How do cats know how to use a litter box?

An inquisitive tabby cat

People who have never owned or been around cats sometimes imagine that it takes a lot of time and effort to train a cat to use a litter box. We proud cat parents might like to attribute our cat’s use of a litter box to hours of dedicated training, or to our cat’s superior intelligence. However, the truth is that it is relatively simple to teach a cat or kitten to use a litter box because it appeals to their instincts.

Lone feral cats will naturally cover their waste without any training; they do so to cover the scent from predators and competitors. In groups of feral cats, dominant cats will often leave their feces uncovered as a way of marking their territory, while cats lower in the hierarchy are expected to cover their waste as a sign of subordination. Since it’s easier to cover their droppings in soft dirt or sand, cats are naturally attracted to this material.

Cats are fastidious, and in a home, it doesn’t take much prompting for a cat to learn to use a litter box. Provide a clean, roomy litter box in a private location and ensure that your cat knows the location of the litter box. Bring your cat to the litter box and place him or her in the litter box a few times, especially upon your cat’s awakening from a nap, or after mealtimes when your cat is most likely to need to “go.” That’s about all it takes for most cats to get the message that this is where to deposit their waste. In a household, a cat is considered a subordinate member, so most indoor cats will automatically cover their feces. However, in a multi-cat household, it is not uncommon for the more dominant cat to leave his or her feces unburied.

You might also see your cat try to “bury” uneaten cat food by scratching around the food bowl after eating. The same instinct that drives wild cats to cover their feces to prevent detection by other feline competitors or predators also drives domestic cats to instinctively cover their smelly, uneaten food.

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4 Comments

  1. My cat eats star just tuna fish every day lite in water every day ,she been eating it all her life since she was small.

  2. What in the hell are you talking about Edgar? Was this post about tuna fish?

  3. Edgar, if that’s the truth, I really hope you’re supplementing vitamins and minerals that are essential to a cat leading a long healthy life. Tuna alone simple does not provide the nutrients a cat needs. Your cat may seem healthy enough at the moment but I promise you, it will eventually start impacting his health in the long term. A person who eats a can of tuna a day isn’t starving and may even enjoy it but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy or beneficial diet. I urge you in all sincerity, please supplement your cats daily can of tuna with some hard food that can provide the nutrients he’ll need to live a long healthy life with you. Or you can even make your own if you do the research. Please please PLEASE hear me out.

  4. Edgar, if that’s the truth, I really hope you’re supplementing vitamins and minerals that are essential to a cat leading a long healthy life. Tuna alone simple does not provide the nutrients a cat needs. Your cat may seem healthy enough at the moment but I promise you, it will eventually start impacting his health in the long term. A person who eats a can of tuna a day isn’t starving and may even enjoy it but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy or beneficial diet. I urge you in all sincerity, please supplement your cats daily can of tuna with some hard food that can provide the nutrients he’ll need to live a long healthy life with you. Or you can even make your own if you do the research. Please please PLEASE hear me out. I’m just trying to help.

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