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Familiarizing Your Cats with the Litter Box

Image of a cat sitting in a liter box

Kittens, Cats, and the Litter Box

If you’re new to the wonderful world of kittens and cats, you need to understand the importance of familiarizing them with the litter box.

It’s not that easy. There’s an adjustment phase, where your new kitten or cat has to be familiar with their surroundings and find a safe place to use the litter box.

Every cat, is different and has their own personality. If you have more than one, you have to take each cat’s sensitivities into account. There will be some trial and error. Not every cat is going to like where you think they should go, and may gravitate to a spot of their choosing.

Picking the Right Sized Litter Box

Sometimes very little thought goes into this. You get a plastic tub, fill it with whatever litter you can find and then leave your cat to their own devices. First, a small box won’t work. A kitten or cat needs space to move around in, so any type of litter box should be roughly one and a half times the full length of your cat. Of course kittens grow, so you’ll want to get a larger box from the start.

There are different types of boxes. Some with removable lids, some that are open (the more wide pan models), and others that have a cover with a plastic door, so the cat can have privacy. There are also some that are very shallow to accommodate senior cats. Your cat may not be in need of something extremely fancy, so you may want to experiment with different types of litter boxes, until your cat becomes comfortable.

Keeping the Litter Box Clean

Litter boxes don’t clean themselves. You should keep your cat’s litter box clean as best as possible. That means scooping it out at least twice a day.

As humans, we certainly wouldn’t want to use an unflushed and dirty toilet; the same issue applies to cats. It also relies on the type of litter you use. If you choose a clumping litter, then it’s easy to remove the waste, dump the litter and wash out the box on a monthly basis. If you go with a non-clumping litter, then you should dump it all and scrub it thoroughly once a week.

Litter Box Locations

Placing a litter box can be a bit tricky. You want your cat to have reasonable access, but problems can arise if you’re limited on space. Most important is not to place the litter box near where your cats eat. Cats are territorial and will relieve themselves far from where they generally hang out so as to avoid predators.

Consider the layout of your house and determine what is the most accessible and convenient route for your cat. Try to find a spot on the main floor of your home, so they shouldn’t have to travel far to use their box. If you have a second floor, place one up there as well, especially if your cats spend time there. Pick a safe location, such as a corner of a room that you don’t normally use, or in a spare closet, where they are less likely to be bothered by members of your home or other pets.

Litter Boxes and Multiple Cats

Multiple cats means multiple litter boxes. Some say that you should have more litter boxes than the amount of cats you have, but if you’re limited on space, that can be a problem. Let’s say that you have three cats, then two boxes may suffice, as long as you’re persistent about keeping them clean. For example, fifteen cats and two litter boxes will not work; an extreme amount of cats will also lead to them relieving themselves all over the house…which is not fun to deal with.

Don’t have the boxes all in one area if you have several cats. Scatter them throughout the house. Should you have three to four cats, consider four boxes in different parts of the house, such as a room used as an office, or a spare bedroom. If there are too many cats and not enough boxes, then it becomes a competition amongst your fuzzballs, as they search for options when there aren’t enough.

Different Litter Varieties

Cats can be very sensitive to smells, and that also applies to cat litter. There are different varieties of litter, but overall, cats seem to gravitate to a sandy and soft texture, which makes it easier to move around in and cover their mess.

The following litter types are considered to be the most popular:


Clay is the most popular type of litter. It’s easy to find compared to some other types. It’s available in low dust and dust-free as well as scented or unscented varieties. Clay litter is good at absorbing urine. Cat urine has a strong presence of bacteria that gradually decomposes and smells like ammonia, so it’s best to use a litter that absorbs odors. Clumping and non-clumping varieties exist, but clay litter isn’t environmentally friendly and depending on how often you clean the box, your cats may wind up tracking it through the house and having it stick to their paws.


This type of litter is promoted as being less dusty than clay and easier to scoop. It has a better odor control than clay types, yet it’s more expensive. Some silica varieties actually change color to help you keep track of possible urinary problems with your cat.


Pine litter has an ability to cut down on bad odors. It’s made from pine trees, so it’s less heavy than clay, has no dust and is very soft. Pine is more environmentally friendly than other types and comes in clumping and non-clumping varieties. The non-clumping form appears as little pellets, while the clumping form has the consistency of sawdust, which can be messy at times. And it’s compostable, once you remove all the cat waste.


Wheat litter is considered an environmentally friendly alternative compared to clay. Made out of processed wheat, it helps with odors, clumps and can even be flushable. It usually breaks up when urinated on, so it’s easy to scoop, and it can be composted.


Grass resembles pine or corn litter and is a dried, biodegradable, grass seed litter. It’s low dust and clumps, so it’s easy to scoop.


Made out of dried corn kernels, corn litter is considerably lightweight compared to clay. There is a slight risk that corn litter may produce mold and aflatoxins, which are poisonous carcinogens and mutagens. Aflatoxins can be dangerous to your cats as they can grow on corn that has been exposed to moisture. If you use corn litter, be sure to scoop it out daily and make sure that there’s no moisture in the box.

Walnut Shell

Walnut shell litter has high absorbency, clumps and controls odors and is also compostable. It’s granular in appearance, so there’s a chance it can be trackable. Some claim that it lasts longer than other types of litters, especially in a multiple cat household.


This is a good choice for cats who have injured paws, and it can be made out of recycled paper, or shredded newspaper. What’s great about paper litter is that it has no dust, is incredibly soft and is compostable, however, it doesn’t clump or handle odors as well as other types.

How Much Litter Should You Use?

Some people may use too much litter, or not enough. Try to keep an even balance in the box, enough to absorb any liquid and absorb odors. If there isn’t enough to absorb your cat’s urine, then it just sits there as a puddle and becomes stinky. Start off with about three inches of litter, which should be a sufficient amount to cover everything. You can adjust the levels over time, based on your cat’s reaction to it.

Handling Naughty Litter Box Behavior

One thing to remember if you’re getting a cat or kitten for the first time, is to be patient. They’ll be just as nervous as you are. They’re in a new environment and are unaware of their surroundings. It’s very likely that they might not gravitate to the litter box the first time they need to go. If that happens, be patient and be understanding with them. Cats are endless sources of love, and they love us humans regardless, so always show them love in return and don’t reprimand them if they have an accident. The concept of a litter box may be new to them, so it’s best to give them time to adjust rather than punish them for something based on nerves.

There may be many reasons as to why your cat isn’t using the litter box, or is going outside of it. It may not be a behavioral problem, but if you think it is, then bring your cat to your Austin veterinarian to see what the underlying cause of the issue might be. It could be a variety of issues such as how the litter box is set up, whether it’s clean, an issue at home, issues with children, or other pets. Take time to understand how your cat may be feeling being in a new situation and you may be able to help in the long run.

Contact Us

If you’re new to the whole wonderful and wacky world of cats, and have questions, please contact ATX Animal Clinic. We’ll discuss any behavioral issues they may have, and also run a wellness check to determine if your kitten or cat has any underlying conditions that may be affecting their health.