How Do Cat Know To Use Litter Boxes Without Training?

“How do cats know to use a litter box?” – It is not clear how cats know to use a litter box, but they learn it instinctively. They learn the habit when they are young and often associate the box with potty time. Young kittens will often randomly select the litter box depending on its texture. When introduced to a litter box, cats will quickly adapt to the new environment.

If a cat doesn’t like the litter, he may try to find an alternate spot. This may mean urinating on your bedroom carpet or other surfaces. In this case, it may be time to change the appearance of the litter box or the location. A cat may not like a litter box with a cover. A few cats only use the litter box for urination. In such a case, you should keep an eye on your cat while it uses the box. Moreover, cats should not be allowed to urinate or defecate outside the box without supervision. If you find your cat eliminating outside the box, you need to get rid of the problem immediately.

Moreover, your cat can figure it out without any training. But why, though? Keep reading while we explain some reasons for this behavior and also we will help you to find out why your little friend might not be using the litter box.

How do cats know to use a litter box?

Many cats and kittens will instinctively know how to use a litter box without being taught. Therefore, with new kittens, cat parents usually need to simply show them where the litter box is and how to get in and out.

On occasion, some training is required to help a new cat adjust to a litter box or a recently-adopted stray or feral cat that may not know how to use a litter box. Even in some cases, it’s needed to help an adult cat that suddenly stops using and starts to forget how to use the litter box. Some simple tips we’ve gathered below will get your cat on the right path:

Keeping your kitten in a smaller space

Keeping your kitten in a smaller space

Usually, kittens relieve themselves outside the litter box because they forget the location of the litter box- or it’s just placed too far away that they cannot get into it in time.

To avoid this dilemma, for the first few days, keep your little friends in a smaller space – somewhere like a kennel or a single room, so that they will have less room to wander and get access to the box quicker. Gradually, you can expand their strolling areas until you’re sure that they are accustomed to the litter box.

Reintroduce the litter box

Reintroduce the litter box

Don’t worry if your little furry friend is a slow learner, keeping him in a controlled area might help him catch on. Plus, try to place your kitty in the box when he wakes up after he eats and anytime you think he might need to go. That way he will soon get used to using the litter box instead of going anywhere on the floor. It can be also very useful when having an older cat around that your kitties can observe and learn from.

Litter Training an Adult Cat

People with kittens are so lucky when it comes to litter training since mother cats usually teach them how to use the litter box all on their own.

What about a stray or feral cat? Can you teach him how to use the litter box indoors instead of going anywhere outside just like they used to do? The answer here is yes! It’s even much easier to litter train an adult cat than a full-grown dog to use the potty outside.

The rule of thumb is that you need to be patient and understand them. Just like a kitten, they need time to get accustomed to the concept of indoor living. Provide them with a quiet and secluded spot like a singular room, so that they would have enough privacy. Gradually introduce your cats to the litter boxes and make some changes if needed.

Don’t forget to keep the litter box clean by changing the litter out regularly, about every 3-4 weeks. And, of course, be sure to give them a lot of praise when they use the litter box!

How do cats know to use a litter box without training?

If you wonder how do your cats know to use a litter box without training? The short answer is because of their instincts, cats have an inherent desire to bury their waste in order to cover their scent from other animals. Cats tend to be attracted to dirt or sand since the texture and the consistency of several soft granules made it much easier to bury their waste.

Survival of the fittest

Survival of the fittest

Originating from Darwin, this theory indicates that the individuals that best adjust to the environment are the most successful in surviving and reproducing. This means that with strength, speed and intelligence, those individuals compete with others and win food, shelter, subordinates – anything that’s needed to stay alive, grow and reproduce.

Their offspring will inherit these traits and then pass them on to the next generations. This all comes down to the instinctual behavior in which descendants take over the characteristics that helped their ancestors to survive and grow in the wild.

Animal instincts: Cover their tracks

Cover their tracks

So, what exactly is instinct? It’s a tendency to behave in a certain way, usually in reaction to the environment and for the purpose of fulfilling a specific need. For example, birds migrate to the South for food and nesting locations when winter comes.

All animals have instinctual behaviors and that includes your domesticated cat. The PetSmart resident veterinarian says “Cats have an inherent desire to bury their waste in order to cover their scent from other animals”.

