How To Train A Cat To Use A Litter Box [Covered & Uncovered]

If you’re a new cat owner, you may be wondering how to get your cat to use their litter box. The good news is that many kittens already know how to use a litter box by the time you take them home.

Most cats take to using a litter box with a little coaxing but sometimes it’ll take a little bit more training to get your cat to use their box.

If your cat is the latter, don’t worry! Below I’ll go over an easy way to train your cat or kitten to use their litter box. I’ll also go over some common hurdles and problems people face plus how to deal with them successfully.

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Supplies Needed for Litter Box Training

You likely have all of these supplies already since you have a cat but I’m listing them out just in case. I’ve also included some training supplies on the list like treats and a clicker.

Litter Boxes

This is quite obvious but you’ll need at least one litter box for your cat to use. It can be covered with a top or uncovered.

I usually advise that cat owners start out with an uncovered litter box before moving on to a covered one. If you have a kitten, start with a shallow litter box that is easy for your kitten to walk into.

Kitty Litter

There are many types of cat litter, the most common being clumping clay. If you don’t want the silica dust associated with clay litter, opt for corn-based or wheat-based litters.

Cat’s are pretty adaptable when it comes to litter. If you’re planning to switch from one litter to the other, it’s best to go slowly and mix the new litter in with the old until all the litter is the new kind.

Training Supplies

For this training, you’ll be using clicker training. If you’re not familiar, go here for a rundown of the basics. Your kitten will need to know what the click means which is easy to do and can be found under the “Priming the Clicker” section.

The supplies needed are:

  • Clicker & Target Stick: This is a small handheld device that makes a *click* sound when you press the button. I like this version that also has a target stick built right in which makes it easier than trying to juggle both a target stick and a clicker separately. The target stick is mainly used to training your cat how to use a covered litter box.
  • Treats: You’ll want to reward your cat after every click so treats are essential. They only need to be the size of a pea though. These freeze-dried ones are what I use since they aren’t filled with all the extra stuff your cat doesn’t need. Kittens have different nutritional needs so using small amounts of their kitten food works well rather than treats.
  • Spoon: Since you’re training around litter, having a spoon or flat tray your cat can eat the treats off of is essential. Your cat won’t want to eat treats that have fallen into the litter.

For other training supply info, check out my article on the 5 Essential Cat Training Tools.

How To Litter Train A Kitten

Follow these steps to train your new kitten to use a litter box:

  1. When you bring your kitten home, set them up in a smaller room that includes their litter box. Make sure not to move the boxes around or else your kitten may forget where they’re located.
  2. Show your kitten the litter boxes. Spend some time petting and praising your kitten around the boxes. Encourage them to sniff and interact with the boxes.
  3. Set a timer for every few hours or make a schedule for placing your kitten into their litter box. This could be before and after their meals, every time they wake up from a nap, and after they play.
  4. You may need to move the litter around a little bit so it makes noise and encourages your kitten to scratch around in the box. A lot of this is instinctual since cats like to bury and cover their bathroom mess.
  5. After your kitten uses the litter box and is completely done, click and give them a treat off of the spoon.
  6. Continue to do this consistently until your kitten is completely litter trained.

Some kittens aren’t interested in food so praise and petting may be a good reward at a young age.

If your kitten has an accident outside of the box, immediately pick them up and place them in their litter box. It’s important that you don’t scold or yell at your kitten for their mistake since this will make them fearful of you and will not help with their litter training.


How To Train A Cat To Use A Covered Litter Box

Many cats take to using their litter pan without issue. The problem often comes in when you add in a litter box with a cover or lid.

Covered litter boxes are great to decrease bathroom smells but can turn your cat’s litter box into a scary dark box. To overcome this hesitation, you’ll need to train your cat to go in and out of the box cover.

For this training, I recommend using a target stick or clicker/target stick combo.

  1. Start with the lid off of the litter box so that there’s only the pan filled with litter. Use the target to get your cat to follow it into the litter box. Click and then give them a treat off a spoon. (Go here to learn how to train your cat to target if they don’t already know that.)
  2. Target your cat back out of the litter box. Click and treat. 
  3. Put the cover on the litter box. If there’s a door flap and the flap can come off, remove it for now. Target your cat into the litter box. Click and treat.  
  4. If applicable, after a few times of going in and out without the flap, add the flap in and target your cat in and out of the box while clicking and rewarding with a treat.
  5. If your litter box has a ramp, target your cat up the ramp, click and treat.  
  6. Throughout training this behavior, I recommend that you have a second litter box that’s just the pan with the litter until your cat is fully trained using the hooded box.

Troubleshooting Tips

Below are the most common litter box questions and problems that come up. Often, litter box issues can be solved by adding another box, making the litter deeper, and cleaning the boxes more frequently.

How many litter boxes should I have with multiple cats?

You’ll need more than one litter box, especially if you have multiple cats. Some cats are quite particular with their bathroom habits and have favorite litter boxes.

A good rule of thumb is one litter box per cat PLUS an extra box to avoid disputes. So for two cats, you’d have three litter boxes total.

Where to put your cat’s litter box?

Make sure the litter boxes are in an area your cat will feel safe. Unused closets, extra bathrooms, or the laundry room are some locations to try.

If you have dogs or young kids, make sure your cat can use their litter box in peace without being disturbed. Cat’s need their privacy and quiet to feel safe using a litter box.

How often to clean a litter box?

My recommendation is to scoop your cat’s litter box daily or every other day at most. This will prevent a buildup of urine ammonia fumes that can cause respiratory problems.

Cat’s are very tidy creatures so they prefer clean litter boxes. Scooping their boxes daily will help prevent your cat from going outside the litter box due to it being too full.

How much litter to put in a box?

If you’re using clumping cat litter, there should be 2-3 inches of litter covering the bottom of the litter box.

For non-clumping litter, you’ll want to use 3-4 inches of litter. Non-clumping litter requires more litter in order to absorb the urine.

How often to change cat litter?

If you’re keeping up on scooping your cat’s litter you only need to do a complete litter change out once a week to once every other week.

How often to wash a litter box?

Litter does an excellent job at absorbing the urine. This means that you only need to do a complete wash out of a litter box around once every 3-4 weeks.

If a box has urine buildup or smells even after you’ve scooped out the litter, then the box should be washed more frequently.

You don’t have to buy special cleaners though. A scrub with mild dish soap and a rinse is all a box usually needs to smell fresh again.

Just make sure you don’t use bleach to clean the litter box if there’s still urine inside or else you could accidentally create chlorine gas from the ammonia/bleach combo.

Stephanie Mantilla curiosity trained header logo holding black cat
Stephanie Mantilla

Positive Reinforcement Trainer & Enrichment Specialist

Stephanie has over 12 years of experience training and enriching exotic animals as a Zookeeper. During this time, she received a certificate in Behavioral Husbandry from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and is an expert in animal behavior.
In her free time, she uses positive reinforcement to train her numerous pets at home and is always thinking up creative ways to prevent her pets from getting bored. On Curiosity Trained, Stephanie now helps people make their pets’ lives better by giving them easy to follow tips and science-backed information.

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