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Using a litter tray

Teaching a kitten the rules of the house is very important, and training should begin the moment the kitten arrives at her new home. The most essential part of a kittenís education is knowing how to use the litter tray. Also important are teaching the kitten to come when called, and how to stop the kitten from doing things like shredding curtains and eating plants. But the most important is basic training in litter tray usage, so letís deal with that first.

If your kitten comes from a reputable breeder or from a good shelter, the chances are that the kitten will know how to use a litter tray, because the kitten will have learned from the best teacher available - her mother. But if - for example - the kitten was prematurely separated from her mother you will have to play the role of mamma cat.

We begin with a litter tray and cat litter. Make sure that the tray is low enough for the kitten to get in and out of comfortably. (Youíll need to get higher-sided boxes as the kitten grows, unless you want the area around the litter tray to resemble Malibu beach) There are lots of different trays and litters in the market (for more details about different types of litter see this article: Cat litter), but I would suggest that you start with a fine-grained litter which is easy to scrape. If you find that your kitten does not like this you may have to experiment with different brands. Generally, unless the kitten has been trained to use a different litter, any good quality fine grain litter should be just fine. Make sure you have the litter and the litter tray ready at home before the kitten arrives.

Next designate a room where the kitten will spend her first few days and put the litter tray there. Put the litter tray as far as you can from the kittenís food bowls. Later, when the kitten gets comfortable with the house, you can move her litter tray to somewhere more appropriate, for example the bathroom. But in the beginning, the kitten is already in a strange and confusing environment. It is best that she does not need to search the house for a tray. Having the tray close to hand will help to prevent any little 'accidents'.

For a kitten coming to her new home for the first time, everything is unfamiliar and scary. Donít rush her to the tray immediately, unless you think that the kitten needs to relieve herself. (In fact many kittens find being moved to their new home so scary that they take care of this issue during the journey, so come equipped.) When you get home settle the kitten down and make her comfortable. Play with her for a bit, give her some food and generally try to soothe her as much as possible.

Once the kitten is relaxed, pick her up and carry her to the litter tray. Put her in the middle of the tray and hold her front paw as you use it to scrape the litter back and forth. Dig the paw gently into the litter and repeat the scraping motion a couple of times. There is a good chance that this action will prompt her bladder to start emptying. But donít force the issue by holding her in the tray if she does not want to use it at that moment. If she wants to hop out, let her do so and repeat the process every few minutes until you get desired effect. Once the deed is done, gently take her paw again and push some clean litter over the used material. Use the same scraping movements as before.

You may have to repeat the process two or three times but the catís natural instinct of cleanliness will be sufficient for her to quickly start using the litter tray by herself. If there is an 'accident', for example during the night, make sure that the disaster zone is very well cleaned afterwards. If any smell remains, the kitten may be encouraged to go back to that spot and use it again. Initially, it is a good idea to place the kitten in the litter tray at those times of the day when a cat normally would want to use it. These times are: first thing in the morning, after meals or an extended play time and once the kitten wakes up from a long nap.

Once you let the kitten out of the designated room and allow her to run around the house you may move the litter tray to a better spot, but make sure that the kitten knows where the tray is. Walk her to the bathroom, if that is where the tray is, so she knows where it has been moved to. If you have a large house, it is a good idea to have more than one litter tray. Remember that kittens donít have great control of their bladder and bowel functions, and are poor at forward planning. So the closer the tray the better. In the beginning make sure that you watch the kitten as she explores the house. Provide a helping hand when needed, and point out any litter trays that she might encounter en route.

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