Once upon a time, as our cat’s ancestors were prey to bigger animals, they would cover their waste so it wouldn’t reveal their location to the predators or competitors. Cats tended to be drawn toward dirt or sand since the texture and the consistency of several soft granules made it much easier to bury their waste.

Therefore, it is not surprising when you find your cat trying to use the cat litter in the litter box to bury their droppings without any potty training in advance.

Research also shows that in a group of feral cats, dominant cats often leave their waste uncovered as a way of marking their territory while smaller ones would cover their feces as a signal to others in the area that they are not a threat. So it may be understandable that in a multiple-cat household, dominant cats often leave their waste unburied in the litter box.

Even kitten knows

Even kitten knows

Because cats naturally like to bury their waste in a sandy patch, there’s actually no need to train a kitten to use the litter box. Kittens already have a strong instinct to hide their evidence after doing the deed that mother cats rarely need to teach them.

In fact, this inborn behavior will begin when your kittens are about 4 weeks old. They will instinctively know how to dig into the cat litter and conceal their urine and feces without observing their mothers doing so.

Everything you should do is place the litter box in an open, familiar place, then provide your felines with the right box and kitty litter, and one more important thing is keeping the box clean as cats are fastidious animals. Your cats will soon get accustomed to the potty and know how to use it with little-to-no instruction.

Is there a reason some cats don’t use their litter box on occasion?

cats don’t use their litter

Sometimes, even the most well-behaved cats, miss their litter box and may eliminate ‘oops’ outside it. There are actually some reasons that spark this unwelcome behavior including:

Introduce the litter box at the wrong time

Introduce the litter box wrong time

First of all, you should introduce the box into your house as soon as your little friends arrive home, giving them enough time to comprehend the box. Place your cats in the box a few times, letting them sniff and examine it. To avoid confusion, make sure to not move the box suddenly once you’ve shown them to your cats. Also, keep in mind that cats usually need to do their business after meals or naps, so put them into the box at these times throughout the day.

The litter box may be placed in a busy area, too small or hard to access

Cats are creatures of comfort and habits. If their living conditions are not up to their standards, they might act out in response. Try a new location for their litter box. Place the box somewhere quiet, private, and easy to escape. Avoid high-traffic zones or noisy areas like laundry rooms to prevent unwanted intrusion by humans.

Plus, your kittens are unlikely to prefer tight places like in the corner of a closet or somewhere between the toilet and the bathtub because they feel like there’s no escape route. Your four-legged friends will frequently use the litter box if it’s located where they feel the safest.

Your cat doesn’t like the design of the box

cat doesn’t like the design of the box

Some cats prefer an open design whereas others like the covered one. Litter boxes with covers may feel restraining to a stressed cat, and in this case, removing the cover may help to ease the fears. If your cats are senior or a little overweight, getting into the boxes with high walls may be quite challenging. To avoid this dilemma, try scaling up the box as they grow older and bigger.

If you find your kittens keep missing the box and eliminating outside it, don’t yell or be rough. Keep some of their favorite toys around so that they will at least notice the box when they want to play.

The litter box may also be too dirty

litter box too dirty

Cats are clean animals and will not use the litter box if it isn’t emptied regularly. To solve this problem, your cat’s litter box should be scooped at least twice a week and filled with fresh litter every few days. Besides, don’t forget to provide praise and reward with a tasty treat if your kitty uses the box correctly! Later on, it will soon become a habit that requires no help from you.

Your cat doesn’t like the kitty litter

Nowadays, there are tons of cat litter on the market that you can easily find, ranging from clumping to non-clumping cat litter, inexpensive to high-end options. Some cats are quite picky with the type of litter you use, they may not be using it if they don’t like the texture or smell it has.

Start with a standard, unscented, natural cat litter, then if you want to switch to another, experiment on something else when your kitty is fully trained. Keep in mind that while clumping cat litter is considered standard for adult cats, it’s dangerous for kittens if inhaled or ingested and should not be used until they are at least 2-3 months old and get well acquainted with the litter box.

There are other behavioral and health concerns that may be causing your cat to avoid their litter box

You know, cats communicate with humans through changes in behavior. Not using the litter box is also one of the signs showing that your felines are suffering from some health issues. Having tried all of the said measures to encourage your cats to use the litter box, but if you still find them not using it, I recommend visiting the vet to identify or rule out any medical issues.

A new cat around

Have you brought home another feline recently? Many cats don’t like the presence of other unfamiliar kitties that might invade their space. They may then feel too insecure and stressed to use the litter box if they are competing with another cat. Therefore, they will start to act out by ‘going’ outside the box.

