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  5. How do I encourage my cat to use a litter tray?

How do I encourage my cat to use a litter tray?

Most cats can learn how to use a litter tray from an early age and often do this on their own without any assistance. For the first few days after you bring them home, to help the process you can, place them in their litter tray within half an hour of feeding time and encourage them to scratch around in the litter.

Praise your cat when they use their tray correctly but do not punish them if they have an accident outside of the tray. Punishment is not effective and may be counter-productive if it makes your cat stressed about toileting.

Factors to help increase the success of litter tray use include:

  • Location – Place litter trays in quiet, private but easily accessible areas, away from food and water. Avoid frequently moving the trays so as not to confuse and stress your cat.
  • Number – Cats like to have the choice between multiple litter trays so one cat needs at least two trays in physically separated locations. In households with more than one cat, provide at least one litter tray per cat plus one, in multiple separate locations.
  • Litter depth – Provide enough litter to allow your cat to dig.
  • Hygiene – Cats like to keep clean. Faeces and urine need to be removed daily, and litter trays emptied and cleaned regularly. A towel or mat underneath the litter tray is recommended to stop slippage and allow the cat to wipe their paws.
  • Individual preferences – Cats can have strong individual preferences for certain litter trays and litter types. Offer different things to see what they prefer. Adjust the set up (e.g., location, box height, type of litter) as required for kittens, and elderly and sick cats. A good starting point is a large open litter tray (at least 1.5 times the length of your cat) filled with about 3-4cm of an unscented litter. See Keeping Your Cat Safe And Happy At Home for more information.

Toileting problems

If your cat starts to urinate or defecate outside of the tray, try changing the factors above. If problems persist, seek veterinary advice to make sure there are no medical reasons for changes in toileting behaviour. See the Knowledgebase article ‘Why is my cat urinating inappropriately?’ for more information.


​​Ellis SLH, Rodan I, Carney HC, Heath S, Rochlitz I, Shearburn LD, Sundahl E, Westropp JL (2013) AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines. J Feline Med Surg 15:219–230

​Rodan I, Heath S (2016) Feline behavioral health and welfare. Elsevier, St. Louis, MO.

​Seksel K (2016) House Soiling Problems. In: Feline Behavioural Health and Welfare. pp 331–343

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Updated on May 9, 2024
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