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Cat potty training is a challenging responsibility that cat owners must face every day. Although the average cat lover may only have to live with mundane, daily litter scooping, others face health hazards such as urination all over the household.
To prevent and correct such behaviors, you'll need to understand the primary aspects of the litter box experience that shape your cat's desire (or aversion) to eliminate in the appropriate place. These features and related behavioral management practices are discussed below.
Provide a Comfortable, Private Place to Potty
The litter box you buy for your cat is critically important to how well they behave during potty time. Many people are surprised by how picky their kitties can be when it comes to their litter boxes. You should consider a few key features of the box before purchasing it for your cat:
Shape: Most people opt for square litter boxes. However, these aren't the only options on the market. If you find that a rectangular or square doesn't quite fit your space, explore circular models. As long as it is tall, wide, and deep enough for your cat to comfortably relieve themselves in, the litter box will be just fine.
Depth: The box must be long and wide enough for your kitty to comfortably turn around without bumping into the walls. Anything smaller than that is too compact. Eventually, your cat will inevitably be turned off to using their litter box, increasing the likelihood of potty mishaps in the house.
Height: The most comfortable height for cat potty training is about 5-7" tall. This is suitable for cats that don't kick the litter out or don't typically "spray" their urine. This height will give them just enough privacy to feel secure during their potty time without making them feel trapped.
Note: Cats that do kick litter and poop everywhere or spray during potty time need a bit more height on at least three walls of the litter box. Between 8-12" should be just fine. Please remember to keep the entry and exit point down to about 5-6". Anything higher than that will be difficult to cross over and may discourage the use of the box altogether.
Cover or no cover: Whether your chosen litter box is enclosed or not depends heavily on your kitty's personality. Cats on the shyer side are more likely to appreciate the extra coverage than others, while those with more outgoing personalities may not like it. Try giving your cat two options, one covered and one uncovered, and see which they use the most.
Not all cats will be able to use litter boxes of these dimensions as easily as others. For example, senior kitties may have a tougher time getting around. In these cases, you'll need to lower the sides to 2.5-3.5" to keep them comfortable.
Keep the Litter Box Clean
Your cat is just as conscious of cleanliness as you are. If their potty area is accumulating too much poo or clumps of urine-soaked litter, they will refuse to use it, which may lead to unacceptable potty behaviors like peeing in houseplants or on furniture.
Plus, if another cat's waste is in the box, your cat will pick up on the scents and may avoid using that particular area to relieve themselves. This is the main reason why it's so important to have several litter boxes in a multi-cat household. Having one litter box per cat, plus an extra, ensures that none of your cats will experience an aversion to designated potty spaces due to preventable territorial behaviors.
If the thought of keeping all the house's litter boxes clean is too much for you, consider buying a self-cleaning model. You'll hardly ever need to manage it, and your cats will never have to worry about messy boxes. However, be mindful of the specific automated features that enable the cleaning, as they might spook your cat.
Veterinarians recommend the following cleaning practices:
Scoop any clumps out of the litter box daily.
Completely replace the litter every week.
Each month, dump all the litter out and deep clean the litter box.
Replace the litter box once per year.
Minding the Substrate: How to Choose Litter for Your Cat
One of the most important aspects of cat potty training is the litter itself. You can have all the other features perfectly planned and all vetted to your cat's preferences, but if the litter is uncomfortable to walk in or its scent is too strong, they won't use the box at all. Here are a few pointers for shopping for litter:
- Clumping or non-clumping: In general, clumping litter is one of the best varieties for daily maintenance. However, some cat owners are hesitant to use it, specifically for kittens and neonates. These young'uns like to nibble on litter, introducing the possibility of it clumping in their tummies. So, this litter should only be used for ages 4 months and older.
Coarse vs. fine: In the 90s, animal behaviorist, Dr. Peter Borchelt, ran three separate tests, each over 10 days, and concluded that cats strongly preferred fine grain litter more than all 13 alternatives. There's no guarantee that this texture is the right choice for your cat, but evidence shows that this is a strong contender for a happy, peaceful potty time.
Scented vs. non-scented: Cats do not like scented litters! Anytime a manufacturer adds pretty smells to a litter, they are doing it specifically for the humans' noses. Cats' olfactory senses are 14 times stronger than that of humans'. So, the light citrusy or pine smell that gently caresses your nostrils may be burning their nasal cavities day in and day out. Avoid these litters!
My Cat Pees Everywhere – How to Stop It?
