There is a simple strategy that can make the litter box training process much easier for both cat and owner. It’s a process that is easily performed during the transition process into a new home.
To get started, you’ll need a large dog crate. It must be large enough to allow the cat to walk around a little bit and it must accommodate a litter box, bed, and food/water dishes. This method is very similar to the method that’s used to crate train dogs and it’s very effective.
Cover the top, back and sides of the crate with a sheet to create a cave-like atmosphere. Keep the cat in the crate overnight and whenever the cat is not attended. Ferals and many strays typically prefer to spend 24-7 in the crate for the first couple days, as it provides a soothing, safe, cozy location. During this time, the cat will start to use the litter box on his own accord, as it’s the one location that “makes sense” for bathroom activities. The cat doesn’t have an entire house filled with potential bathroom locations — there’s just the litter box.
Some pet owners may opt to use dirt, sand or gravel in the litter box instead of typical cat litter. This is ideal for tamed ferals in particular, as some can find the smell and dust associated with kitty litter to be off-putting. Over time, you can slowly transition to kitty litter.
On occasion, you’ll encounter a cat who prefers to sit in the litter box, and would rather go potty on the cat bed. In these cases, you’ll need to remove the cat bed from the equation until the cat is consistently using the litter box. In my experience, this typically only takes a day or two.
Of course, the cat can leave the kennel if he desires to do so. The key is that he must be supervised whenever he’s outside of the crate. It’s important to keep a water bottle or a noisemaker (e.g., a soda can filled with pennies) that can be used to provide negative feedback if the cat attempts to go to the bathroom in an inappropriate location. Interrupt the behavior with a spritz of water or a shake of the noisemaker, then, take the cat to the appropriate location (the litter box). Place the feces and/or the paper towels used to clean the urine inside the litter box for a few hours, so the cat associates bathroom activities with the litter box.
It can also help to stand the cat in the litter box and gently grasp the cat’s front paw and move the foot in a “pawing” motion that’s typically used to cover the cat’s urine or feces. This method is especially helpful for kittens and young cats who never got the hang of toilet training!
If your feral cat or stray doesn’t use the litter box after trying the aforementioned method, it’s best to consult your veterinarian. There’s a good chance the cat is experiencing a health problem that’s resulting in accidents or inappropriate elimination. Also remember that an upset cat may go to the bathroom in an inappropriate location as a way to express displeasure. So if a medical problem is ruled out, simply give the cat a bit more time to adjust to the new environment.
Notably, you may opt to use the cat’s natural pottying location to your advantage. For instance, we adopted a stray named Jaime. She had never used a litter box. But she was very inclined to go to the bathroom on puppy pads. So we slowly moved the puppy pads, first into an old a Rubbermaid tub with low sides, and then into a litter box. Finally, we added litter to the equation over the course of several weeks. Another one of our former feral cats was afraid of the litter box, but she was very curious about the toilet. So with a bit of training, we taught her to use the toilet. (We’re still working on flushing part!)
Is your cat still having potty problems? Read PetLvr’s related article titled, “Why Isn’t My Cat Using the Litter Box?”