For the first few days, make sure your cats have a place to call their own to which they can retreat when threatened. So, you should try to provide facilities for each of your cats. Expand the territorial range by adding cat enclosures, cat condos,… or just simply cutting holes in cardboard boxes and placing them somewhere strategically. Also, don’t forget to give love and attention equally to each cat.

Territorial issues

If you have more than one cat, using a litter box can result in disputes among them. In a multi-cat household, dominant cats will sometimes leave their feces and urine uncovered as a way to mark their territory. Especially, if your cats are having changing hormones, they might be more competitive about who pees and poops where. That way other cats will be reluctant to use that box when they notice that the place is taken.


Stress can arise from different sources, but in fact, some cats are naturally prone to anxiety. A nervous kitty easily gets fear when a specific stimulus is confirmed dangerous, even when something small changes. A state of anxiety means that the cat is experiencing an emotion, particularly in unfamiliar situations. Try to think of anything if you find their bathroom habits start to vary.

Environmental changes

Have you removed or remodeled the house? Changes in the environment can cause stress and anxiety to your cats. Anxiety is one of the more common emotional issues that may contribute to a number of behavior problems, including house soiling.

Even healthy cats can become stressed by changes that might seem minor to you. They need time to adjust, so be patient. During environmental changes, make sure that your felines get extra attention and treats, and keep the litter box clean. That way your little friends will soon regain the feeling of safety and routine, then get accustomed to the new environment quickly.

Moving the litter box to a new area

Moreover, changing the replacement of the litter box inside your house might also be an issue. At first, they can get confused as they cannot remember where you’ve put the litter box, or they just don’t like the new setup.

In these cases, your furry felines just need some guidance. Slowly move the box a few inches at a time each day, and gently guide or take your cats to the new location. Do not scold or punish them for eliminating outside of the litter box. Also, remember to clean the marked areas thoroughly to avoid them using that spot again. If they seem to be stressed, it might be necessary to move the box to its original location.

New family additions

Bringing home a new tiny screaming human may also prevent your cat from using the litter box. Sometimes, your little friends might disapprove of having a new family addition inside their homes.

The arrival of the new member is often accompanied by other scary things such as loud talking and laughing. So, your cats may get fearful and start to act out by exhibiting strange behaviors that they never did before. Make sure to provide your cat with a safe area to go and retreat to every time you have a stranger or visitor coming to your house.

Marking & Spraying Behavior

Spraying is a marking behavior that is not connected to other litter box problems because the reason for it is completely different – here, the sex hormones are at play.

Once they reach sexual maturity, both male and female cats can spray. Usually, you will find they exhibit this behavior when they are around 6 months depending on each individual cat, but it’s most common in intact cats.

To avoid this situation, you should get all kitties spayed or neutered before the sixth-month hump. Try to stop the issue before it begins because once it gets started, it’s very hard to be solved. Although many companies manufacture deterrent sprays and other compounds to fix this behavior, there are no guarantees. So, dealing with spraying can be rather tough.


1. Do stray cats know how to use a litter box?

If you’ve adopted a stray tomcat, it’s important to give your furry new friend time to adjust and adapt to the new environment. They may be used to doing their business wherever they like outside so seeing a litter box can be a little confusing. The good news is that it’s perfectly possible to change their restroom habit if you know how to train a stray cat to use a litter box.

2. Do cats have to be trained to use a litter box?

As said earlier, cats and kittens instinctively use a litter box without needing to be taught, it’s an inborn habit that they actually don’t know at all! But in fact, many cats require little training to use their litter box until around 3 weeks of age, especially feral cats or stray cats as they are accustomed to pooping and peeing anywhere onto the soft garden earth.

3. Are there some cats that never learn how to use a litter box?

The quick answer is yes. Dr. Cassidy says that this can happen, but it is very rare. If you notice your cats’ changes in behavior and not using their litter box, it’s urgent to see your veterinarian to assess and deal with the health problems that they may be enduring.


Now that you’ve known the answer to the question: “How do cats know to use a litter box? “, potty training should not be a big concern for you. As you can see, cats use the litter box as an instinctual restroom habit regardless of their background or age. In special cases, some cats may not follow their instincts but don’t worry, our above useful tactics will help you to make the training process a breeze. If you have any questions, feel free to leave some comments in the comment box below.

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