Kittens learn where to go to the bathroom by observing and imitating their mothers. True copycats, they will follow their mothers to the litter box and play and explore in it. Partially by instinct and partially by trial and error, they will start eliminating in the litter box. When kittens are orphaned, however, you might wonder how to litter box train a cat.
The Instincts for Litter Boxes
If the orphaned kittens are young enough, you may need to take over elimination-stimulating duties that their mom would have performed. The average kitten begins litter-box training between 4 and 6 weeks of age. Litter training may go smoothly if another cat in the household has accepted the kitten. The older cat may serve the role of instructor by allowing the kitten to follow him or her to the box, much like a mother cat would do.
The good news is that cats have an innate sense to eliminate in sand. “Eliminating in a sandy substrate, like cat litter, is an innate behavior acquired from cats’ sand-dwelling distant relative, the African wildcat (Felis silvestris libica) – a cat who was all too familiar with sand and the uses to which it could be put,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, DVA, DACVAA, DACVB, professor emeritus at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University in N. Grafton, Massachusetts.
If anything, people should take precaution when it comes to other surfaces that might be seen as a penitential potty spot. “This explains why it is never safe to leave an unprotected pile of builder’s sand in your yard or a kids’ sandpit without a lid,” says Dr. Dodman, who is both a veterinarian and a behaviorist. “Cats naturally gravitate toward sandy substrates though it is helpful to make sure a large litter box with clean litter with easy access is available for all kittens.”
If your new kitten has no other feline companions, you will have to show him the location of the litter box and help him understand what it is there for. It is easier than it sounds. When the kitten starts to explore his environment on his own, you can take him to the litter box several times a day. Twenty to 30 minutes after a meal is a good time because that’s when most animals experience a gastrocolic reflex (increased activity of the intestinal tract that leads to evacuation).
Cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, a certified behaviorist and owner of Cat Behavior Associates in Nashville, Tennessee, who has authored several books about feline behavior, says making sure kittens have everything they need helps them learn where they can eliminate appropriately. They want their own place for a bathroom. They just need a little help. An appropriately sized box for little ones is a must when you’re working on how to litter box train a cat.
“Start with a very low-sided box so it’s easy for kitten to enter and exit,” Johnson-Bennett says. “Place the kitten in the litter box after eating, sleeping or playing. Depending on the age of the kitten, he may even need to be stimulated a little in order to eliminate.”
The Need for a Belly Rub
For those tiny kittens that need stimulation to eliminate, humans will have to step in for mama cat.
“Your veterinarian will give you specific instructions but in general, you can use a cotton ball moistened with warm water on the tummy,” Johnson-Bennett says. “This method simulates the way the mother cat would use her tongue. If the kitten is old enough and able to eliminate on his own, your job will be to make sure he gets to the box in time.”
Getting to the Box
Let the kitten jump in and out of the litter box at will rather than trying to restrain the kitten inside. You can also place some stool in the litter box to signal that this is a designated bathroom spot.
“During kitten training, leave a little waste in the litter box as a reminder of where the pee and poo belong,” she says. “As the kitten gets the hang of it, you can start using your finger to show him how to dig and cover. When he knows where everything goes, you can start scooping the box and keeping it nice and clean for him.”
When it comes to how to litter box train a cat, they make the process easy even if they are orphaned kittens. “Cats naturally gravitate toward sandy substrates,” Dr. Dodman says. “Though it is helpful to make sure a large litter box with clean litter with easy access is available for all kittens.”
By: Elisa Jordan
Featured Image: Via Shutterstock/Africa Studio