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How to Train Your Outdoor Cat to Use the Litter Box

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If you want your outdoor cat to use a litter box, you will need to help her form new habits. With a little patience, time, and TLC, you can make the transition easy and comfortable. 

How can you train your outdoor cat to use the litter box?

Here are 3 easy steps for a smooth transition.

Prepare the litter box.

In general, a good rule of thumb is to purchase one litter box per cat plus an extra one. For your outdoor cat, purchase two extra litter boxes. Place one by an outside door, and put the other one in a more private location (perhaps behind your outside cat house.)

Always place the litter box in a separate location, away from your outside cat’s food and water source. The Cornell Feline Health Centre recommends that you use, “a location that is quiet, private, separate from their feeding area, and easily accessible 24 hours a day.” 

According to the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine, “the litter box should be large enough for your cat to stand up (on all fours) and turn around in.”

Also, consider whether your cat would prefer a covered or open litter box. Some cats are hesitant to use a covered box because they offer no escape route. In addition, they trap offensive odours.

Self-scooping litter boxes may sound appealing, but the electronic sounds can frighten your cat.

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Most cats do best with an open, uncovered litter box.

Select the right litter.

While people often prefer scented or deodorized litter, cats may be repelled by its strong scent. Remember, cats are very sensitive to smells.

Most cats like to use unscented, fine-grain clumping litter. They can be very picky about what type of litter they use. Experiment with different types of litter until you find one that your cat likes.

To keep your cat’s litter box smelling sweet, scoop it daily. Once a week, wash it out with mild dish detergent.

If your outdoor cat is accustomed to eliminating only on soil, you can mix in soil with the litter. Gradually decrease the amount of soil until she is using only kitty litter.

Use positive reinforcement.

When your outside cat uses the litter box, reward her. You can give her a treat, play with a squeaky toy, or pet her. This will reinforce her positive behaviour.

Avoid punishing your cat for not using the litter box. Doing so will alienate her and cause her to associate the litter box with stress.

If your cat has never used a litter box before, you may want to train her in a smaller, temporary space. For the first few weeks, she can live in a closed bathroom, large dog pen, or a gated area.

In this living area, include a waterproof outdoor cat house, food, water, toys, and a litter box. Make sure you spend lots of time with your cat. As she learns to use the litter box, you can expand her living space.

If your cat struggles to adjust to using a litter box, check out this guide on common litter box problems from Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell. 

Have you ever trained an outdoor cat to use the litter box? What are your favourite tips for making the transition easy?

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