Do Cats Automatically Use Cat Litter?

Some cats only need you to show them the litter box once and they're good to go.
Some cats only need you to show them the litter box once and they're good to go. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Cats have a natural urge to dig in the dirt or litter and do their business. Most felines go potty in the litter pan all on their own, although sometimes you need to show them the ropes in the beginning. If your cat stops using the litter box, it might be a sign he doesn’t like his potty and you need to make some changes.

The Instinct

You may have heard that a mother cat teaches her babies to use the litter box within the first few weeks of their lives. However, this is just a myth. Kittens start digging and relieving themselves as early as 4 weeks of age all on their own, according to WebMD. Cats prefer clean areas by nature and want to bury their droppings, leaving no trace behind.


If you recently adopted a new cat or are raising a young kitten, you’ll need to go through a few extra steps in the beginning to ensure your feline pal knows where to go potty. Place Jackson near the litter pan as soon as you get him home and let him sniff around. Take him back over there after naps, play sessions and meals. For the next few days, monitor his behavior and watch for signs that he has to “go.” He’ll circle around in the same spot and sniff the ground when it’s that time. As soon as you see him doing this, gently pick him up and take him to his toilet. When you have to head to work, you might want to lock him up in your bedroom with the litter box, just until he gets familiar with his surroundings and doesn’t have any accidents.

Litter Box Details

Even though cats tend to use litter naturally, you have to put out enough boxes for all of your furry family members. If you have several cats, you’ll need to have one pan for each kitty, plus one more, with at least one on each floor, suggests the Humane Society of the United States. So if you have three kitties and a two-floor home, you’ll need four boxes with at least one on the main floor. Some kitties are very particular about exactly what is in their box. Typically cats prefer fine-grain litters, like the texture of clumping litter. While Jackson is getting used to his new environment, fill his potty pan with a fine-grain litter that isn’t scented. This way he has something soft and mild to dig through that won’t be offensive to his sensitive nose.

Other Tips

If Jackson is a little hesitant about using his potty regularly, leave a small amount of yesterday’s business behind. Of course you want to clean his box regularly, but leaving just a small amount of stool or clump of urine reminds him that this is where he is supposed to “go.” Lastly, if he refuses to use his litter box, reconsider the location of it. Noisy laundry rooms or high-traffic bedrooms are too hectic for Jackson to relax and relieve himself. Move his toilet to a new quieter location and show him where it is. With a little extra privacy, he’ll learn to enjoy using his litter box in no time.

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