Training your kitten to use the litter

Pet Health

Whilst cats may seem to be a little wilder than their canine equivalents, they are very much domesticated, creatures of habit. 

Instinctively however, many cats seek out locations to mark their territory, by urinating in various locations along their home perimeter. This of course can be a frustrating issue for some cat owners. So, I wanted to give you a little context into the mystery of feline behaviour, to not only help you understand why they do it, but also help you understand how to prevent it. 

When I used to work at the Zoo, the behaviour of the big cats was so strikingly similar to the domesticated cats we have at home. In essence, the main difference really is their size (amongst many other scientific classifications). A leopard really isn't too dissimilar to your moggy, or in my case; stray tabby cat called Pacho. The cats at the Zoo often sprayed urine against inanimate objects such as trees and fences to make their territory, which is also a common behaviour in fertile male and female (sometimes also neutered male and female cats) cats. Although cats at home may spray similar objects outside the home, they may also do so  inside the home, which is usually where the problem lies. 

Additionally, it is important for cats of all species to mark their territory. Being primarily solitary, claiming space through scent has and always will be an important form of communication to predators or competitors. Domesticated cats maintain this instinct and so sometimes, they will urinate in locations outside their litter box. For the cat, this is not a spiteful behaviour, but rather one that is important to them for survival in their environment. 

If you have moved house, added or removed a member of the animal or human family, changed the litter substrate, or location of the litter box, or simply made a subtle change to your routine, cats can be sensitive to change and as a result can express this by marking certain areas of the home that is out of character. When my stray followed me home a year ago, he had never been house trained and although most cats (even strays) will successfully use a litter tray almost immediately, Pacho left a range of presents on top of piles of clothes and in corners of the house. Once he was desexed and became comfortable in his environment however, his behaviour charged markedly and now, he consistently uses his litter tray.

I believe it is important when building a relationship with any animal, that you understand their motivations. Ask yourself why they might be behaving that way, before you think about how to change it. So, here are some tips to help you understand your kitten better and teach them to cooperate with you: 

  • firstly ensure they are physically healthy. A quick visit to the vet for this type of problem is always advised as kittens can suffer from urinary tract diseases. 
  • get your kitten desexed straight away! A pair of fertile cats and their offspring can produce over 400,000 individuals over a 7 year period! It's time to get responsible! 
  • provide more than one litter tray. Many cats prefer to have an option or two, especially if you have more than one cat
  • keep the litter tray clean and tidy. Sometimes, the tray needs to be cleaned twice a day. Although this might seem a little exhaustive, it is preferable to having to clean you carpets of cat urine!
  • if you have recently changed the substrate (type of litter), your cat may not like it. Consider using litter that your cat prefers, if you know what that is.
  • reduce your cat's access to areas where they have previously eliminated, and provide litter trays in areas where you want to encourage them towards. Alternatively, place a litter tray beside the area they have been urinating, encouraging them to preference the tray over your carpet. 
  • keep the litter tray away from food and water. Although this may not make a difference, some cats are quite particular about separating their food area from where they do their business. 
  • put your kitten into the litter tray soon after they eat, drink or wake from a nap. If you encourage this routine, they will soon get the idea. 
  • never punish your kitten for not using the litter tray. Instead prevent it where you can and provide access to a number of litter trays. The more you offer, the less they will be able to refuse. 

Remember, animal behaviour is always a form of communication. Whether a cat purrs, strikes, urinates on the carpet or hisses at your dog; there is a reason for it. Get to know their inner emotions and show them that you are listening. The more we understand, the more our behaviour can change to meet the needs of our cat. Why should you have to change your behaviour you might ask? Choosing to domesticate and bring a pet into your home, means you are responsible for their behaviour and welfare. If we change the way we behave for our pet, the behaviour of our pet changes for us. Everybody wins that way! 

Good luck! 

Laura Vissaritis

Please note: Laura's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your veterinarian.

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