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How to Litter Train an Older Cat: 8 Easy Steps

People with kittens really luck out when it comes to litter training: the mother cat oftentimes fully trains the kittens, all on her own. Even litter training a stray kitten, though more difficult, is a manageable task. But is it possible to litter train an older cat that you take in?

The answer is yes. Cats like to eliminate in litter boxes, so they will naturally gravitate toward that option, if available. With lots of helpful tips and patience, you can train an older cat to use a litter box. Let’s explore the ins and outs of litter training an older cat.cat face divider 2

Do Outdoor Cats Need a Litter Box?

Cats who spend all of their time outside do not need a litter box. Since the beginning of its species, outside cats will go dig their own holes in the ground to do their business. It’s only when you bring an outdoor cat indoors (and keep her there) that you need to get a litter box for her.

It might be worth asking yourself one question before you decide to litter train your older cat: do you have the outdoor space to keep your new outdoor cat outside? Though cats can wander off from time to time, they will consistently come back to people who feed them yummy food. It might not be worth the time and energy of litter training if your new cat can comfortably be outside.

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Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Get the Right Tools

By this point, you’ve decided to take on the task of litter training your older cat. You will need to have a few supplies handy before you begin.

  • Large Litter Boxes (and a Scoop!)

You will want to buy at least 2 litter boxes that are large enough for your cat to fit comfortably in. A good rule to follow is to buy a box that’s as big as your cat is long, including its tail.

Some litter boxes come with roofs or electronic gadgets to clean up the feces. In the case of introducing an adult cat to a litter box for the first time, opt for uncovered boxes with no fancy technology. The covered litter boxes can make the cat feel cramped and unsafe, and the noises of electronic parts might scare your cat. You, of course, want to encourage your cat to use the litter box, not scare him away from it!

For senior cats, consider purchasing a litter box with low walls. Cats that are aging will have sore joints and will need the litter box to be easily accessible.

  • Litter

You can buy a couple different brands of litter to try out to see what your cat likes. Go for unscented, clumping litter first (most cats prefer this), then maybe buy an unclumping version.

It might be tempting to buy scented litter in order to mask the bad smells, but scents that might smell nice to you might be offensive to your cat.

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How to Litter Train an Older Cat

You’re armed and ready with your litter box supplies, time to start training your cat!

1. Find a Quiet and Secluded Spot, With All Her Stuff

You will want to place the litter boxes in places that your cat wants to go, one that’s by the door leading outside and one that has some privacy and is not noisy (behind a cat-safe plant could be a good spot).

When you are first starting out, make sure she’s in a small, contained area where she can easily find her boxes close by. Put up a high gate around her area, or keep her in a small space like a bathroom. Keep her toys, food and water in the same general area.

2. Introduce Your Cat to the Litter Boxes

Help your cat understand the new, foreign boxes by showing them to her. Let her explore with you around so she feels comfortable, and offer lots of positive praise if she enters the box.

3. Experiment with Different Litter Types and Amount

Since older cats are already set in some ways, you will have to cater to his preference. When you are first starting out, you will want to experiment with different types of litter to see if your cat prefers one over the other. You will know this by noticing which litter box gets used most often.

If he decidedly doesn’t like either of them, try mixing dirt in with the litter. Start out with a fair amount, close to a half-to-half ratio, then gradually decrease the amount of dirt each time you change out the litter box.

Another thing to experiment with is the amount of litter poured into the box. Some cats will prefer a thin layer, while others want a thick layer. Start off with a little and keep adding more if your cat isn’t taking to the box. This may give him more reasons to come back.

4. Keep It Clean, But Not Right Away

At first, you will have to strike the right balance of keeping it clean, but not too clean. Don’t be so hasty to clean out the cat pee and poop right after it happens. Cats tend to return to the same spot to go to the bathroom, so leave them something to remind them where it is they should go.

On the other hand, if the box gets too dirty, the cat will not want to use it. Make sure the litter gets changed out at the appropriate times, generally every 3 to 4 weeks.

5. Make Sure Food and Water are Far Enough Away

While you will want your cat’s food and water to be close by when initially starting training, don’t necessarily put the litter box and the food right next to each other. Most animals, including cats, have the instinct to eat and eliminate in different areas. Putting her food and litter box too close together will discourage her from using the box.

6. Try Pheromone Spray

Using a special pheromone spray may help your cat feel less scared about using a litter box. NaturVet Quiet Moments Herbal Calming Spray contains pheromones that calms cats down when they are nervous or anxious. Spritz the litter box at least 5 minutes before your cat needs to use it and repeat every day.

  • Can I Put Catnip in the Litter Box?

Contrary to popular belief, not all cats love catnip. Genetics play a role in this. First, find out if your cat likes catnip by putting some on a scratching post. If he does like it, it is perfectly fine to add a little bit to his litter box.

7. Clean Up Accidents Quickly

Like we already mentioned, when a cat smells his own pee or poop in a certain spot, they are cued to go in that spot repeatedly. This is great for a litter box, but not great for accidents. Closely monitor your cat while training him, and clean up accidents with a special pet mess cleaner. They contain special enzymes to totally get rid of the whole accident, bacteria, smell, and all.

8. Patience is Key

Your cat might not get the idea right away. He could have several accidents, but keep at it. Training a cat to use a litter box is not the same as house training a dog, because cats naturally want a spot to dig when they need to go. Thus, the litter box is a “natural” solution for them.

It’s wise to not punish a cat when she has an accident. Instead, use positive reinforcement by praising her and treating her when she decides to use the litter box.

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No Luck? Talk to a Vet

If many weeks go by and the cat you are trying to train still does not choose the litter box to eliminate, it’s time to talk to a vet. Sometimes cats develop medical problems that cause them bladder issues. Your vet can evaluate whether your cat has an issue like this. If nothing else, he or she will be a listening ear and can offer some expert advice on the matter.cat + line divider

Conclusion

Your older cat has been going to the bathroom somewhere his whole life before meeting you. This can make it difficult to get him to go in a new spot. Try adding a new variable to his litter box, one at a time, and eventually you and your cat will find the perfect litter box combination. Of course, be sure to give him lots of praise when he uses the litter box!

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Featured image credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock