Most cats learn from their mothers at a very young age to use a litter box, but recently-adopted stray or feral cats may not know how to use a litter box. Sometimes even a well-trained cat may seem to "forget" and start relieving himself around the house. The reasons for this lapse in litter box training may vary from medical issues to simple tastes and preferences. Whether you're training a recently-adopted cat who has never used a litter box or are retraining your long-time cat to use the litter box, following some simple tips will help get your cat on the right path.
1. Choose a large litter box.
A common cause of cats engaging in inappropriate elimination is that the litter box is too small for the cat. This is particularly important if your cat is still growing; a litter box that's on the snug side now may be far too small for his liking in a few months. When choosing a size for your cat's litter box, it's generally best to err on the side of caution and get a bigger litter box. Your cat will feel like he has more room, and he will be less likely to think it's too full too quickly.
If your cat is small or elderly, choose a box with low sides so that he will be able to enter and exit the litter box without difficulty.
2. Decide on covered or uncovered.
Covered and uncovered litter boxes both have their advantages and disadvantages. Some cats have a preference, while others don't. You may want to try both and see the type of box your cat prefers.
The biggest advantage to a covered litter box is privacy, which some cats value. Having a cover may also help deter a dog from eating out of the litter box if that is a risk in your home.
Covered litter boxes do tend to trap odors inside the chamber, which can make a dirty litter box more even more unappealing to your cat.
If your cat is very large, he may have a hard time turning around inside the box or digging in the litter.
3. Get more than one box.
If you have enough room in your home for more than one litter box, it may be worth getting a second or even a third litter box. This may even be a necessity if you have more than one cat, or if your cat is young and still learning to use the litter box, but some experts recommend that you have at least one litter box per cat in the house, plus one extra.
4. Find a good location.
Cats have a natural instinct to bury their wastes, but if the litter box is inaccessible, your cat may look for other locations to relieve himself. Choosing the right spot for your cat may take a little trial and error, but in general, there are some common points to consider when choosing a location.
Make it accessible and convenient. Your cat won't want to go searching on a long trek when he needs to relieve himself, so make it easy for him to get to the litter box from most places within your home.
Do not set up a litter box near where you give your cat his food and water. Cats view their feeding area as a sort of home within the home, and their natural instinct is to urinate and defecate away from that space. Setting up a litter box near your cat's food and water bowls can make him anxious and increase the likelihood that he will have out of box eliminations.
Give your cat some peace and quiet. Most cats want a quiet, undisturbed place to eliminate wastes. If you place your cat's litter box in a noisy, high-traffic area (like a laundry room or in the family room), there's a good chance your cat won't want to relieve himself in the litter box due to its location. Give him a quiet, low-traffic area that's still accessible and easy to find.