13 Things to Do if Your Kitten Won’t Use the Litterbox

If your kitten won’t use the litterbox and you’ve tried everything:

  • Take them to the veterinarian to rule out health problems
  • Try different litter and litterbox types
  • Move the litterbox
  • Eliminate stressors
  • Ensure you have enough litterboxes
  • Clean thoroughly
  • Retrain your kitten in a confined space
  • Have realistic expectations
  • Give it time

Cats learn to use the litterbox naturally, but this doesn’t mean kittens are born with the ability to use it perfectly. It takes time for them to learn.

In this article, we’ll discuss what to try if your kitten isn’t using the litterbox and you feel like you’ve tried everything!


1. Determine if They’re Peeing or Spraying

A cat who pees outside of the litterbox will squat on a horizontal surface and pee like they do in the litterbox normally.

When cats spray, they pee on vertical surfaces with their tail upright and quivering. This might happen on your walls or the sides of your furniture.

This article is perfect for those of you whose kitten won’t use the litterbox at all, poops outside the litterbox, or pees outside the litterbox.

Because they’re two separate problems, these tips may be less helpful if you’re dealing with a cat who sprays—although some of the following tips will work for both.

If you’re looking for help with a spraying cat, some quick tips include:

  • Spay or neuter your kitten to reduce spraying.
  • Determine what’s bothering your kitten—other housecats, a lack of resources, or a cat outdoors.
  • Ensure your cats have plenty of resources, including separated food bowls, plenty of vertical space (cat towers and shelves are perfect!), playtime, and litterboxes.
  • Play with your kitten for at least 30-45 minutes a day, broken into 10-15 minute sessions.
  • Eliminate access to outdoor cats by closing the blinds or playing the television over their meows.
  • Keep your cat indoors—this is safer for them and reduces spraying.
  • The tips below can also work for a spraying cat.


2. Take Your Kitten to the Veterinarian

The very first thing you should do if your kitten isn’t using the litterbox is to bring them to the veterinarian. They can check for health problems like a urinary tract infection, cystitis, or kidney stones.

Pain can also make it uncomfortable for kittens to use the litterbox. Unfortunately, their litterbox problems may even continue after the pain or illness is treated because the kitten has become averse to using the litterbox out of fear.

Think of it this way—if your toilet hurt you every time you used it, you’d probably find an alternative! Kittens don’t understand that their ailment is hurting them, not the litterbox itself, and that makes going potty pretty scary for them.

Once your veterinarian has treated the underlying ailment, you can work with your kitten to get back to consistent litterbox use using the tips below.


3. Change the Litter Type

You’ve tried everything to get your kitten to use the litterbox—but have you changed the litter itself? This could be what’s causing the problem!

Changing the litter is a tedious process, which is why it isn’t most people’s first go-to. It can be expensive and feel like a waste of money—what if your cat doesn’t use the new litter either?

The truth is, they might not. You may have to try several litter types to find one your kitten likes.

If they haven’t used the litterbox since you brought them home, try asking the rescue, shelter, breeder, or previous owner what litter type they used. Buy the same type and brand, and your kitten might understand better.

Otherwise, I recommend switching up not just the brand but also the litter type. For instance, if you use clay litter, try using paper-based or almond-based cat litter instead.

This will be a big enough change that your kitten may feel comfortable using the litterbox despite their aversion to your normal litter type.

If you have multiple cats, make sure not to change all of the litter in your household overnight. This may cause litterbox issues for the others!


You Can Change Back!

Don’t be too afraid of changing the type of litter you use. Even a litter you like less than your current one will still be a win if it makes your kitten use the litterbox!

You also don’t have to keep the new litter forever—unless your kitten is very, very stubborn.

Most kittens will switch back to your old litter if you change it gradually. Start by adding 10% of the old litter to the new litter in just one litterbox in the house (keep the others the same to prevent further accidents).

If your kitten uses it, increase to 25%, then 50%, and so on until all of your litterboxes have just the old litter in them again.


4. Ensure the Box Is Easy to Climb Into

Kittens need litterboxes with shallow sides that they can climb into easily. If it’s too much of a struggle, they may have an accident or forego the litterbox completely.

If your litterbox has tall sides, consider buying a shallower pan. For very young kittens, something like a shallow cardboard box can work as a short-term solution. You can also try shallow plastic containers.

These are a great option since traditional litterboxes aren’t usually made with young kittens in mind.


5. Purchase a Bigger Litterbox

Is your kitten standing in the litterbox but having accidents outside of it? Maybe they’re spraying the sides of the box, and it’s also landing on your walls. Or, their poop is always running down the sides of the box or on the floor outside of it!

Many litterboxes made for cats aren’t large enough for them, which can cause problems. Make sure your litterbox is at least as long as your kitten.

If they aren’t yet full-grown, consider an even larger box, so you don’t have to constantly replace it as they grow!


