Q: How do I litter train my cat? My couch smells so bad that I have to get rid of it. I am afraid I will have to throw out my new couch soon too. My vet says that it is not a health issue.
Kittens learn their social and life skills from their mommy at a very young age. They learn by mimicking their mother as soon as they are able to walk. Hence kittens should not be separated from their mother until they are at least 8 weeks old.
As cats are hunters by nature, they are used to hiding their scent. Hence after using the washroom, they instinctively cover up their waste so their predator cannot track them. As the habit comes naturally, it is easy to litter train them to use the litter box.
There are unfortunate situations where the kitten is separated from their mother before they are old enough or where older cats stopped using the litter box. Try using the following methods to train or re-train them to use the litter box:
Be Mother of Cats
Bring them to the litter box and scratch the litter. They usually get it from the sound and watching you do it.
Especially for kittens who are easily distracted and always up for play time, they may forget that their little bladder cannot hold all that water. Bring them to the litter box at a regular interval for a scheduled pee and poop time.
After feeding is a good time to visit the washroom. This is also a good way to get them familiar with the location of the litter box.
Let them know how happy you are after they successfully use the litter box. You want them to associate litter box with a positive experience. Treats and extra play time is a good way to praise your cat (and make them tired so they don’t wake you up in the middle of the night. Win-win!).
If they missed, put the poop in the box and bring them over to the box. Hopefully they will get it. Under no circumstances should you yell, scold or hit them. The negative experience could lead to long term behavioral issues.
At the beginning of litter box training, confine them to a smaller space (spare room, etc.). This reduces places and objects that might accidentally become the makeshift litter box. This also reduces distraction from where the box is.
Ideally it is a quite corner away from kids or dogs that might scare them. Once they are disciplined in using the litter box, you can give them more space to discover. Until you are confident enough that they will use the box as needed, always put them back to their space
For newborns or kittens up to 3 weeks, they are not able to pee or poo on their own yet. Therefore you will want to wet a washcloth or paper towel with warm water and rub around the genitals area.
They might try to wiggle out of it but you will need to be persistent until they pee or poop. The best time to do this type of litter training exercise is after feeding time.
Until they graduate from the School of Litter, accidents can happen. It is important to clean up as soon and as thorough as possible. Thorough cleaning is necessary so they do not repeat the accident on the same spot.
Cat urine has a high level of ammonia that can stay stinky for a long time. Adding vinegar to your sheets or pillow case will help eliminate the ammonia smell. For other surfaces, consider enzyme spray that breaks down the ammonia.
Your litter box choice will be crucial for kittens. Litter box with a low lip makes it easy to get in and out without having to jump into a pile of poop. This is also true for older cats with joint issues.
Exercise litter box hygiene so they are not discouraged by the amount of waste or stench that accumulates.
There are some situations where cats avoid the litter box due to some negative experience with litter box. Re-training these cats will take longer than training kittens. Before attempting to re-train, always discuss with vet to eliminate any potential health issues. If you have tried the various methods and continue to have issue, consider changing their litter.
Sandy-type cat litter is more natural for them which means that you might have a higher chance of success if you start with it. If you prefer other types of litter (e.g: paper-based, etc.), you can gradually transition them by layering the two litters together AFTER they are litter box trained.
Many cat owners (including myself) have had great success with the Cat Attract line which contains herb that the cats are attracted to. I have had to properly store my unused litter otherwise my cats would happily use it straight in the container. You can buy just the attractant to use with your current clumping litter but I find the litter itself is more effective.
It is important to realize that the whole process might take a while depending on the cat. Be consistent and persistent. Your time investment will be well rewarded (and your couch will be free of pee stains).
(Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links (read more about it here). However, my opinions are my own and I would only endorse items that I would let my cats use.)