How to Litter Train an Adult Outdoor Cat

We were discussing how to litter train a kitten in our previous article. Now we are going to take a closer look at things that make the litter training of an adult former outdoor cat easier.

Adult outdoor cat training to go to a litter boxIn general, a pattern for litter training a kitten and adult cat is similar, except that for kittens it takesĀ  lesser effort, and some parts may even be skipped, compared to adult cats who have already developed elimination behavior, and do not have a single reason, why they would want to change it.

Basics of cat litter training

In both cases, litter training consists of three main parts:

  1. Providing an appropriate litter box.
  2. Actually training a cat to use a litter box.
  3. Making other possible elimination spots undesirable.

For kittens the first part is most significant, and part to is happening very easy, with little or no involvement of the owner (breeder). The third part, in most cases, is exclusively an adult cat thing.

How to set up the best litter box for an adult cat

Now, let’s take a closer look at all those three parts in detail. Let’s start with setting up a great box.

When we say “box”, we actually mean boxes. A general rule is you should have boxes equal to number of cats in your household, plus one. Which is then two boxes for one cat, four boxes for three cats and eleven boxes for ten cats. Of course, generalizations is not good, but this rule works well in most cases. Besides, during the process of litter training an adult cat, be ready to introduce even more boxes, if accidents are happening.

Put a box in each place where your cat is spending a significant amount of his time playing and sleeping, as these are activities cats usually eliminate after, so you want the box to be close enough.

Cats also tend to eliminate after eating. However, natural laws may discourage them eliminating, if the available spot is too close to the feeding station. Then, it might be an excellent idea, placing a litter box on a way from feeding place to a normal activity room. Like in a hallway between the kitchen and the living room. You should probably read our article about choosing a location for litter box to get more info on this.

Size of the boxes matter. First, consider the size of your cat. In most cases, a litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of your cat. It actually leads to the revelation that most “common” litter boxes, available at pet stores, may be unsuitable.

Of course, we see cats using them with “no problems”. That is, with no observable problems. This is because cats are able to adapt several situations, but if you are about to train an adult cat who has never used a litter box before, forcing him to go to one which is like “okay, but might be larger”, will create an unnecessary tension. One here, one there, and they all add up, making the litter training of an adult cat almost impossible.

We would also like to discourage you from using covered litter boxes. They have plenty of drawbacks in the eyes of your cat. While, of course, generalization is not good, as some cats may say covered boxes are acceptable, it’s not the best idea to keep the hood on, at least during the training. If you 100% insist on hood remaining, remove the flap from the entrance, at least.

In addition to that, automatic, self cleaning, flushable or any other “non common” litter box, might lead to disaster in training, as well.

There are also boxes available of different shapes. While, this is not very significant factor for cats, as long as the box is large enough, we would not recommend experimenting with different shapes during the training process. Standard, rectangular box will be appropriate.

Substrate, however, is extremely important for cats

Now, let’s talk about what should you put inside the litter box. Besides the cat itself.

First, don’t use odored litter. It certainly does smell nice, helps fighting the smell, but many cats dislike it. Leave this type of litter in store, the best way to avoid the unpleasant smell of the litter box, is cleaning it frequently.

Most cats love litter that has small particles and is not dusty (too dusty). Of course, you might find out, your cat is not on a same wave as “most cats”. However, if we were you, we’d start with non clumping clay litter, and then, if it’s not working well, think of what to do. Litters, like silica or pine pellets, are usually not so welcomed by cats.

In many cases, a good idea is sprinkling a small amount of dirt over the litter, to make your cat feel he’s still eliminating in your flower bed outdoors. You may, initially, fill the box with the dirt only, and then, gradually add more, and more of the “traditional” litter.

During the training, you, most likely have to scoop the box after every use. Untidy litter box is the number one reason for cats not using the box (link). If you want to train an adult cat to use a litter box, this becomes even more significant. You don’t have to dump the litter whole box after every use, just scoop the wastes. After all, the smell is one of the factors that help cats to identify where to eliminate.

Let’s get to an actual litter training for your adult cat

After you have set up an excellent litter box or two in perfect locations, we can move ahead.

Cat sitting on toilet seat.Litter training itself should be started by introducing your cat to a litter box. Place him in it, or next to it, if he’s stressed, and allow him to dig sand due to curiosity. You may move his paws in digging motions with your hands, or show an example yourself. If he wants to get out, don’t prevent it.

Get in a routine placing your cat in the box whenever he’s about to eliminate. Cats tend to do it after sleeping, playing and eating. Make sure to catch those moments.

If your cat meows at doors, encourage him going to a litter box, or put him in it yourself, instead of letting him out instantly. Make sure, though, his stress levels aren’t rising too high.

If your cat manages to use the litter box, praise when he gets out of it. Don’t feed, cat’s don’t like eating close where they eliminate, just pet and cheer up. And, important, don’t start cheering while he’s still on his business.

If he is not responding to non food related rewards, you may use a clicker training, which will help you to still treat your cat for good behavior, but without the need to feed him right next to a box. If you are interested in it, read about clicker training cats more.

There’s also one more tip if your cat does not quite get it that this is the place to go for elimination. Place a stool inside the box to make an association, as cats identify elimination spot by the smell.

Make house soiling spots undesirable

If accident happened, you should not punish your cat. It might give him a wrong idea about elimination being bad itself, not the location. Instead, place your cat in a litter box, and clean the spot.

To prevent the recurrence of the accident, you should do the following:

  • Clean the spot using a deterrent that is made for pet odor removal. Other floor soap might smell lovely, but they do not remove the odor of urine and feces completely, which your cat will still be able to detect. And, if you read above, we already mentioned several times, cat’s identify elimination spot by the smell, so, the spot MUST be clean, if you want to prevent accidents from happening again.
  • Next, think what makes him use the particular spot. Maybe it’s the soft carpet? Remove it, place other material atop of it for the time of training. Maybe it’s the dirt in the plant pot? Then you may cover it with rocks, or remove the plant. Is it in a drawer? Keep it closed or make sure your cat has no access to it.
  • Also, consider placing an additional litter box in front, on top or right next to elimination spot. A litter box in the center of your living room might seem dull, however, during the training, it will benefit in two ways. First, the box may block access to an undesirable spot, second, it may benefit the training process itself, as cat learns to use the box, instead of your carpet, faster.

If you are interested, you may read more about how to make those spots undesirable for your cat here.

And once again, we want to remind you, cats learn the most effectively in their childhood. And, as the cat is aging, he’s getting harder, and harder to be trained. This means the older the cat, the greater the effort and patience you will have to put in, to make your former outdoor adult cat litter trained. But it definitely is possible.

This article is a part of series about litter training cats.