How Do Cats Know to Use the Litter Box?

Adorable-Grey-Cat-Near-Litter (reduced)

Are you a new cat owner that’s worried about getting the right food, bed, and above all, a litterbox? Many people worry how long it can take to litter train a cat when they are first home. Surprisingly enough, it takes cats much less time to use the litterbox regularly compared to dogs! Why exactly is that, though? In this article, you can find out the answer! This article also provides helpful tips such as:

  • Litterbox troubleshooting
  • How to encourage litter use with kittens

Find out this age-old question in the new article “Fur-miliar Litterbox Instincts”!

As many new kitten owners can attest to, the first thing on their mind was how to how to begin potty training. Adjusting a pet to a new environment can be difficult, and getting them to use the bathroom is no exception. Lucky enough, potty training for cats is not as exhausting and prolonged as it is for new puppies. In fact, cats can adapt to their new litterbox in the span of the same day. How do cats seemingly know where you want them to do their business? This article will explain the mystery, as well as a few tips to use if your cat still does not have the hang of it yet.

The Mystery Behind the Litterbox

The secret to cats knowing how to use the litterbox is that they don’t actually know at all! In fact, kittens instinctively are born with this knowledge and only learn a little with the help of their mothers. By the time they are an active young kitten, a cat has already associated potty time with the box, similar to how we humans do at a young age.

This engrained instinct is an archive from a cat’s fierce ancestors, who needed to hunt and run away from predators every day to survive. Cats slowly adapted to bury their waste so their scent could be hidden from predators and prey alike, giving them an advantage while on the hunt. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if your cat was once feral or has been domestic all their life, they hold the same instinct either way. Cats will therefore find someplace that they can bury their droppings. As long as only one place in your house resembles this feature, it is unlikely that your cat will try to use anywhere else to do their business.

Complications to the Instinct

While using the litter box is a natural instinct in all cats, that doesn’t mean that each cat will necessarily want to follow their ancestors’ paw-steps. If your cat begins to stray away from their normal bathroom routine, it may have something to do with the environment instead. Interestingly enough, avoiding the litter box can be a key sign of communication by your cat. Of course, this message could mean many things.

For instance, cats need enough room to bury their droppings, so they will avoid using litter boxes that are too small for them to bury. Scaling up a cat’s litterbox as they grow older is a good way to avoid this dilemma. Similarly, cats dislike places that are very enclosing since it could prevent them from making a quick getaway at any second. For this reason, putting a litter box in a closet or having an enclosed model could frighten your cat and cause them to go somewhere else. In addition, cats are very clean creatures who constantly bathe and groom themselves. So, a naturally clean animal would likely turn their nose at a dirty litter box. Cleaning at least twice a week can help avoid this problem. If nothing seems wrong with the placement or the box itself, your cat may be showing signs of health problems by not being able to control themselves. In this case, it may be a good idea to see a veterinarian.

Tips for Litter Training

If your kitten still hasn’t quite gotten the hang of using the litter box, there are a few ways to help them along.

First and foremost, the litterbox should be introduced into the household on day one. This gives a cat enough time to comprehend the box and not get confused as easily. Place them in the box a few times so they can become accustomed to it. If your cat keeps leaving, try to keep some of their favorite toys nearby so they at least have to see the litterbox when they want to play. In the beginning, an uncovered box could help ease their fears before switching to a covered box. Throughout the day, place your cat into the litterbox after meals or naps, which are usual times that cats need to go. If you notice them using the litterbox, reward them with a tasty treat. After a while this routine should become natural for your cat and not require as much help by you.

As you can see, litter box training is normally no problem for cats, no matter their background or age. Of course, every cat is different and may have different learning curves that stray away from instincts. In these cases, the helpful tips given should train your cat in no time!

Posted in

Dr. Chris Vanderhoof, DVM, MPH

Chris is a seasoned veterinarian with over 15 years of animal health experience in small animal, large/farm animal, equine, and public health fields.

About Us

We've taken the guesswork out of caring for your pets. Our formulations are created by experienced veterinarians to address specific solutions for a variety of pet issues.
All of our products are:


As seen on: