Finding abandoned newborn kittens can cause an ‘ahh…’ moment and you may be keen to rear them. You may never know why they were abandoned, but these tiny mewling scraps of fur, like real babies, will have to be toilet trained.

This is a delicate and unpleasant chore for some, but kittens don't learn to pee and poo on their own – their mother stimulates them to go to the ‘toilet’ by licking them. Of course, nobody expects you to do the same, but you can mimic her licking with soft tissues. After each feeding, sit the kitten upright on a table, hold her with her bottom facing the floor, or turn her on their back – just find the position that works best for you both. Gently rub the genital region in a circular motion with your tissue – she should begin to pee. Continue until she is no longer peeing, which may take 10 to 40 seconds. If the kitten needs to poo, stimulate her rear end while she is pushing as this encourages her to use her muscles to pass the poo, so continue until the kitten has finished her business.

Introduce the Litterbox

At around 3 weeks old you can introduce them to a litter box, and as every kitten develops at a different pace, be patient and continue stimulating until she is confidently using it. Most catch on quickly and get it right most of the time. Others take days before they get the idea, and it may take up to a month to get a kitten fully and reliably litterbox trained. Watch for signs that your kitten needs to go to the toilet - sniffing the ground, meowing and dashing behind the sofa could be a sign that she is getting the urge! Divert her to the litter tray and give her some privacy – don’t stare too obviously as nobody likes an audience! Accidents will happen, but don’t give up. It might be a sign of something else – she could have an infection. Peeing outside the litter box could actually be spraying and marking behaviour and will usually stop once the cat has been spayed or neutered.

Reasons for refusing the Litter box

Maybe you’ve moved, got a new baby, or another cat – this type of change can stress cats enough to make them stop using the box, so reduce stress if you can. Keep the litter box clean, and ‘scoop the poop’ at least twice daily, and be sure to clean, disinfect and replace the litter every week. Cats are fastidious creatures, and most won’t want to step into a dirty litter box.

Perhaps the litter box isn’t shallow enough for a kitten to climb into might be reason enough not to use it, and an older cat might suddenly stop using the tray as they might have become too stiff to step so high. Or perhaps she has outgrown hers and you might need to get a bigger litter box. Try uncovering or vice versa, maybe the position could be wrong - place it in an area where the cat can see her surroundings and has privacy and escape routes. If there’s a thin layer of litter in the box, try more, or if too much, try less. Or try a different brand – and keep trying different ones until you find one that suits. Cats are territorial and may be too stressed to use the litter box if they’re competing with another cat - they could chase it away - or wait outside and ambush the cat that emerges.

Clean up accidents with cleansers designed to eliminate pet odours, which you can find at most pet stores. If your cat is still smelling her own pee/poo in an area she’s not supposed to go, she’ll keep thinking it’s a bathroom.

Lastly, never rub the cat’s nose in her own waste as punishment - this will never work and will cause more stress, and don’t force her in the litter box, both could cause her to develop a negative association with the box. And don’t yell if she gets it wrong - this will only cause fear and won’t solve the issue.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan