How to Train a Stray Cat to Use a Litter Box?

Question from Jim:

Hi Amy! Winter is coming, and we would like to take in an about two-year-old stray tomcat that is “living” in our yard since spring. However, he has never learned what a box is, so right now, we put him outside when we cannot babysit him. The house is fully carpeted with a lot of upholstered furniture, so cat pee or feces on the floor, the couch or the mattress would really ruin a lot. Our previous former stray cats all knew instinctively what to do with the box, but this cat just hops out when we put him in (of course he doesn’t “need” to then) or he just sits down and looks at us with a big question mark on his face. Do you have any tips how we can teach him to use the box when he “needs”? Thank you very much in advance.

Answer from Amy:

Hi Jim. Thank you very much for your question. An adult cat that has never been litter box trained can be a little confused when he sees a box. What we can do is start training him to use it, slowly but surely.

A cat that was raised without his mother or a surrogate adult cat usually takes more time to learn to eliminate in a litter box. However, it’s never too late to train your cat. Below are some tips:

Choose the right litter

Since cats are very persnickety about the things they use, it is a good idea to find a type of litter with a particular texture they prefer. However, you want to let him stick to one type of litter and litter box. Usually pellets are more pleasing to new-to-litter-box cats because they tend to whisk up the moisture, but your cat may find something else more appealing.

Put Soil and Leaves in the Litter Box

Since he is mostly an outdoor cat, it will be helpful to add a bit of soil and leaves from where he normally eliminates or place his stool in the litter box. That way, he will development associations between the need to eliminate and his litter box.

Let Him Jump in and out the litter box

Allow him to move in and out of the litter box. He may need some time to learn about it by exploring. Do not restrain him in the litter box because he may develop negative associations to it.

Encourage Him to Use the Litter Box

20 – 25 minutes after he has finished a meal or playing, you can put him in the litter box and encourage him to use it by stirring the litter around. Cats like learning by imitation, so by stirring, he may follow suit.

Provide a Private and Quiet Place

Cats like to soil in a private, quiet environment. You can place the litter box away from the fridge or areas that may be noisy. Also, if you have multiple cats in the family, having several litter boxes (or one for each cat) in the house will prevent fighting over them.

Positive Reinforcement

Finally, a little bit of positive reinforcement goes a long way, so if your cat finally gets a hang of the litter box, reward him with a treat or give him a lot of praise.


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2 Responses to “How to Train a Stray Cat to Use a Litter Box?”

  1. Gordon says:

    Hi Amy,

    I just took in a Stray that I found out in our yard. It’s been about 6 weeks and I’ve gradually introduced her to the house (by way of the Utility Room, where I set up her litter box). She almost always uses it, however; during the course of the day, she forgets about her litter box, and chooses the bathroom, instead. I chase her out of the bathroom everytime and even bought one of those sprays to spray carpeting to discourage a cat from peeing on it, but she does it just the same. Is there anything else I can do? Thanks,

  2. Zee says:

    My kitten was a dream with litter training, but I did my research before bringing her in.
    First thing was that I confined her to one room on her first couple of days (this was my bedroom) it had in it her littler box, a bowl of food and a bowl of water (as well as some toys). Then the very first thing I did when I brought her in was put her in the litter box. She sort of sat in it and looked at me blankly. Then I gently took her paw and made her dig into the sand slightly. At first she did nothing. So I did it again and without any more encouragement she began digging away herself. So I gave her a treat.
    She has never once has made an accident.

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