How to litter train an outdoor cat.

Did you just adopt an outdoor cat? Or did you just adopt an adult cat or stray cat? Congratulations ! You are now probably wondering how to litter train your new fur baby. If you have a new kitten, you can find more tips in our article on how to litter train a kitten. In this article we will look at how to make litter training an adult car or a former outdoor cat, easier.

Grey, Maltese cat with rolls of toilet paper
Yes, it is possible to litter train an outdoor cat.

Table of contents

How to litter train an adult cat

In general, the things you do to litter train a kitten and to litter train an adult cat are similar. We found that kittens usually take less effort. That’s because adult cats have already developed elimination behaviors. They already know how to go and where to go.

How to litter train an outdoor cat

Even if your pet has been an outdoor cat, it is possible to litter train them. For both kittens and adult cats, litter training consists of three main parts:

  1. Provide an appropriate litter box.
  2. Train your cat to use a litter box.
  3. Make other elimination spots undesirable.

For kittens the first part is most significant. This is because they connect a litter box with a place to do their business. Once they connect the litter box to elimination, training is straight forward. The third part, is mostly an older cat thing.

How to set up a litter box?

Now, let’s take a closer look at those three parts in detail. Let’s start with the first one, providing an appropriate litter box. This includes setting up the litter box.

When we say “litter box”, we actually mean litter boxes. A general rule is, you should have litter boxes equal to the number of cats in your household plus one. Which means two boxes for one cat, four boxes for three cats, etc.. This general rule of thumb works well in most cases. Also, during the process of litter training an adult cat, be ready to introduce even more boxes. This will help your adult cat to adjust to new elimination behaviors.

Put a litter box in each part of the house where your cat is spending a significant amount of their time. Watch where they like to play and sleep. These are activities that your cat usually eliminates after, so you want a box to be close by during litter box training.

Cats also tend to eliminate after eating. However, most cats don’t like to eliminate near where they eat. A good strategy is to position a litter box on the way to/from their usual feeding place to a normal activity room. Like in a hallway between the kitchen and the living room. For more details on this, please read our article about choosing a location for litter box .

What size litter box should I use?

As they say, size matters. Especially when it comes to getting the right size of litter box for your cat. How? 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. What we’ve found is that most common litter boxes that are available at pet stores, may be unsuitably small. To make sure you don’t get too small of a litter box, please see our article on What litter box size does your cat need.

What about covered litter boxes?

Covered litter boxes have pros and cons. Pros from our perspective, some possible cons in the eyes of your cat. Many of our patients cats as well as our own cats have no problem with covered boxes. If you find your litter training isn’t going smoothly, you may try first with an open or high sided litter box. Once your cat has figured it out, you can slowly introduce a hooded or fully covered litter box. For more details on covered litter boxes, please see our article Do cats prefer a covered litter box?.

In addition to this, automatic, self cleaning, flushable or any other litter box that has moving parts or motors, might lead to slower training. If your cat resists, try a simple litter box and slowly introduce your desired litter box design.

What is the best kitty litter to use?

Now, let’s talk about what should you put inside the litter box. Before you put your cat (when they are ready to go) in the litter box, you need fresh litter.

First, we recommend using unscented litter. It certainly does smell nice to us cat owners, but we found that many cats don’t like it. It also masks their scent from the litter box so it may make training harder. This is because cats connect their scent to their litter box.

Most cats love litter that has small particles and is not too dusty. If your cat is having trouble learning to use the litter box, we found that starting with non clumping clay litter. First we want to get your cat used to using the litter box. Once they have that figured out, you can slowly introduce clumping kitty litter if you like.

In many cases, we found that sprinkling a small amount of dirt over the litter helps. This is to make your cat feel they are eliminating outdoors. In stubborn cases, we had to fill the box with the dirt only. Once we got an outdoor cat over the hurdle of using the litter box itself, we then, slowly added more cat litter to the dirt. For more details on how to change your cat litter, please see our article How can you get your cat to use the new litter type.

We found the number one thing cats don’t like about litter boxes is, when they aren’t clean. The one thing to help your cat get used to their litter box is to scoop the litter box after every use. This is super important for an adult cat. You don’t have to dump out all the litter after every use, just scoop the waste out. The smell is one of the factors that help cats to identify where to eliminate so it’s desirable to have their scent remain.

Orange cat with toilet paper
With love (aka patience, lots of patience) you can litter train outdoor cat.

Litter training older cats

After you have set up litter boxes in the perfect locations, let the training begin.

Litter box training starts by introducing your cat to a litter box. Place them in it, or next to it and allow them to dig in the litter if they want. You may move their paws in digging motions with your hands, or show an example yourself. If they want to get out, that’s okay to start.

Get in a routine of placing your cat in the box whenever they are about to eliminate. Cats tend to do it after waking up, playing, and eating. Make sure to be consistent and catch those moments.

If your cat meows at doors, encourage them to go to a litter box. At the start, you may put your cat in the litter box yourself. As with all cat training, watch to make sure their stress levels aren’t rising too high.

If your cat manages to use the litter box, lavish praise on them when they get out of the litter box. We found that food rewards don’t work in litter training because cat’s don’t like eating close where they eliminate.

Pro tip, don’t start cheering while your cat is doing their business. Lavish praise when they are finished. This is because you may startle your cat while they are doing their business which will slow their training progress.

Here’s one more tip if your cat is having trouble figuring out that the litter box is the place to go. Place one of their stools (yes, poop) inside the box. This helps your cat to associate the litter box with going poop as cats identify elimination spots by the smell.

How to stop your cat from soiling the rest of the house?

Accidents will happen during the litter training phase. When they happen, please don’t punish your cat. It might give your cat the wrong idea about elimination being bad itself, or worse, to fear you. Instead, place your cat in a litter box, and clean the spot.

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

  • Clean the spot using a product that is made for pet odor removal. While regular floor cleaning products may smell lovely, but they do not remove the odor of urine and feces completely. Your cat will still be able to smell it. For a full guide on how to find and remove elimination spots in your house, please see our full guide How to find pet urine stains with a black light . There is also a section on how to clean the spots once you find them. This will help prevent accidents from happening again.
  • Next, think about why your cat use a particular spot instead of the litter box. Maybe it’s the soft carpet? If possible, remove it or place another material on top of it for the time of training. Maybe it’s the dirt in your potted plants? 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. Could their feeding station be too close?
  • In addition, consider placing an additional litter box in front, on top, or right next to an elimination spot. A litter box in the center of your living room might seem wrong to you (totally understand !) but may make perfect sense to your cat. During the litter box training phase, it will help in two ways. First, the box may block access to an undesirable spot. Second, it may speed up the training process itself. Your cat will learn to use the litter 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 easier to train when they are younger. As your cat ages, they become harder, and harder to be trained. This means the older the cat, the greater the effort and patience you will have to put in. This is because they have to unlearn their current habits and learn new ones. Please understand that to make your former outdoor adult cat litter trained will take more of your energy than a kitten. But it definitely is possible. Both you and your cat will be happier once they are litter box trained. And a happy pet makes for a happy pet owner. Isn’t that what we all strive for?

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

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