Toilet training is something that many cat owners take for granted. Even rescue cats often know how to use a litter tray, having copied their mothers. Some felines may not have experienced this essential socialization, though. Even older cats may need to be toilet trained from scratch, or they will defecate outside of their litter trays.
Sadly, some cats are stray or feral. This means they never received the socialization required to become a pet. Sometimes, a kitten is born in a family home but rejected by their mother.
This means they were never taught basic functions of life in a human home. Some cats are also bullied by other pets. This could have left them afraid to use a litter box because of the scent. Another animal may even have ‘stood guard’ over the tray, refusing to let your cat in.
Thankfully, an old cat can learn new tricks, even if your cat thinks that it’s normal to go to sleep in its litter tray. You will need to show patience and understanding. This guide will explain how you train an older cat to use a litter tray.
Can an Older Cat Learn How to Use a Litter Box?
Cats are very intelligent animals. They can learn just about anything, if they have a mind to do so. This means that even the most curmudgeonly senior cat can be taught to defecate in a litter tray. You need to make the experience appealing for the feline.
Unfortunately for you, this means that you may need to discard some human preferences.
- Do not use a closed litter box. A closed box with a cat flap will hide the sight and scent of cat waste. Cats feel vulnerable while eliminating, though. If they are inside a solid box without an easy escape route, they may become stressed.
- Do not use scented litter. If you have a male cat that is not neutered, their urine will smell quite strong. Resist the temptation to mask this with scented litter, though. Cats are led by their noses. If they find the smell of their litter tray intimidating, they will stay away.
- Have multiple litter trays. You may think that it will benefit your cat have just one litter tray. They will learn faster if they have more spots to eliminate. This will remove any panic.
- Make the trays identical in size and shape. They should have low edges, so an older cat can easily get in and out. You can experiment with different brands of litter, though. Your cat may gravitate to one tray more than the others.
With these basic steps in place, you will be ready to start toilet training. Once you have the relevant equipment, all you’ll need is plenty of patience and understanding. It’s a different kind of problem if your cat has suddenly stopped covering up its leavings.
How to Litter Train an Older Cat
Litter training a senior cat is similar to coaching a kitten. The only difference is that it may take a little longer. Young cats have sponge-like brains that take in plenty of information. They also imitate other cats. An older cat will have learned different habits, and thus may appear a little more stubborn.
First, think carefully about where to place your litter tray. As cats grow older, they have less control over their bladders. This means they will appreciate litter trays in several locations. If you live in a multi-story home, it’s critical that you have at least one tray on each floor. Place the trays somewhere that your cat can find, but not too exposed. Keep the tray a reasonable distance from the cat’s bed and food, too.
It’s possible that your cat will have an accident if they have never used a litter tray. It’s vital that you do not scold them for this. Make your peace with it in advance. It will happen. To speed up the training, keep one eye on your cat while they explore.
If they look set to eliminate, calmly scoop them up and pop them in their tray. Once they are done, make a big fuss. Tell your cat how good they are, and give them a preferred treat. They’ll soon start to see using the litter tray as a source of pleasure.
The only downside is that they may expect to be carried to their tray. Learn your cat’s meows so that you know if they are announcing that they need to go. You may have limited time to get them to their litter tray. If you show enough patience and caring, they will eventually learn to take themselves.
How to Litter Train a Cat in a New Home
Moving house can be unsettling for your feline, especially if they are older. They will know the old territory like the back of their paw, and suddenly they’re in a new place. You will have to bear with your cat during this time.
Use a familiar litter tray if you can, and the same litter as the old home. Keep the trays in locations that your cat will easily locate them. If they look like having an accident, quickly and calmly place them in their tray. Your cat will soon get the lay of the land.
I Adopted a Stray Senior Cat, and It’s Defecating Outside the Tray
If a cat has spent their life eliminating outside, they will not stop doing so overnight.
