litter-box-training-saves-cats-livesWhat is a litter box? Do you need to train a cat to use one? What is the best kind of litter box? First-time cat owners usually have a lot of litterbox questions like these! Sometimes us cat experts forget that what to us is a simple innate-feeling understanding of cats and litter boxes is not always readily apparent to new cat adopters. I remember helping a friend adopt his first cat, he was so excited! He was a very smart person and had done lots of research about all aspects of cat care. About a week after he’d adopted his first cat, he was going to be away all day and asked me to check on his cat midday as he hadn’t left him that long before. When I went to be a good friend and do a “courtesy scoop” of his litterbox, which looked well-kept, I was surprised when the litter scoop only went into the litter about 1 inch… turns out, my well-meaning friend had somehow understood to only scooped the poop, and left the rest until the whole box was solid and then would dump it! Not exactly the healthiest or recommended litter cleaning method. So, with that in mind, here are the very basic litter box basics for all you first-time cat owners out there!

A litter box is a plastic box that a cat uses as a toilet. You fill it about half way with cat litter. There are fancy litter systems out there, but most people use a plastic rectangle box. Size, cleanliness, and location are key items for ensuring your cat continues to use his litter box. If you skimp, you may end up with a cat that prefers your laundry basket… or carpet!

1-2-3 litter box keys

1. The best size of litterbox is really big!

2. Litter boxes should be kept very clean: scoop out all feces and urine clumps at least once a day. Every two weeks, super clean: Dump and discard all the litter, sanitize the box with soap and hot water, and replace with brand new litter.

3. Location is critically important: We understand you may not want to look at it, but it is important that the litter box be easy to access. One on each floor. If you want to conceal the box, try putting it behind a screen, not in a dark closet or cabinet. If you do go the closet/cabinet route, make sure there are two large entrance/exits, and plenty of ventilation.


By the time a kitten is old enough to be adopted (>8 weeks old) they usually are already litter trained. You can ask the shelter or rescue if they are, if they’ve had them for more than 1 day they should know! Kittens learn by following mom, or their caretaker will have trained them. If you end up rescuing a super young kitten, you will need to prompt their dig & cover instinct a few times. Using baby kitten safe litter (like non-clumping plain clay litter, or even just plain sand or dirt) in a low-sided tray. Gently place the kitten in the sand, and either dig with your fingers next to them, or move their paws to dig. Repeat that a few times a day – usually that’s all it takes! Depending on the kitten’s age, it can take them some time to get the hang of it, so keep them on a surface (like tile covered with newspaper) that you can totally clean.


Newly adopted cats and kittens going in to a new home generally do best if they are at first confined in a smaller room, like a nice big bathroom or other hard-surface-floor room. Get the litterbox setup you open the crate door, and keep your cat in that starter room exclusively for the first day, until you’ve seen them use the box at least twice.

That’s it, you’re now a cat litter box expert – almost! You may also like our articles:

Cats agree: bigger litter is better and How To Fix Your Litterbox Problems.