Question from Jim:
Hi Amy! Winter is coming, and we would like to take in an about two-year-old stray tomcat that is "living" in our yard since spring. However, he has never learned what a box is, so right now, we put him outside when we cannot babysit him. The house is fully carpeted with a lot of upholstered furniture, so cat pee or feces on the floor, the couch or the mattress would really ruin a lot. Our previous former stray cats all knew instinctively what to do with the box, but this cat just hops out when we put him in (of course he doesn't "need" to then) or he just sits down and looks at us with a big question mark on his face. Do you have any tips how we can teach him to use the box when he "needs"? Thank you very much in advance.
Answer from Amy:
Hi Jim. Thank you very much for your question. An adult cat that has never been litter box trained can be a little confused when he sees a box. What we can do is start training him to use it, slowly but surely.
A cat that was raised without his mother or a surrogate adult cat usually takes more time to learn to eliminate in a litter box. However, it's never too late to train your cat. Below are some tips:
Choose the right litter
Since cats are very persnickety about the things they use, it is a good idea to find a type of litter with a particular texture they prefer. However, you want to let him stick to one type of litter and litter box. Usually pellets are more pleasing to new-to-litter-box cats because they tend to whisk up the moisture, but your cat may find something else more appealing.
Put Soil and Leaves in the Litter Box
Since he is mostly an outdoor cat, it will be helpful to add a bit of soil and leaves from where he normally eliminates or place his stool in the litter box. That way, he will development associations between the need to eliminate and his litter box.
Let Him Jump in and out the litter box
Allow him to move in and out of the litter box. He may need some time to learn about it by exploring. Do not restrain him in the litter box because he may develop negative associations to it.
Encourage Him to Use the Litter Box
20 - 25 minutes after he has finished a meal or playing, you can put him in the litter box and encourage him to use it by stirring the litter around. Cats like learning by imitation, so by stirring, he may follow suit.
Provide a Private and Quiet Place
Cats like to soil in a private, quiet environment. You can place the litter box away from the fridge or areas that may be noisy. Also, if you have multiple cats in the family, having several litter boxes (or one for each cat) in the house will prevent fighting over them.
Finally, a little bit of positive reinforcement goes a long way, so if your cat finally gets a hang of the litter box, reward him with a treat or give him a lot of praise.