How do cats automatically know how to use a litter box?

We’re just taking advantage of cats’ natural way of dealing with the problem in the wild.

How Do Cats Automatically Know How to Use a Litter Box?

Morgan Cutolo

side view of a tabby british shorthair cat using a cat  litter box in front of white wall with copy space looking at camera

Nils Jacobi/Shutterstock

Reader’s Digest

Cat owners agree on the fact that it’s convenient that they don’t have to train their cat where to go to the bathroom. But how do cats know?

Cats are pretty tidy creatures. They clean themselves, keep their fur relatively knot-free, and they don’t need to be potty trained. From a young age, domestic cats know to use a litter box, unlike puppies that use your floor for the first couple of weeks before being trained to go outside. But haven’t you always wondered how they are born knowing how to use a little box?

How do cats know how to use a little box without being trained?

It all comes down to animal instincts. “Cats have an inherent desire to bury their waste in order to cover their scent from other animals,” says Jordan Cassidy, DVM, PetSmart resident veterinarian. “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.” So, right from the start, they are drawn to the litter box when they need to go to the bathroom. Make sure to avoid these dangerous mistakes that cat owners make.

Are there some cats that never learn how to use a litter box?

Dr. Cassidy says that this can happen, but it is very rare. “A cat’s natural instinct (even a stray one) is to bury their droppings and cover their scent. If your cat stops using their litter box it is important to speak with your cat’s veterinarian to determine if there are health or behavioral concerns that need to be addressed.”

Is there a reason some cats don’t use their little box on occasion?

If your cat typically uses their litter box but every so often eliminates outside of it, it’s not because they forgot how to use it. There are actually underlying reasons.

“The litter box may be too small, in a busy area of your home or difficult to access,” says Dr. Cassidy. “The litter box may also be too dirty; cats are clean animals and will typically avoid the litter box if it isn’t emptied regularly.” He says that there are other behavioral and health concerns that may be causing your cat to avoid their litter box. If you’ve cleaned the litter box, tried a different sized one, and moved it to a different spot in your house and your cat still isn’t using it, he recommends seeing your veterinarian. Not using their litter box is just one way cats communicate with humans through changes in their behavior, these are some other things your cat is trying to tell you.

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