cat uses the litter box.

When the cat has been using the box and ONLY THE BOX for 2 weeks, you can begin to allow him access to other rooms in the house a room at a time. Observe from a distance make sure that he has not fallen prey to old habits! The best time to let him roam is right after he’s used the box, returning him to confinement before his next scheduled ‘pit stop.’ Do not leave the cat out when you are not home. Only when you observe the cat reliably returning to the litter box on his own, can you begin to cut back on the supervision. Do not leave food out all day nibbling all day increases the chance of a misplaced bowel movement! The cat cannot attempt to urinate/defecate outside of the box without being observed and directed toward the box. It is best to proceed slowly and build a strong foundation than to rush through the procedure because it is inconvenient or time consuming. In order for effective learning to take place, the cat must be watched carefully and encouraged to use the box consistency is everything.

The complexities of cat behavior become quite evident when dealing with the cat who does not reliably use his box. The solutions often require patience, and always require consistency. Be sensitive to your cat’s needs. Your investment of quality time and attention will be well rewarded.

Watch the video: Best DIY Cat Litter Box!!!

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