How do Cats Know How to Use the Litterbox?

Many people find potty training kittens to be easier than potty training most puppies. Why do most cats instinctively know how to use the litterbox, and why is litter training kittens so easy most of the time?

Using the litterbox is instinctually engrained in most cats. This means that providing a litterbox for your cat and keeping it clean is usually enough when it comes to litter training cats.

In this article, we will be explaining everything that new cat owners need to know about litter training their new cat or kitten. We will also be explaining what can cause cats to have accidents outside of the litterbox. Some other commonly asked questions will be answered as well. Let’s get into it!

how do cats know how to use the litterbox terre haute indiana

Do Cats Need to be Litterbox Trained?

Most of the time, litter training cats is not as extensive as potty training a puppy. Kittens also tend to learn how to use the litterbox much faster than it would take a puppy to learn to use the bathroom outside.

This means that most kittens will just need to be in an enclosed space with a litterbox to learn what it is and how to use it. You can do this by putting a kitten in an enclosed room with a litterbox, food and water, a place to hide, and some toys for a couple of days. Kittens can realistically learn how to use the litterbox at around four weeks of age.

After a few days, your cat or kitten will likely become more confident, and you can let them have more freedom in roaming around the house. During this time, your cat should still be going back to the litterbox to use the bathroom as long as it is still accessible to them and they know where it is.

Why Cats Know How to Use the Litterbox

Using the litterbox is instinctual in cats, and this is why there is usually not much “litterbox training” involved with owning a cat. This is because cats will instinctually go to the bathroom in the same places, and cats like to eliminate in areas where they can easily bury their feces. This makes the litterbox the perfect bathroom for cats.

Why is My Cat Pooping Outside of the Litterbox?

why is my cat pooping outside of the litterbox

Considering that using the litterbox is instinctual for cats, having accidents outside of the litterbox usually means that there is something wrong. Here are some possible reasons why your cat is having accidents outside of the litterbox.

1) The Litterbox isn’t Clean

Possibly the most common cause of accidents outside of the litterbox in cats is that the litterbox isn’t clean. This is because cats do not like to use the bathroom in places that are already dirty. The best way that you can get around this issue is to clean your cat’s litterbox regularly.

Additionally, you may also want to have more than one litterbox if you have more than one cat. This is because multiple cats using one litterbox could lead to it being soiled very quickly. Having more than one litterbox in this situation will make life easier for you and make it much less likely that your cats will have accidents outside of their litterboxes.

2) Your Cat Doesn’t Like the Litter You’re Using

Sometimes cats can be temperamental when it comes to cat litter. This means that some cats may not be using the litterbox simply because they do not like the type of cat litter that you are using. So if your new cat won’t use the litterbox, this may be the reason why! Similarly, this could cause your cat to suddenly stop using the litterbox if you have changed their litter recently.

3) The Litterbox is too Big or too Small

Occasionally the size of the litterbox could cause cats to not like using it as well. Mainly kittens and very small cats will not like a litterbox that is very large, and large cats will not like a litterbox that is too small.

4) Your Cat is Marking

Unspayed and unneutered cats will occasionally do something called marking. This is when a cat sprays their urine on walls and objects to spread their scent. If you have an intact cat, then this may be their cause of urinating outside of their litterbox.

5) Your Cat is Not Feeling Well

Sometimes cats will also have accidents outside of their litterbox if they are sick or have a medical condition. As a result, you may want to take your cat to the vet if they are having accidents all of a sudden. This is especially true if these accidents are very frequent or if your cat’s waste has a strange color, consistency, or smell.

6) Your Cat Has Anxiety Around the Litterbox

Anxiety around using the litterbox could also cause your cat to avoid using it. Here are some things that could potentially cause a cat to have anxiety around using the litterbox.

  • The litterbox has a hood. (Some cats do not like using enclosed litterboxes.)
  • You are using an automatic litterbox that is noisy. (Sudden loud noises around the litterbox could make cats fear that area.)
  • The litterbox is not in a quiet part of the house. (Aka, there is too much activity going on in the room with the litterbox.)
  • You have multiple cats and they are being territorial of the litterbox.

The good news is that there are some things that cat owners can do to reduce their cat’s anxiety surrounding the litterbox.

How Can You Help Your Cat With Litterbox Issues?

There are some things that cat owners can do to ensure that their cats will use the litterbox. Here are some important things to do to prevent accidents in cats:

  • Keep the litterbox clean.
  • Make your litterboxes easily accessible.
  • Have a litterbox on every floor of the house.
  • Have multiple litterboxes if you have multiple cats.
  • Get your cat routinely seen by a vet.
  • Keep your litterbox in a quiet part of the house where there is little activity.
  • Use cat litter and litterboxes that your cat likes using.


For a cat, knowing to use a litterbox is like second nature for them due to their instincts. If your cat is having a problem using the litterbox, reach out to your veterinarian.

For cats in the Terre Haute, Indiana region, Brown Veterinary Hospital is here to answer any questions. Give us a call at 812-645-0715 or make an appointment today!

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About Brown Veterinary Hospital

We are here to serve as your partner in keeping your four-legged family member healthy, ensuring you have all the tools you need to provide them with a lifetime of outstanding care. Our animal hospital in Terre Haute offers a full range of services to nurture and extend your pet’s life, from wellness and preventative care to critical care, exotic pet care, and dermatology.