How to Housebreak a Cat – Beginner’s Guide

Most people are under the belief that having a cat in the home is "easier" than having a dog. For the most part, that is a true statement; however there are still some very specific behaviors that come with the feline species that will need to be addressed. In this article we are going to cover the basics of how to housebreak a cat and some useful tips to help you along the way.

"Housebreaking" a Cat Defined

There are two primary areas where a cat will need to be housebroken; litterbox training and inappropriate scratching. The good news is these are not all that hard to train into your feline companion. In fact, both of these behaviors come naturally to the cat, it's just a matter of teaching her where to best perform these habits.

How to Housebreak a Cat - Litterbox Training

Cats are born with the natural instinct to bury their urine and feces. According to LiveScience this practice stems back to their wild ancestors.

Both urine and feces contain very powerful "markers" called pheromones which is a signal to other cats. When a cat buries its feces in the wild it can be a sign of submission to the more dominant cat in that territory. Wild cats will also bury their waste to protect their litter of kittens (or cubs as in large cats) to protect them from predators in the area.

With this tug-of-the-wild on your side, housebreaking a cat to use an indoor litter box isn't all that difficult.

Helpful Hint

Be sure to purchase a litter box that is at least 4 inches deep and large enough for an adult cat to turn around in. Remember that tiny kitten will grow, so you'll want to think ahead.

​A great starter box is the IRIS Open Top Cat Litter Box Kit with Shield and Scoop. This box is regularly under $10 and it's great for both cats and kittens!

Step One - Litter Box Placement

The placement of the litter box is an important decision to make on how to housebreak a cat. The location should be convenient enough for both you and your feline friend to get to, but not so much so that it lacks the privacy most cats desire when eliminating.

Helpful Hint

Try to choose a permanent location for your litter box from the get-go. Cats do not like change, so always moving the litter box around can lead to your cat eliminating on the floor.

Step Two - Litter Choice

With so many litters on the market, you may be confused as to what type to invest in. The two main types of cat litter are clay and clumping.

Clay litter will need to be changed at least once every couple of days, whereas the clumping litter can be scooped out and refilled as needed. The decision on which type to use will be purely up to you.

Step Three - Litter Box Training Your Cat/Kitten

When you bring home an older cat, it usually only takes once for it to be shown where the litter box is located for it to remember. This can be done by simply picking up your cat and putting her in the litter box. For a kitten, you will want to introduce her to the litter box as soon as you bring her home. Do this by placing her in the box. If the kitten doesn't have to eliminate, she will most likely just pop right back out to investigate the rest of her new home. You can do this a few times throughout the day to help your new fur baby get the layout of your home and to help avoid any accidents on the floor.

Helpful Hint

If Fluffy does have an accident, be sure to thoroughly clean up the area with a pet-friendly cleaner that will eliminate the odor so your kitten doesn't keep going back to that same spot.

How to Housebreak a Cat - Inappropriate Scratching

One of the biggest complaints of some pet parents is their cat's habit of scratching things like the furniture, walls or even the drapery. Unfortunately, if this bad habit becomes "out-of-hand" it may lead some folks to the decision to abandon the pet at an animal shelter or rehome her on their own. However, there are ways to help your cat curb it's inappropriate scratching.

Step One - Understanding the Intent Behind the Action

It's unfair to bring a cat into a home and not give it the proper equipment it needs to fulfill its instinctive needs. According to the Humane Society (USA) cats scratch to;

  • Remove the dead outer layer of their claws
  • Mark their territory with both visual and pheromonal markers
  • Stretch their bodies and to flex their feet and toes

Preventing a cat from scratching is taking away a big part of their physical and mental well being.

Step Two - The Right Texture

Like people, cats have difference preferences, so finding the right texture for a scratching surface can be half the battle.

Most scratch posts are made from common materials like carpet, thick rope or wood. These are appealing to most felines and work well as an alternative to your furniture or walls.

To help determine what surface your cat prefers, pay attention to what she tends to scratch at in your home. Is it rough, smooth or slightly textured? Finding a post that most closely resembles the texture will entice your cat to stop the inappropriate scratching in favor of the post.

Helpful Hint

Pay attention to how your feline companion likes to scratch. Does she like to stand and stretch up to scratch or do so on a horizontal surface with her butt up in the air? Look for the proper "actionable" post for your cat to keep her using it.

Step Three - The Right Spot

Another consideration when it comes to eliminating inappropriate scratching is the placement of the post. For example, if your cat is constantly scratching the corner of your sofa, try placing a cat post by that particular corner.

Helpful Hint

If Kitty is determined to scratch a particular area, place an unappealing texture on that surface. Experts recommend aluminum foil or double-sided sticky tape. In addition, some cats are offended by the smell of citrus and menthol, so these may be sprayed on non-fabric surfaces as a deterrent.

Bonus Tips On How to Eliminate Inappropriate Scratching

Pet parents have learned many "tricks" and tips that may work with your cat's scratching habits. Here are the top hints.

  1. Cats like a variety so try corrugated cardboard or posts with the bark still on it (no chemicals, please).
  2. Clipping your cat's claws can help to stop any frays or catches on your sofa, draperies or carpeting.
  3. Use a catnip spray to help entice your kitten/cat to the scratch post.
  4. Have a variety of posts in different locations in your home.
  5. Praise your cat for using the post.

How to Housebreak a Cat? Be Patient and Persistent

Housebreaking a cat doesn't have to be a tough task. Have patience, be persistent and give out plenty of love and praise when your feline friend follows the "rules." This will not only keep your home scratch and elimination-free, but your cat will shower you with plenty of furry purrs.

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