How to Litterbox Train an Outdoor Cat

Cat in Litterbox
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Q. I’ve adopted an 8-year-old outdoor cat and want to bring her permanent home onto the screened-in porch. How do I get her to use a litterbox?

A. Litterbox training is one of the biggest concerns when transitioning an outdoor-only cat to the indoors. However, most cats can be litterbox trained in a few simple steps, with minimal hassle. 

Make the Litterbox Appealing

Every house should have one litterbox per cat, plus one. Get two boxes for your new cat and place both boxes in locations that your cat likely is going to want to go: one by the door leading to outside where she would normally eliminate and one in a more private area. Some cats prefer litterboxes that are more hidden, so placing one behind a cat-safe plant or other barrier can help her feel more secure. In order to be sure your cat uses the box and not the plant as her bathroom, temporarily cover the plant's soil with pieces of tin foil. 

Choose a box that your cat will actually use. Too often, cat owners opt for litterboxes that are less offensive to the human eye, such as those that are covered. However, covered boxes can be frightening to cats, as they hinder any chance of escape and leave a cat vulnerable. Covered boxes also contain all of the scent, which may prompt a cat to use another place with less offensive odors. A self-scooping litterbox may be tempting, but the electronic sounds can scare more timid cats, which discourages their use. While some cats are fine with covered or self-scooping boxes, many do best with uncovered litterboxes. Some cats prefer a larger area to eliminate in than most cat boxes provide; for these cats, using a fairly big plastic storage box that’s approximately 6 inches in height can be a good solution. However, for a middle-aged cat, who may have joint disease, you will need to cut one or more of the sides down in order to allow her to get in and out of the litterbox more easily.

Choose your litter carefully, too. While scented litter is appealing to us because it eliminates scents, for many cats, the scent can be offensive. Opt instead for unscented, clumping litter, which most cats prefer. Certain cats are extremely choosy in their substrate of choice. Experiment to discover your cat's favorite litter by choosing a couple of different types, such as clumping and non-clumping versions. Put one option in each box and let your cat decide which she prefers. Donate the less preferred litter to your local shelter. If your outdoor cat is conditioned to use only a certain substrate, such as dirt, you can help her transition by mixing the litter with the outdoor substrate; phase out the outdoor soil addition over time so that eventually she's just using kitty litter in the box.

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