Cat Urine Problems: Training or Re-Training Adult Cats to Use the Litter Box

Although training issues aren’t usually a major concern with cats, in some cases cat urine problems may be a result of improper litter box training.

Work with Your Cat’s Instincts

Most cats don’t have to be trained to use the litter box. The exceptions are feral (street) or semi-feral cats who reached adulthood never having seen a litter box and cats with long-standing litter box problems. And even with these kitties, limiting their bathroom activities to one or two designated areas still comes as instinct. Because urinating in random places around the house goes against your cats instinct, its a sign something may be wrong.

Your cat may have a health condition, such as a urinary tract infection, that causes unusual urination behavior. She may be under stress from any of a variety of things ranging from a new cat in the house to noisy roadwork nearby. There may be something unappealing about the litter box, such as the type of litter or the box’s location. If the cat is favoring one spot on the carpet or elsewhere, it could be due to lingering urine odor that draw her to use that spot repeatedly. So, you’ll need to clean thoroughly and totally neutralize any odors to break kitty’s habit.

Health problems require prompt veterinary attention, but there are cheap and easy ways to control stress, improve the litter box and even totally remove cat urine odors. I’ve explained these solutions in detail in Cat Urine Problems Eliminated and the blog also contains a lot of effective methods for dealing with the root causes of cat urine problems.

Use Positive Reinforcement Only

One of the most common litter box training mistakes is treating a cat like a dog. These two animals think in decidedly different manners. Punishing a cat does not work. Cats are simply unable to connect the punishment with their actions. That means the punishments appear to be random acts of aggression. Hitting a cat will only make her afraid of your hands. Rubbing a cats nose in her soiling may make her fearful to let her near you. But it won’t make her stop peeing on the floor. In fact, stress from living with a person she perceives as aggressive and unpredictable may make her behavior worse.

What cats react to is positive reinforcement, or praise. Cats are are all about “What’s in it for me?” When your cat realizes she gets something she likes–attention, petting, tasty treats–for a certain behavior, she’ll continue that behavior. And don’t worry that she’ll stop using the litter box if you stop the praise. After a few weeks, once she’s in the habit, it will be so natural she won’t expect cuddles every time she piddles in the box.

When your cat wakes up from a nap or finishes a meal (times she’ll likely to need the bathroom) carry her to the litter box while speaking to her in soft, comforting tones. Put her down in or beside the box and continue to pet and praise her. You can even feed her a treat. The idea is to build your cat’s good associations with the litter box. You may need to keep this up for a few weeks.