Cat Care: Crate Training and Litter Box Basics

Small cat at an angle with sky backgroundCats tend to be highly intelligent and (believe it or not) easily trained – especially if they think an activity is their idea in the first place. Keeping that in mind, following (as opposed to fighting) your cat’s natural inclinations will make crate and litter box training easier for both of you.

Curiosity Crates the Cat

Cats have legendary curiosity and they naturally love cozy, den-like spaces. Because of this, crate training your kitty starts with providing an intriguing, cozy space to explore and hang-out in, plus plenty of verbal and culinary rewards for doing so.

Here are a few tips…

  • Use a cat-sized crate that is roomy enough to stand up and turn around in easily, but not so big that your cat will fall around inside
  • Put it on the floor near one of your cat’s favorite places
  • Line the crate with something irresistible, such as soft fleece or an old baby blanket
  • Place treats and toys at the back of the crate
  • Spray the inside with Feliway, a calming pheromone spray available from our office, online, and in most pet stores
  • Leave the crate door open and let your cat explore at will
  • Praise your cat whenever he or she approaches or enters the crate
  • Begin closing the door while your cat is inside, then opening it again
  • When you can leave the door closed without causing emotional trauma, pick up the crate and move it a few feet, then put it back down and open the door
  • Gradually increase time and distance the closed crate is lifted or carried
  • If a step goes awry, go back to an earlier stage and work forward again

Eventually you should be able to place the cat and carrier in the car, start the engine, and finally, drive around the block. The goal is to keep anxiety (both yours and your pet’s) to a minimum while he or she is in the crate.

Litter Box Basics

Ideally, litter box training should start in kitten-hood. Since cats learn from watching, kittens raised by their mothers will probably already know what to do. If your kitten was orphaned or rescued, however, you may need to play mama cat by using your fingers to scratch around in the clean litter, or gently help the kitten scratch at the litter by moving his or her front paws. Adding a “deposit” made elsewhere will also help your kitten figure it out.

The box itself should reflect the cat’s size; for babies start with something they can climb in and out of easily, such as the lid from a shoebox or a shallow pan. It’s also wise to keep the ideal cat-to-box ratio in mind: One box per cat, plus one more.

Other litter box tips include:

  • Place litter boxes in quiet areas like laundry rooms, basements or bathrooms
  • Cat-doors leading to a litter box in the garage or storage room help keep litter smells away from the main rooms and usually appeal to adult cats
  • Never place a litter box near your cat’s food or water
  • There are numerous types of litter, including clay, corn, newspaper, hay, and special clumping and deodorized products – if your cat isn’t using his or her litter box, try changing the type of litter or moving the box
  • Always keep litter and boxes scrupulously clean
  • Some cats prefer using a sink or the bathtub instead of a litter box; if this is the case, try putting the litter box in the empty bathtub
  • With special toilet seats and instructions, some cats can even be trained to use the regular toilet! (Just don’t expect them to flush…)

Unfortunately, cats are also prone to urinary tract problems, so if you notice that your cat is straining to urinate, urinates frequently, or if you see blood in the urine, contact us immediately, as those may be signs of a potentially dangerous infection, blockage, or kidney problem.

Of course we are always happy to answer general questions about crate and litter training or other behavioral issues, or to schedule an appointment with our pet behaviorist, so don’t hesitate to contact us.