Home Cat Behavior How Do Cats Naturally Know How To Use The Litter Box?

How Do Cats Naturally Know How To Use The Litter Box?

by Amber

Anytime you bring home a new furry family member, potty training is always a top concern. Luckily for us cat people, potty training a feline is usually a lot easier than most people think. That’s because cats seem to automatically know what a litter box is, and they’re more than happy to use it. But have you ever wondered how cats naturally know how to use the litter box? What is it that makes potty training a kitten so much easier than potty training a puppy?

Here’s your answer:

use the litter box

It’s All About Instinct

As cute as your domestic house cat is, they’re only a few steps separated from their wild ancestors. The natural instincts that drive your cat’s daily behavior are the same ones that wild cats once used for survival. Using a litter box is no exception.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that there were once random litter boxes located throughout a wild cat’s territory. Litter boxes are purely man’s invention to make living with domestic cats easier. But the concept behind those plastic trays filled with litter is based on what wild cats did all on their own.

Every cat is born with a survival instinct that tells them they need to bury their waste to hide their scent from both predators and prey. A hungry predator could easily track the smell of their waste, and that scent would also serve as a warning for any potential prey to stay away. Cats had a much better chance at finding food and staying alive if they took the time to clean up after themselves.

Litter boxes help domestic, indoor cats fulfill this natural instinct.

It’s Natural For All Cats

It doesn’t matter if you’re bringing home a young kitten, adopting an older domestic cat, or rescuing an adult cat that spent most of its life as stray or feral: Every cat has a natural instinct to use the litter box.

Young kittens learn a little by watching mom, but the urge to cover their urine and feces is already in their heads. When you introduce the cat to their litter box, they recognize it as the perfect place to hide their scent and bury their waste.

Jordan Cassidy, DVM, told Reader’s Digest,

“Given the texture and consistency of most commercially available cat litters, it makes it easier for cats to cover their droppings, which is what naturally draws them towards a litter box.” 

Cats don’t usually have indoor accidents on your floor, because they can tell right away your hardwood floor, and even most carpets, won’t allow them to clean up how they want. As long as the litter box is available, and it’s the only area in the house that will allow them to follow their instinct, they’ll quickly learn to use the litter box every time.

use the litter box

Why Do Some Cats Not Use The Litter Box?

If your cat is refusing to use a litter box, it isn’t because they lack this basic instinct. The most likely explanation is that there’s something about the litter box that prevents them from cleaning up how they would like. A few examples include:

In these cases, cats usually seek out other areas of the house to serve as a substitute litter box. They might dig into your potted plants to cover their waste with dirt. Or if you leave clothes on the floor, your cat could use that laundry to cover up their scent. You can also use washable pee pads to train your cat. Your cat most likely agrees with you that these areas are not ideal, but if the litter box isn’t to their liking, they feel they have no other choice.

For most cat owners, training a cat to use a litter box is as easy as showing them where the box is located. There’s no need to wake up in the middle of the night to make sure they’re peeing in the appropriate place, and you don’t have to spend weeks cleaning up indoor accidents (ahem, puppies). As long as you provide them with a litter box that’s to their liking, and clean it out on a regular basis, potty training a cat is a simple process.

If you’re looking for more litter box tips or trouble shooting, read this article next.

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