How Do Cats Know to Use the Litter Box?

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As a cat owner, you can attest to the tidiness of your feline companion but one question that might cause confusion is how do cats know to use the litter box?

The answer to this question simply has to do with their instincts. Cats are clean animals by nature and as such generally adapt related habits quicker than other pets like dogs.

There’s a lot more to it than that though.

In this article, we’ll give you everything you need to know about cats using the litter box unprompted, the reasons for the habit, and some tips if your cat or kitten isn’t so compliant.

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Without any further ado, let’s uncover the facts.

How do cats know to use the litter box? – A cat’s natural instinct

Cats are very in tune with their instincts and genetics.

Whether your cat is feral or domestic, they still do and perform many of the same actions their ancestors did before them, prompted or not.

Cats clean themselves, they keep their fur smooth and untangled, and for the most part, don’t need extensive training to use litterboxes and bathrooms.

If you observe undomesticated cats, you’ll see that they naturally cover their waste without any training. They do this to hide their scent from predators and other foes.

Cats are territorial animals and usually use scents as a signaling mechanism. Feces are a way of going about this process.

Dominant cats leave their faeces uncovered to ‘mark’ their territories and to signal other cats to stay away. Cats lower down in the hierarchy cover their waste as to not anger their dominant superior.

How do cats know to use the litter box? – Domestic carryover

In a home setting, cats view humans as the dominant animal.

As a result, they don’t want to leave their feces uncovered as they respect the hierarchy and their place in it. This is one of the main reasons why cats can use litter boxes with relative ease and can develop the habit with very minimal training.

Another important reason is the material of the litter box itself. Litter boxes generally use soft dirt or sand: a material cats are quite used to and something that they recognize naturally.

To get your cat used to the litterbox, you have to introduce your cat to it, make sure it’s cleaned regularly, and keep the location easily accessible and reachable. Doing this will make the process easy and painless.

Cats and their litter box habits are great news for their owners as they are generally going to be quite easy to clean up after.

What if my cat isn’t using the litter box?

We ended the last section with ‘generally’ because as always there might be exceptions to the rules and outlines we’ve mentioned.

There might be a few reasons why your cat isn’t using its litter box:

It doesn’t like it:

If your cat’s litter box is unclean or has a material that isn’t familiar and easy to use, then your cat will avoid it and will try to take matters into its own paws.

The location might cause problems too. If your cat‘s litter box is in a hard to reach area, it might start to ignore it.

New cat:

If you have more than one cat, you will notice that your cat is uncharacteristically leaving its feces uncovered in and around its usual litter box.

This is for the territorial marking characteristics we mentioned previously. Your cat views the new pet as a rival and uses the uncovered feces to show who’s boss.

The best way to solve this is to have separate litter boxes for your cats if you have more than one. Overtime your cats will learn to use their own litterbox and any issues usually get resolved quite quickly.

Something’s wrong:

Any unusual behavior displayed by your cat should be a cause of concern as this might be a sign that there is something wrong with your cat’s health or mood.

There’s no easy way or pattern to understand this, but if you notice your cat is scared of its litterbox, it might be because of a traumatic experience it went through in that particular area.

Changing the litterbox location, material, positive reinforcement, and in severe cases, a visit to the vet can all help your cat start using its litterbox like it’s always done.

We hope this article helped solve the mystery behind why cats know how to use the litter box.

For more helpful tips and advice, be sure to check out the rest of our site and feel free to share this resource with other cat owners who might have the same question. If you have other queries or thoughts don’t forget to leave them down in the comments.

Cats are easy to live with if you understand what makes them unique and how they function. Using our advice, your cat and its litter box problems will be a thing of the past.

Lucie Wilkins

Lucie is a qualified RVN (Registered Veterinary Nurse) with over 10 years experience working with cats. She has had a cat companion or two in the house for as long as she can remember. Read more about Lucie here.

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