Litter tray training tips

Does your cat refuse to use a litter tray? There could be for any number of reasons. Read our cat training cat advice for using litter trays.

There are a number of areas that you could look at to ensure your cat feels happy about using a litter tray.

Your Cat top tips for cats who won't use the litter tray:

  • A general rule of thumb, especially for indoor cats, is that you need to provide one litter tray per cat, plus one spare. Cats don't tend to like to share their toileting facilities and, being fastidious creatures, prefer their tray to be clean each time they visit.
  • Try altering the type of litter you use. Some cats have a preference. Make changeovers gradually, mixing the new litter in with the old. If you've been using a large granular litter, change to a finer product, and fill the tray so your cat has a good depth to dig in. A litter which clumps when wet will enable you to keep the tray cleaner.
  • Scooping immediately after the litter tray has been used, and replacing the litter at least once a week suits most cats. The tray shouldn't be cleaned with highly perfumed disinfectants - and avoid those containing phenols as these are toxic to cats. It's best to clean the tray with a specific litter tray cleaner, or a warm water and ten per cent biological washing powder solution. And ensure the tray is completely dry before adding new litter.
  • Litter tray design is also important. Make sure the tray is large enough for the cat to move around in and, if he's older, that he can easily climb in and out of it. A covered litter tray helps to provide privacy, along with helping to ensure litter remains within the tray, but this might not suit all cats.
  • On the subject of privacy, think about where you have positioned the litter tray. If your cat was disturbed or frightened while using the tray, he may be deterred from going back to use it again. Instead, place it in a quiet room where he won't be disturbed by people or other animals passing by - a utility room or downstairs toilet for example.

Cleaning soiled areas

Whether a genuine accident or not, once the cat has urinated or defecated at a particular location its sensitive nose will encourage it to use that place as a regular toilet. The best way to break the habit is to keep the cat away from the area as long as possible, remove any smell that the cat can detect and change the geography of the location by using pieces of furniture to block access. Wash the area with a 10 per cent solution of biological or enzymatic washing powder and then rinse with cold water and allow to dry. Spray the area (using a plant mister) with surgical spirit, scrub and leave to dry. You may want to try a small area first on delicate fabrics.

Carpet is extremely absorbent and the urine often penetrates the full thickness of the carpet to the flooring underneath. If the area is badly soiled over a long period, it may be necessary to cut out the section of carpet and underlay and treat the concrete or floorboards underneath before replacing.

My cat has stopped using the litter tray

If your cat normally uses a litter tray but has recently started to go elsewhere in the house, there may be an obvious reason.

Here are the most common causes why cats stop using litter trays:

  • Dirty litter trays: Cats don't like using a tray if it is heavily soiled. Litter trays should be cleaned out completely every couple of days and topped up with fresh litter daily once the solids and clumps are removed. If the litter is a non-clumping variety, it should be changed every couple of days (solids removed daily) since the build-up of odour from the urine passed can become extremely unpleasant for the cat
  • Put off by litter: Using scented litter, deodorants or disinfectants with strong smells may put off the scent-sensitive cat from using the tray. Use a mild detergent and hot water or disinfectant specifically recommended for tray cleaning, and rinse the tray thoroughly before use. Avoid disinfectants that turn cloudy in water as these usually contain phenols which are toxic to cats. Cats learning to use the tray initially may need to establish it as an appropriate toilet site and too-frequent cleaning may weaken the association. Polythene litter liners can occasionally catch in the cat's claws as it scratches and cause litter to spray upwards; if they are used, it may be worth experimenting with no liner to see if the problem resolves
  • Wrong type of litter: Changing the consistency or type of litter may put off the cat from using it. Hardwood-based pellets may have been acceptable as a kitten but as cats get heavier there are some that object to walking on the uncomfortable surface. Cats prefer fine-grain litter with the consistency of sand with no scented deodoriser. If you want to change the type you use, mix the new one in gradually over a week to gauge the cat's reaction
  • Position of the litter tray: If the tray is positioned in the open where the dog, children or other cats disturb it, the cat may feel too vulnerable to use it. Instead, it may seek a more secure spot behind the television. Cats may not like to use a tray if it is next to a noisy washing machine or tumble dryer. Place the tray in a quiet corner where the cat only has to watch in one or two directions at once rather than in the open or in a thoroughfare. Placing food near the tray will put the cat off using it, so place feeding bowls elsewhere
  • Type of litter tray: Some cats prefer the security of a covered tray while others prefer an open tray as it offers more options for escape. If you normally use an open tray, it may be worth purchasing one with a lid or vice versa. An inverted box with one side cut out or careful positioning of house plants may provide the necessary privacy. Some covered trays have flaps over the entrance and these can be one obstacle too many for the more insecure cat
  • Bad associations: Occasionally a cat decides not to use a tray because it has had a bad experience there. Giving medication or touching a cat while it is using the tray may be sufficient to create a bad association. Repositioning the tray to a quiet spot may help
  • Early training: Kittens will often soil in the house when they are young if they are given immediate access to large areas. When kittens first arrive in their new home, they are only weeks away from their original litter training by their mother. Their bladder and bowel control are not as developed as an adult's so it is important that the young kitten has easy access to the litter tray at all times. It is advisable to confine the kitten to one room initially, with increasing periods of time to explore other areas after a few weeks. Every time the kitten uses the tray it is establishing an entrenched behaviour that will be maintained throughout its life.?

Medical problems

A cat that has started to urinate inappropriately in the house should be taken to the vet for a check-up. Cystitis may cause the cat to strain and pass small amounts of urine frequently. A form of urinary tract disease that is stress-related is less obvious in its presentation, but one common symptom is urinating outside the litter tray. Any urinary tract infection or irritation can make the cat urinate when standing rather than attempting to go outside or to the litter tray. Urination in this way can sometimes be confused with spraying. Cats often benefit from increased fluid intake if they suffer from recurrent cystitis. This may require your cat to change from a dry diet to a wet one but your veterinary surgeon should be consulted regarding any dietary management.