If your cat is happy, and it’s not causing problems with neighbors, let them eliminate outdoors. A formerly stray cat will have enough stress adapting to life as a pet.
Attempting to force them into something that does not come naturally will only magnify this. If you want them to be an indoor cat, however, this could be an issue.
If you are determined to get your cat using a litter tray, break their outdoor habit. The easiest way to do this is finding where they eliminate, and making it less desirable. Try scattering citrus fruit peels, as the smell will deter cats. Before this step, however, scoop up dirt or leaves and line their litter tray with them. If your cat uses grass, consider purchasing some AstroTurf.
When your cat can no longer poop and pee in their preferred spot, they’ll look elsewhere. If a litter tray is the closest equivalent to what they know, they’ll start using that. From there, you can try to gradually phase them onto traditional cat litter.
My Older Cat Has Stopped Pooping and Peeing in Its Litter Tray
There are many reasons why an older cat may stop using their litter tray. These could be medical or psychological.
If you are worried about your cat’s health, take them to the vet. Only a professional that has your cat in front of them will be able to diagnose an issue accurately.
Some of the concerns that may cause incontinence in a senior cat could include:
- Stress. The most common cause for cats to stop using their litter tray is stress and anxiety. If something has changed in your home, your cat may be struggling to adapt. This is especially likely if you adopt an older cat that has lost a long-term companion.
- Diarrhea. If your cat has an upset stomach, they may have intended to use the litter tray. If they didn’t make it, they would be horrified.
- Urinary Infections or bladder stones. A cat struggling with a UTI may make regular, fruitless trips to the litter tray. As this will be painful and frustrating, they may believe it’s the litter that causes the problem. If your cat cries while eliminating, they are likely living with a UTI and require antibiotics.
- Senility. As cats grow older, they can start to develop feline dementia (cognitive dysfunction syndrome.) Loss of bladder and bowel control is sadly one of the first symptoms. The degeneration can be slowed down if caught early enough.
However, there may be another reason why an older cat is not using their litter tray. Ensure that none of the following are a problem:
- Mobility. An older cat with stiff and wobbly legs may struggle to get in and out of a tray.
- Not enough privacy. Cats want to complete their bodily functions in peace. If a litter tray is too close to humans or their food bowl, cats feel uncomfortable.
- Negative associations, Has your cat recently recovered from a health problem? They may think that using the litter tray made them sick.
- Change in routine. Have you moved your cat’s litter tray? Or changed the litter within? Cats love routine, and senior felines are easily perturbed by the change.
- Too much litter. Cats like a shallow bed of litter. If you apply too much, they may grow intimidated. Give your older cat has enough litter to dig around in and hide any elimination. Do not pile in so much that they cannot feel the floor. 2-3 inches is a good rule of thumb.
- Soiled litter. Are you changing the litter in the tray enough? Cats are very clean. If their litter is soiled, they may not want to get too close. Ensure the tray is being cleared at least once a day.
- Territorial issues with another cat. If another cat dominates your older pet, they may see the litter box as their territory. This will make them afraid to use it.
There is also a chance that your cat has developed a preference for eliminating elsewhere. As we have previously discussed, you may be able to rectify this by changing their litter.
If they insist upon eliminating on bedding or something else, see a vet. This could be medical, or your pet may need to see a cat behaviorist.
Should I Punish My Cat for Not Using Its Litter Tray?
Felines are fastidiously clean by their very nature. If your cat has eliminated outside their tray and is hiding, it’s not because they feel guilty. They will need reassurance, not a telling-off.
Scolding your cat will cause them stress, and likely result in more accidents. It could even leave your cat afraid to go to the toilet. This could have health repercussions.
Older cats that don’t have a health issue are capable of learning how to use a litter tray. It’s all just part of an overall process, though. Some older cats need re-learn the entire experience of being a household pet. Others need to discover how to do so for the very first time.
With enough time, and the correct materials, your older cat will establish a toilet regime.