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How Do Cats Know To Use A Litter Box

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Cats know how to use a litter box because of their natural instinct to bury their feces.
  • Some cats may not naturally know how to use a litter box and will need to be trained.
  • Positive reinforcement is the best training method for cats, using rewards and distractions.
  • Cats may not use the litter box due to dirty litter, medical conditions, negative experiences, or noisy environments.
  • Cats are aware when their litter boxes are being cleaned and prefer a clean box.
  • Litter boxes should be placed in a quiet, uncluttered area away from the cat's food and water.
  • The litter should be changed every two to three weeks, depending on factors such as the number of cats and the type of litter.
A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Gold medalist veterinary student from UVAS Lahore writes captivating articles and is passionate about animal care.
Published on
Saturday 3 February 2024
Last updated on
Monday 30 October 2023
How Do Cats Know To Use A Litter Box
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Unlike puppies, most cats automatically know where to pee and poop. With that, it is normal to wonder how cats know to use a litter box without being taught. In this article, we are going to talk about how some cats know how to automatically use a litter box and cat litter box training. Also, we will discuss the possible reasons why some cats refuse to use their litter boxes. 

How Do Cats Know How to Use the Litter Box?

There are cats who automatically know how to use the litter box without training. However, not all of them have this skill. For cats who naturally know where to pee and poop, it is mainly because of their instincts. 

In order to hide their scent from other animals, cats have an innate tendency to bury their feces. The majority of commercially available cat litter has a texture and consistency that make it simpler for cats to hide their poop. It is what naturally attracts them to a litter box. They naturally go toward the litter box when they need to use the restroom as a result.

Additionally, it’s important to encourage newborn kittens to urinate. But they will naturally start using the litter box when they are three to four weeks old. Theoretically, a cat or kitten will use a proper litter box if you set one in the room.

However, stray cats making the transition from living outside to indoors may persist in using your houseplants as a litter box despite knowing what to do. By putting away the houseplants and supplying litter boxes with various kinds of litter, you may help the animals. You may also think about gradually switching to commercial cat litter while including natural substrate in their litter box.

How to Train Your Cat to Use the Litter Box 

Now, since there are cats who do not automatically know how to use the litter box, knowing the best and correct ways to teach them is a must. With that, we prepared a list of how owners can properly train their cats to use the litter box.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Punishment-based training is ineffective since cats are prone to react in fear and tension, which frequently leads to behavioral issues. Punishment methods bring out behavior problems like loud meowing and whining. 

Because of this, the majority of trainers advise cat owners to exclusively utilize positive reinforcement training. It means rewarding the cat for its good conduct. Additionally, providing them with distractions or other alternatives if they exhibit undesirable behavior is a must.

Use a Clicker

Trainers can use any object that creates a sound to tell an animal when it has displayed the desired or right behavior. Clicker training employs sound to do this. A common teaching tool is a clicker. It is a little plastic box with a metal button that, when swiftly depressed, produces the click sound.

When using a clicker to educate a cat, the trainer clicks when the cat exhibits the desired behavior and gives the cat a treat right away. The cat will learn to link the sound to the reward and come to realize that the sound denotes success. 

Because the clicker enables a trainer to inform the cat quickly when they do it correctly and makes it simpler for the cat to know precisely which behavior they are receiving the reward for, clicker training is popular in the cat training industry.

In addition, there are studies suggesting that clicker training has the same efficiency as giving treats or food to your pet. A study by Burton (2019) claimed that clicker training is an effective training method, and is par with using praise or food

Is It Possible for Cats Not to Learn How to Use the Litter Box? 

Yes, it is possible for some cats not to learn how to use the litter box – however, this occurrence is very uncommon. As previously indicated, a cat’s natural nature is to bury its waste and mask its aroma. In light of this, it is crucial to consult your cat’s veterinarian if it stops using its litter box to see if there are any health or behavioral issues that require attention.

Why Do Cats Pee or Poop Outside the Litter Box? 

There are different reasons why your cat who already knows how to use the litter box decided to pee or poop outside of it. Since cats are famous for being hygienic, they are very keen when it comes to choosing the place where they pee or poop. 

Dirty Litter Box

Cats are hygienic creatures who like a private, quiet space to relieve themselves. Your cat could look for a different bathroom because of anything from the type of cat litter to a dirty litter box to the size and form of the box.

Medical Condition

Keep track of your cat’s urine health with pH-changing litter if they have been identified as having urinary difficulties or are prone to them. Changes in bowel habits may be brought on by intestinal parasites, general stress, or gastrointestinal pain. Unusual potty behavior is usually a valid reason for making an appointment with your veterinarian.

Negative Experience

Any animal, including cats, is particularly susceptible when they are using the restroom. The cat will be reluctant or nervous to use the litter box if they have had a bad encounter there or nearby.

Noisy Environment

Cats are not a fan of loud noises. With that, cats may become stressed out and start peeing outside the box as a result of persistent loud noises and unpredictable behavior. Thus, it is important to choose a place that is quiet or away from the noise. 

How Do Cats Know To Use A Litter Box: FAQs

Before we finish this article, here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how cats know to use a litter box: 

Can cats find their litter box if you move it?

Although it might be difficult, teaching a cat to use a litter box in a new place is possible. Your cat can learn to shift its potty habits to a new location with time and care. This results in making you and your pet more at ease.

Do kittens naturally know how to use a litter box?

Unlike puppies, most kittens naturally know how to use the litter box around three to four weeks old. This behavior is the result of their natural instinct to bury their pee and poop under the sand or soil. However, there are rare instances where kittens need to be trained first.

Do cats know we clean their litter box?

Yes, cats are aware that their litter boxes are being cleaned. In fact, cats prefer it that way. Most cats will refuse to use their litter box if it is dirty and gives off an unpleasant smell.

Where should a litter box be placed?

Kittens are lured to places that are not their primary home base, such as corners or other places. So, start by positioning the litter box in a clear and uncluttered place. Moreover, ensure to place it somewhere quiet and away from their eating and drinking area.

Where is the best place to put the litter box?

As mentioned, it is best to place your cat’s litter box somewhere in the corner, away from their food and water dispenser, and in a quiet place. Cats often feel stressed in noisy environments and do not like their food and water being near the place where they pee and poop.

How often should you change cat litter?

The basic rule of thumb when it comes to changing your cat litter is every two to three weeks. However, there are certain factors that might affect that span. Those factors include the number of cats that use the litter, the type of litter, and the amount and smell of their excretion. 

To sum it up, the answer to the question “how do cats know to use a litter box?” is that it is part of their natural instinct. Cats naturally prefer to bury their poop under sand or soil. However, there are rare cases where cats do not know this naturally. With that, proper potty training is needed. In doing this, never rely on a punishment-based method since it can result in unwanted behavioral changes. 

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