How To Litter Train a Kitten

Jamie Lovejoy, DVM
By Jamie Lovejoy, DVM. Reviewed by Melissa Witherell, DVM on May 12, 2024
small gray kitten in a purple litter box

Adobe Stock/New Africa

Most adult cats will naturally seek out a sandy, granular place to eliminate, but young kittens might need a little help figuring out proper litter box habits.

When litter training kittens, there are a few things you can do to help set your kitten up for success.

Here are some cat potty training tips on when to start, how to choose litter boxes, how to pick the right type of litter, how and where to set up the litter boxes, and how to help your kitten master the litter box.

When To Start Litter Training Kittens

In the first few weeks after birth, mother cats stimulate their kittens to eliminate and clean them up afterward. During that time, kittens don’t need litter boxes.

You can start litter training kittens at around 4 weeks of age by offering kitten-friendly litter boxes. This coincides with the time that kittens start weaning.

If you adopt an older kitten or adult cat, you can start litter box training as soon as you bring them home.

Supplies for Litter Box Training

Making sure you have the right cat potty training supplies is key. This includes:

How To Litter Train a Kitten or Cat

Follow these steps for cat potty training success and avoid litter box mistakes.

1. Choose a Litter Box

While deciding on a litter box may seem like a trivial task, it actually does make a big difference to your kitten.

Full-size boxes may be too big and intimidating for a small kitten. Dr. Sally J. Foote, DVM, a feline behavior consultant certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), recommends a litter tray that is 13 by 9 inches for kittens. 

Your cat’s litter box should be approximately 1.5 times their length. You will need to size up as your kitten gets bigger.

At a minimum, there should be one more litter box in your house than the number of cats. So if you have two cats, there should be three boxes. If you have three cats, there should be at least four boxes.

Uncovered vs. Covered Litter Boxes

Many cats prefer to use an uncovered box.

“In nature, cats don’t want to get caught by a predator inside an enclosed area,” says Mieshelle Nagelschneider, IAABC-certified cat behavior consultant. This means cats can feel trapped if their litter box is covered.

Whether or not your cat prefers a restroom with a roof comes down to your kitty’s personal preference, says Dr. Foote. She says some cats prefer an open space to eliminate, while others prefer an enclosed space. 

If possible, give your kitten a choice between a covered and uncovered box to see what they prefer.

2. Pick the Right Type of Litter

Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grain litters, presumably because they have a softer feel. When it comes to clumping or non-clumping litters, cats have their own preferences. Of course, you might prefer clumping for the ease of scooping. 

Try out a few types of litter to make sure you get the type of litter that your kitten prefers. 

3. Plan Where To Put the Litter Boxes

Box placement and availability can be a critical factor in litter training a kitten. Here are some tips:

  • Space the litter boxes out: If the litter boxes are all in the same corner, they are effectively one big box, which can lead to trouble in multi-cat households if kitties don't want to share.

  • Don’t hide the boxes: It’s tempting to put litter boxes in closets and corners because we don't want to see them, but this should be avoided. Many cats don't like to feel cornered or trapped during toilet time.

  • Make sure there’s light: While cats can see in dim light better than humans, their litter boxes shouldn’t be kept in a pitch-black room. Make sure there’s some sort of light to see and find their boxes. If there’s no ambient light in the place where you keep the litter box, try using a night-light, Nagelschneider says.

  • Avoid distractions: Set up your kitten’s litter box in an area that has few things to distract them from getting down to business.

  • Place a litter box on every floor: The boxes should be spread out, with at least one on every floor of your home. Make it easy for your cat to get to the litter boxes, too. “Don’t make them have to go down the stairs, through the playroom, through the kitty door, and into the utility room,” Nagelschneider says. “Cats don’t want to go any farther than we do to reach the bathroom.”

4. Introduce Your Kitten to the Litter Box

Once you have your supplies picked out and litter box areas set up, it’s time to begin litter training your kitten. 

  • Show your kitten the locations of each litter box and let your kitten sniff them.

  • Gently place your kitten in the litter box. They may instinctively start pawing at the litter or even using the litter box. 

  • If your kitten didn’t use one of the boxes in the initial introduction, try placing your kitten in a box each time they eat, drink, or wake up from a nap until they begin using the box on their own. 

5. Reinforce Good Litter Box Habits

When your kitten uses the litter box appropriately, reward them with a favorite treat to create a positive association with the activity. 

For this to work, the treat must be given immediately after they leave the box so they associate the activity with the reward.

If your kitten has an accident, do not punish them or yell at them. Calmly clean up the mess with an enzymatic cleaner and do not react.

6. Keep the Litter Boxes Clean

Ideally, scoop your kitten’s litter box after every elimination. You don't want your kitten developing an aversion to the box during the training process. After scooping, add some clean litter to maintain a litter depth of 2 to 3 inches to give your kitty plenty of room to dig.

Once your kitten is older and uses the litter box consistently, you can scoop daily instead of after every elimination. You should also clean the litter box thoroughly every week.

What To Do if Your Kitten Won’t Use the Litter Box

If your kitten is having a hard time with litter box training and is pooping or peeing outside the box, try these steps:

1. Carefully evaluate your litter box setup. Every kitten has slightly different preferences. Make sure that the litter boxes:

  • Are easily accessible 

  • Are located in quiet spots

  • Are not hidden in a corner 

  • Are not being guarded by other cats

2. Consider changing the litter box or type of litter. You may want to get a new box (covered versus uncovered, or one with low sides) and place it nearby to see if your kitten prefers another option. Or, keep the same box and only change the litter type to see if it is the box or the litter that is the issue.

3. Scoop and replace all litter more often.

4. Consider using pheromone diffusers near the litter box to relieve stress and make your kitten more comfortable with their surroundings. These diffusers, when placed in the room with the litter box, make kittens feel that they have marked their territory.

5. Bring your kitten to your veterinarian to check for parasitesurinary tract infections, or other medical issues that may promote inappropriate elimination. These are rare with kittens, but they should not be overlooked. Your veterinarian can always help you troubleshoot your kitten’s litter box issues as well.

Above all, remember to be patient! Training takes time, but your kitten will master these habits with your love, support, and attention.


Jamie Lovejoy, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Jamie Lovejoy, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Jamie Lovejoy graduated from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012 after an undergraduate degree in Marine Biology. ...


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