6. Move Your Litterbox

Many people choose an out-of-the-way location for the litterbox and refuse to move it. This is a huge mistake!

Kittens like to be where the action is. They might not stop playing and race to the litterbox in the basement.

It’s easier if the litterbox is in the living room where playtime happens! You also have to consider that kittens have less bladder control than fully-grown cats, so have patience and make pottying in the litterbox convenient.

If your kitten has an aversion to the litterbox due to stress or pain, moving it can also help them get a fresh perspective and sometimes makes the box less scary.

Lastly, if there’s a place your kitten is always peeing or pooping, put the litterbox in that spot! Even if it’s inconvenient, it’s better than the alternative since your kitten will continue to use the area anyway.

You can then slowly move the litterbox to a better location, inch by inch, over a few weeks.


7. Remove Stressors

This might mean changing where your litterbox is located, as mentioned above, or changing the way your household functions.

If your litterbox is located near the dog’s crate, the noisy dryer, or the back door where the kids run inside and out through the day, your kitten might feel too scared to go in it. Moving it to a quieter location is a must.

Changing your household to meet your kitten’s needs is often harder. Some things to consider are:

  • Other pets who bully your kitten, such as a cat who guards the litterbox
  • Noise in the household, such as from children or guests
  • Recent changes such as moving house, adopting a new pet, or welcoming a new baby to the family

Again, moving the litterbox to a more peaceful area can help, as can having enough litterboxes for your cats.

You might have to go further, reintroducing pets to one another, training your dog, or teaching your kids how to interact and behave around the kitten.

Sometimes the stressors your kitten has cannot be removed—you’re not going to return that new baby to the hospital, after all! In this case, having patience, socializing your kitten, and giving them as much love and peace as possible is key.


8. Always Have Multiple Litterboxes

One kitten needs two litterboxes, always. This is important because some kittens won’t use a “dirty” litterbox with one poop inside, or they use separate boxes for pooping and peeing.

Add a new litterbox each time you adopt a new cat. So, two kittens should have three litterboxes, three cats should have four litterboxes, and so on.

Having multiple litterboxes is also a great way to test different litterbox and litter types to see if there’s a particular type your kitten will use.


9. Clean Soiled Areas Thoroughly

If your kitten continues to pee or poop in the same location, make sure the area has been thoroughly cleaned. When cats can smell their scent, they’ll continue marking the same spot.

Pet enzyme cleaners work well for this. I’ve also found that hydrogen peroxide and baking soda are great to have on hand.

You’ll likely have to wash the area multiple times, especially if your kitten has peed. Keep going until you cannot smell anything, and maybe even give it one last wash after this—cats have more sensitive noses than us, after all!


10. Remember—Kittens Aren’t Trained Like Puppies

Most people know how to potty train a puppy by taking them outdoors or to a pee pad repeatedly and praising them for doing it right. None of this works for kittens!

These training methods will actually make their litterbox aversion even worse. Kittens don’t want attention and praise when using the litterbox.

Setting them in the litterbox can also have the opposite effect, making them less likely to use it. You can do this once to show them where it’s located, but never hold your kitten inside thinking it’ll force them to go—it simply won’t work.


11. Train Your Kitten in One Room

Using a confined space works very well for training or retraining a kitten to use the litterbox. It also helps make new additions feel secure, which is a bonus!

The best room for this training is one that’s easy to clean, like your bathroom.

Keep your kitten inside of the room full-time with one litterbox inside. Since they’re in a confined space, it’ll be easier for them to use the litterbox and for you to check on their progress.

You’re less likely to notice pee when you have to look all over the house than you are when it’s just a small area you’re checking daily.

If your kitten goes outside the box, clean the area thoroughly. Repeat this every single time.

Once they get the hang of things, you can allow them more access to your home. Make sure they have at least two litterboxes once they’re allowed in a larger space.


12. Have Realistic Expectations

Remember that kittens are still babies! They won’t be perfect right away.

Very young kittens need mama cat’s help to go potty. She’ll stimulate them and then clean up their mess, with no litterbox involved in this process.

As the kitten grows older, they’ll become less dependent on mom but still have frequent accidents. Kittens typically begin litter training at around 3 weeks of age, and don’t perfect it until they’ve had some practice!

Like human children, they can get caught up in the moment when playing and having fun. They might not know they have to go until it’s too late to make it all the way to the litterbox, which is why it’s so important to keep it close by.


13. Give It Time

Your kitten may need to age more in order to use the litterbox well, or you might need to give your training time to take effect.

Keeping your kitten in a confined space, such as a bathroom, is the best way to reduce the mess and damage to your home while you’re waiting for your kitten to perfect their litterbox skills.

You can also try keeping a litterbox nearby where your kitten plays and in the places you spend time together so that it’s easy to get to at any moment.

Writer: Katelynn Sobus

I am a freelance writer who specializes in the pet industry.  My full bio