So, you've already picked the highest-quality litter box you could find in stores. You've placed it in your cat's favorite spot in the house, have made sure that there's one additional litter box to the total equal to the number of cats in the household. Yet, no matter what you do, your kitty just won't stop spraying and otherwise peeing everywhere except the litter box! What gives?
There are a few reasons why your kitty might be protesting in this way. Some are behavioral, while others are medical, and may require a visit to the vet. Here are a few possibilities to consider if your kitty refuses to use the litter box as desired:
- Urinary tract infection (UTIs): Like it is with humans, UTIs are incredibly uncomfortable (or painful) to live with. If your cat uses their most favored litter box one day and is suddenly in pain, they may mistakenly associate those negative sensations with the litter box. This association will result in their avoidance of the box, leading to urination elsewhere in the house.
Note: Sometimes UTIs make it difficult for your cat to control when and how often they urinate. If your cat is peeing everywhere, but where you've designated, it may not be intentional. The kitty may just be unable to hold their bladder like they once could.
Arthritis: Again, consider the litter box's height before expecting your cat to use it. If your kitty is getting old and lives with not-so-healthy joints, it may have a hard time stepping over the wall and into the box. When the task of peeing in the litter box is too tough, it'll just choose to potty elsewhere. Getting a litter box with shorter sides can help resolve this issue.
Stress and intimidation in multi-cat households: Living with multiple cats in a single home presents unique challenges, including behavioral problems related to potty time. Sometimes, cats will bully one another out of using specific litter boxes in the house. If this is the case, change the timid cat's litter box's location, making it difficult to access by others.
Please understand that spraying urine everywhere is a natural behavior meant for marking territory. It's not a malicious or destructive behavior to be outright punished but gently corrected. (If you punish your cat for doing this, you're essentially prosecuting it for behaving according to its instincts.)
Spraying urine is simply a territory-marking behavior, so you must be wise about how you go about correcting this. You don't want to make your cat feel as if it can't claim its home. Instead, you should just show them where it's appropriate to do so. Getting an enclosed or tall litter box and placing it in the cat's preferred sites can curb this issue.
However, on the other hand, keep in mind that spraying can also be indicative of stress. So, if you're noticing abnormal behavior from your fur-baby (especially after spaying and neutering – only 10% of neutered cats and 5% of spayed cats continue spraying after surgery), consult with a veterinarian to get the problem under control as soon as possible.
Toilet Training Cats Pros and Cons
Potty training your cat is a necessity. You don't want to live in a home where your cat feels that they can just urinate, defecate, or anything else, wherever they like. Otherwise, your house would be a constant mess and an outright health hazard!
In that lies an obvious advantage to putting forth the effort to potty train your kitty. However, there are some disadvantages to be aware of as you embark on this journey with your little fur-baby, especially if you're considering abandoning the conventional litter box and opting for newer methods like literal "toilet training."
Toilet training your cat is the process of teaching your cat to eliminate in the toilet using a specialized device. Over time, you decrease the amount of litter in the pan. This slow progression enables your cat to grow used to the concept of balancing on the edge of the toilet seat and doing their business where their human housemates do.
The primary benefit is that it relieves you of litter box cleaning responsibilities without placing excessive stress on your cat and their potty time. However, this route is not as easy and convenient as it may seem. Here are a few key toilet training cats pros and cons:
(Ultimately) eliminates the necessity of cat litter.
Without litter, your cat is unable to make a mess by kicking litter out of its box during potty time.
Absolves you of all regular litter box cleaning responsibilities.
Eliminates the potential for cat waste piling up and creating an odor throughout the house.
You can't just install one extra toilet in the house to make your cats comfortable. They're bound to all need the toilet at once, which can lead to behavioral issues.
Your cat can easily slip into the toilet.
This is not an easy or realistic option for older, arthritic cats.
While you may be tempted to hop onto the toilet training bandwagon, please consider your cat's physical capabilities and personality before committing to this decision. If the process goes wrong, you stand to waste a lot of time and energy and may even traumatize your kitty in the process.
It's tough to get ahead of cat toilet training problems, especially when they're peeing and pooping everywhere but the places you've set aside for them in the house. Yet, with this guide, you can ensure a positive potty time experience for each one of your felines, no matter their age or preferences.
About the Author
Jazmin “Sunny” Murphy began writing informal scientific content on nature and animals in 2015. Four years later, she launched her freelance career as a digital content and copywriter. This work merges her academic perspective, rooted in her B.S. Zoology, and professional experience as a veterinary tech, university research assistant, and more with relevant marketing, SEO, and engagement techniques across various industries. Jazmin now covers pet care, pest control, cannabis, outdoor recreation, STEM research and news, and product reviews across several niches.