How Do Cats Know How To Use The Litter Box?

March 7, 2019

Cats are fascinating and mysterious creatures and their amusing yet puzzling behavior at times is still a complete enigma waiting to be uncovered. One of the ‘mysteries’ people still talk about revolves around the use of litter boxes.

Cat parents often get asked how much time and effort is needed to train their new feline friend where to go and what to do once nature comes calling. How is it even possible to train a cat? How do you make sure they do not go on your new expensive rug or behind the sofa? Do they even listen to what you have to say?

Every cat parent knows that a little guidance is needed at first when it comes to the initial cat-meet-the-litter-box introductions, so make sure to ease the process for your kitty by getting one of the top litter boxes on the market.

However, training your furry friend to find and use the litter box does not require much time or effort as cats, believe it or not, are steered by a strong survival tactic and do so, instinctively. Read on to find out the why’s and how’s below.

cat lying on white table

The Power of Instinct

Unlike their canine buddies, cats are driven by a strong natural feline instinct that calls for them to bury their waste. Why? Well firstly, cats are fond of clean surroundings and hold high regard for cleanliness. However, that is not the only reason. This instinctive behavior, which has been passed on from generation to generation, is also there to help them hide their scent from any potential predators.

In the wild, bigger and more dominant cats such as tigers and lions, do not adhere to the same behavior. They use their excrements as a way of signaling that they are interested in claiming a particular territory and that everyone else should stay away. Smaller wild cats, on the other hand, cannot afford the same luxury so they hide their feces in the soil and mask their scent so that the dominant cats do not feel challenged.

Much like the smaller wild cats, this self-protective survival instinct is imprinted in the domestic indoor cat’s DNA. Even though they probably know that they are not surrounded by any real potential predators, they still prefer to do so just to be on the safe side. They have a natural incline to eliminate in sand or soil so the litter box is the only logical option for them to use. In addition, by doing so, they also let the owners know that they consider them to be the dominant ‘cat’ of the household.

Kittens Know

Even kittens, who are rarely taught by a mother cat where to do their business, instinctively know what needs to be done as soon as they are placed on top of a sandy surface. Once they are pointed in the right direction by their owners, it is very rare that the procedure needs to be repeated twice.

Cat with Blue eyed

Not All Cats Bury & Cover Their Feces

There are times when your cat might choose not to use the litter box – or in some cases, not bury their excrements at all. Your kitty is probably trying to tell you something, so it is important that you listen and pay attention. Here are a few reasons behind your kitty’s behavior:

  1. Your cat might consider himself or herself as the dominant one and is claiming his or her territory much like his or her wild relatives. This behavior is more common in male cats.
  2. Cats prefer a clean and a pristine habitat and the litter box might be too dirty for them to use. Make sure that you clean the litter box as often as possible (or use a self-cleaning one) or even maybe consider using a different type of litter. Some cats can be fussy and if the scent is displeasing to them, it might put them off.
  3. The litter box might not be the right size for your cat. If he or she does not have enough room to move around or if it is placed in a location that he or she does not like – cats value privacy so make sure that it is located in a place far from their food and where there is little traffic – they might stop using it altogether.
  4. Multi-cat household? The rule of thumb is one litter box per cat, plus one. Too many cats and not enough litter boxes might lead to some of your kitties going astray. Make sure there are enough boxes for everyone.
  5. Underlying illnesses, such as a urinary tract infection or stomach problems, might cause the behavior. It is important to eliminate any illnesses before addressing any of the aforementioned points.

All In All

Cats are quick learners and whilst there are of course certain things that need to be done from our side to make the learning processes smoother, effective, and even long-lasting, their strong natural instincts mostly do the job for us. 

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