How To Introduce A Cat To A New Litterbox
One of the most important aspects of caring for an indoor cat is the litterbox. When it comes time to introduce a cat to a new litterbox that process needs to be done carefully. First and foremost, you obviously want your cat to be happy and healthy. And second, you most certainly don’t want your cat messing the house up because you’ve made some change in their lives that seems unexpected to them.
All of us cat owners know how important it is to change the litter in our cats’ litterboxes. But did you know that the box itself should also be switched out periodically? (Read: Pros & Cons of 7 styles of Litterboxes) The frequency you change their litterboxes depends on a few factors such as the material their current litterbox is made from, how often you clean it, and how many cats you have.
If you have a standard plastic litterbox then ideally you should change it out yearly. This may come as a shock to many cat owners. Your cat’s urine is VERY acidic and it can slowly erode away at the litterbox.
As the litterbox slowly erodes away, tiny particles get stuck down in there. Even if you gave the litterbox a good deep cleaning, those particles will still be there.
If your cat’s litterbox is all scratched up then it’s safe to assume that they probably need a new litterbox. Obviously litterboxes are subject to some normal wear and tear, but a litterbox with deep scratches is no good.
Those deep scratches are a perfect place for nasty particles to hide. And, just like with plastic boxes that have eroded a bit, no amount of cleaning will truly clean and properly disinfect the box.
When In Doubt...
Replace Yearly! If you’re ever in doubt then just go ahead and replace their litterbox yearly as this will be your safest route to go. Keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily apply to all litterboxes. If you have one of those fancy $599 self-cleaning litterboxes that look like a spaceship then you don’t really need to worry about yearly replacements!
How To Introduce A Cat To A New Litterbox
Most cats are very picky, they’re very peculiar, and anything that slightly throws their routine off can seriously mess things up. When it’s time for you to introduce a cat to a new litterbox you will want to make sure it’s done juuuuust right!
Location, Location, Location
The location of your cat’s litterbox is VERY important in general. This means the location of their new litterbox is equally as important.
DO NOT try and put the new litterbox in a new spot. Your cat has a current spot that they use multiple times a day and they’d most likely prefer to keep things that way. The new litterbox should be put in the same exact spot that the old one is in.
Moving their old litterbox to a new spot can be very confusing for your cat. Imagine how confusing it would be for them if you took a new litterbox and put that in a new spot!
If the new litterbox is a different style from your cat’s old one then there will already be enough confusion as it is. If you absolutely must move the litterbox then at least wait for them to get used to the new litterbox in place of the old one before changing locations.
Your cat’s sense of smell is obviously much greater than yours. What you smell might simply be a litterbox, but your cat picks up a ton of different scents that your nose could never process.
You should pour some of the litter from the old litterbox into the new one. Even if it’s clean litter, it will still smell familiar to them if it is coming from the old litterbox.
Keep The Old Litterbox
Don’t just throw away the older litterbox immediately after getting the new one set up. You’ll want to use the old litterbox to your advantage.
Keep the old litterbox right next to the new one, keep litter in both of them, but don’t clean the old litterbox out!
Keeping the two next to each other will help your cat get used to the idea that a new litterbox is there. Since cats love to be clean, by not cleaning out the old litterbox your cat will eventually (hopefully) try out the new one and enjoy how much cleaner and nicer it is!
I know, I know, cat’s aren’t like dogs and it’s a lot easier to use treats to get a dog to do tricks. That doesn’t mean that positive reinforcement won’t work on cats though. Sure, you might not be able to use treats to get your cat to lay down and play dead, but you can encourage them to keep using the new litterbox.
You’re not necessarily trying to teach your cat a new trick. You just want to create some kind of positive association with the new litterbox. Scatter treats around the new litterbox, sprinkle some catnip around it, spread their toys out nearby, use anything that helps the cat warm up to the new litterbox!
DON'T PUNISH OR FORCE YOUR CAT!
You should NEVER punish your cat for having an accident outside of the litterbox. There are numerous reasons why your cat may have gone outside of the litterbox. Sure, it could be them protesting the new litterbox, but it could also be a genuine accident or even something medical.
A cat’s memory isn’t good enough to remember why they were punished. But they will remember “hey, you’re the human that yelled at me, i better avoid you!” Cats respond much better to positive reinforcement than they do punishment. NEVER PUNISH YOUR CAT.
In the same note, you should never try and force your cat to use the litterbox.
I’ve heard of people who will wait for their cat to use the old litterbox and while they’re doing their business the owner picks them up and puts them in the new litterbox. This is a terrible idea and it’s borderline abuse to mess with your pet while they’re doing something that makes them feel so vulnerable.
Cat’s are VERY independent creatures and trying to force new behaviors on them will be very frustrating for both of you. Let your cat discover the new litterbox on their own, and wait for them to feel comfortable enough to use it on their own!
My Cat Won't Use The New Litterbox
If you’ve tried everything in our list above and your cat still won’t use the new litterbox then we’ve got a few more things to go over with you. If you still need help, try reading the ASPCA’s Litterbox Problems writeup. Call your vet if any problems persist!
While introducing the new litterbox did you happen to make any other changes in the process? Cats HATE change and too many changes at once can be stressful for them.
Hopefully you listened to us and kept the old litterbox in the same place as the new one. If not, get up right now and go move it to where the old litterbox used to be.
Did you happen to change your cat over to a new type of litter at the same time you introduced a new litterbox to them? Try using the old litter you used in their old litterbox to see if that helps them out.
Were there any other changes in their environment unrelated to the new litterbox? Try and figure out what has changed so you can help ease your cat’s anxiety.
Is Your Cat Spraying?
Spraying is often misconstrued as your cat simply not using the litterbox. Properly using the litterbox and spraying are two completely different things.
Spraying is a behavioral issue, not a bathroom issue. Cats spray for a variety of reasons from mating to dominance and everything in between. If your cat is spraying then that does not mean they’re rejecting their new litterbox.
NOTE: Spraying can also be done out of anxiety. If your cat is spayed/neutered and is spraying, try and think of any recent changes that may be making them anxious.
It Might Be The Wrong Kind of Litterbox
Whenever you introduce a cat to a new litterbox the only way to do this perfectly is to be psychic. Unfortunately you’re not psychic, because if you were then you’d be able to read your cat’s mind and you wouldn’t have made it this far down the page!
The litterbox style, size, shape, depth, covered vs. uncovered, etc.. are all factors that your cat may be picky about.
Some cats absolutely LOVE covered litterboxes while others refuse to step inside of them. Older cats might have trouble stepping into a deep litterbox. Some cats don’t like litterbox liners, other cats actually insist on them.
There are so many variables at play and if you’ve tried everything on our list, your cat has no medical issues, and there are no dominance disputes, yet your cat still refuses to use the new litterbox after a couple of weeks then you might need to try again with a different size, shape, or style litterbox.