Cats are very low maintenance animals. They clean themselves and they will hunt and kill their own food whenever necessary. Unlike dogs, who you have to walk and clean up after constantly, cats have been blessed with an instinct to go to a special place to bury their waste matter so that it won't smell or offend others. They don't do it for our benefit - it is a force of habit and instinct - but regardless, it still makes life easier for a cat owner.
Training a kitten to use a litter box can be one of the most difficult tasks to tackle. In case you haven't noticed yet, cat are extremely stubborn and independent animals. They don't always take well to instruction or demands from humans. After all, most cats believe that they own and command you - not the other way around! Still, there are ways that you can go about getting an untrained cat to use a litter box instead of your carpet as the bathroom. Start as early as possible.
How Do They Learn
Cats normally learn how to use a litter box from the mother. Cats don't even start going to the bathroom on their own until two or three weeks after birth. At about a month old, the mother will guide the kittens to the litter box, use it, and the kittens will copy. You probably won't even be around to witness this - it just happens one day and the young cats usually catch on very quickly.
Feral cat mothers decide on a specific area that will be used as "the bathroom" and teaches the kittens to go there. It is usually an area that has soft, sandy dirt or a pile of leaves. So when you take in a feral or stray cat, this is how they automatically know that the litter box, an area full of sand-like material, is the place where waste should be deposited.
Why do cat's dig a hole and bury their waste? It is an instinctual action. When in the wild, a cat needs to cover her scent so that enemies cannot find or stalk her. Urine or feces has a very strong odor that can give a cat's hiding place away. Burying the waste is the obvious solution.
Training a Kitten to Use a Litter Box
If a kitten is abandoned by the the mother prior to litter box training, it is up to you to teach him where to go. If you have a cat that is having problems using the litter box, maybe missing the box or not covering up his waste properly, it is probably because he didn't have ample time to be taught by the mother how to use the box or bury the excrements.
The best way to deal with a kitten who has not yet caught onto the idea of going in the litter box is to confine him to a room by himself with a clean litter box full of sand or a clumping litter. Some experts say that you should use clay litter instead of the clumping kind at first to prevent a kitten from consuming too much of the smaller sand-like balls of clay. Get the kitten's undivided attention and use your hand to imitate the action of covering something up with the litter. Gently place the cat inside of or near the box so that he can sniff around and see what this is all about. Move his paws around in the clean litter, but don't force him to stay if he doesn't want to. You don't want to make the kitten hate the box.
Next, just spend time with the kitten - an entire day if possible. Stay in the room with the cat, read a book, watch television, eat, and just observe its actions. At some point in that 16 hour period the cat is going to have to use the bathroom at least once. You may be surprised to see the cat go into the box to do his business. Be sure to give him positive reinforcement during the action and afterward, with a happy, excited tone ("Good Boy!") to encourage the behavior.
If you see the kitty crouching outside of the box, immediately put him inside of it. This may be a long term project. After the first couple of days, you can leave the cat alone in the room, still in isolation, until he gets the point. Once you see consistent litter box use after two weeks, you can feel free to let the kitten out to roam with the other cats.
Reasons Why Your Cat Won't Use the Litter Box
This is extremely important. When training a kitten to use a litter box, never put the box too close to her food source. This will either make the food undesirable, or cause the cat to refuse to use the litter box. Would you go to the bathroom next to your dinner plate? Also, cats are very finicky. If you allow the kitten's litter box to get extremely dirty, she may protest by refusing to go in the box. So be sure to clean the litter box every day or every other day.
Since kittens are so small, the litter box might simply be too tall. Purchase a small, short litter box for your tiny kittens so that they can easily jump on in.
Many multiple cat owners don't realize that when a kitten suddenly stops using the litter box, it could be caused by "stalking." This is when an older or more aggressive cat stands outside of the litter box when the kitten is going to the bathroom, then pounces when the kitten exits the box. This could cause severe insecurity issues and the kitten will stop using that "area" to do his business. Remember the scent hiding? He will find another place to go, which will most likely be a corner of your house on the carpet or in a plant. To avoid this, give your kitten its own private litter box on the other side of the house.
A refusal to use the litter box could also be a health or stress issue. If the kitten feels stressed by a new environment or threatened by another member of the household (male or female), he may display his dissatisfaction by going outside of the box. Finally, if your cat isn't spayed or neutered, he or she might be going on the carpet as a way to mark the terrority.