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I got a very young kitten about a week ago. From the previous owner, she was litter trained, and only had a couple accidents.

I get her home, and I can't seem to get her to use her litter box at all. She's peed her basket and the couch a couple times, and poops on the guest bed (which is where her food bowl and litter box are). I've managed to catch her peeing a couple times and put her in the litter box, but that doesn't seem to catch on for her. I also threw all her poop into the litter box, and very thoroughly washed the sheets.

Before she was weaned, she was kept in a single room, where her food, litter box, and toys were all there. Her food dish and litterbox are still in the same room, but I'm using a different type of litter; she had newpaper pellets before, and I'm using a gravel type now.

Every time I put her in the litter box to show her where to do her business, she just jumps right out. What can I do to re-train this kitten to use her litter box?

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    How young is "very young"? (Do you know?) Are you using the same kind of litter as the person you got her from? Where did that person keep the litterbox? – Monica Cellio Nov 25 '13 at 17:43
  • @MonicaCellio She's a little over two months. It's a different type of litter, so I was expecting a little bit of a problem getting her used to it, but I didn't think she'd ignore the box entirely. – fbueckert Nov 25 '13 at 20:37
  • I’ve always wondered how cats are litter-trained. Even having taken animal-psychology courses in university, I still find the act of teaching a baby animal to go to the bathroom in a specific place to be baffling and impressive. Ours were trained before we got them, but I recall that a part of the training involved bringing home some of the litter with the mother’s urine odor in it and putting that in the litter box at our home. – Synetech Dec 5 '13 at 2:06
  • @Synetech "Litter training" is a bit of a poor phrase for cats. They aren't really trained. They'll instinctively go for soft places they can dig in, whether their mother shows them or not. If they're going outside of the box this, it means they couldn't find a place they approved of to go. Usually you can just place them in the box when it looks like they are about to go, then they'll realize "oh hey, this box usually has good stuff to dig in" and continue to go there. You're not training them to use the box, you're showing them that the box is the place that has what they're looking for. – Jason C Jul 16 '14 at 21:45
  • Think of it more like; you, right now, as an adult human already know how to use a toilet (kitten's know by instinct so, same starting point). When you're in an unfamiliar place you don't need to be taught how to use a toilet, you just need somebody to show you where the bathroom is. You might forget and need to be shown again. That's what litter training a cat is like. – Jason C Jul 16 '14 at 21:52
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Cats, even young ones (who tend to be more adaptable), can react badly to changes in their environments. It sounds like you have moved the cat (you just got her a week ago from a previous owner), given her access to more of your living space (not just one room), and changed her litter. Anecdotally, changes in food and litter types often cause problems, hence the common advice to make these changes gradually.

Your top priority now is to prevent her for forming bad habits. Switch back to the type of litter she was using right away. Later you can transition to the type you prefer (possibly using multiple boxes). But right now you've got to stop the inappropriate elimination, so give her as close to her "previously normal" environment as you can.

You might also want to restrict her space. Try keeping her in the one room (with plenty of people time) for a little while. Even a kitten who knows where the box is (and knows to use it) may sometimes struggle to get there in time if your house/apartment is large. So work up to that.

Finally, if this kitten has not yet been to the vet for initial exams and vaccines, you should do that right away -- both as general good practice, and because inappropriate elimination can be a sign of a medical problem.

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I have had a constant parade of animals through my house since '96. And I can tell you this:

  1. Cats have great sense of smell. So once they do their business somewhere, no matter how much you clean it, they will recognize the smell of where they did their business. This could be circumvented by strong smells (unpleasant for cats and pleasant for humans,) but once habit kicks in, they will avoid the smell but poop/pee near their place. We had to throw away several rugs due to cats being accustomed to habit.
  2. If place designated to poop/pee is close to their eating place, they will eat less often. And if you change their eating place, the habit portion of pooping/peeing still stands, so you can expect an period of a month or two of adjustment.
  3. They normally don't focus their effort on a single place, but they can be trained that way - here character is main focus.
  4. They love to play where they eat. Even Persian cats (that are grumpy and docile by nature) love to play before they eat. This is a great way to have a quiet cat before you go to sleep.

When a house animal is trained to poop and pee, they are often done so by smell training. So you need an piece of cloth(paper) where there are residues of cats' own smell. You place that on the sand in the litter box,and spray everything else with Lavender or Rue (and I mean everything but 1 meter (2 feet) around litter box and the place they eat.) Your cat will avoid you (or stay a short amount of time) around you, and they will focus their habitation towards areas that aren't covered in lavender and smell like them. If you keep that up for a month (or two depending on the character of the cat,) you will have a trained cat.

The rest is to spray some catnip around where they eat and do that once every week 1 hour before you feed her, and you will have nice and tired kitty that likes belly rubs and sleeping.

Perseverance is the key here.

The rest is just maintaining that discipline. A slight tap on the nose would do the trick if cat misbehaves, no need for hitting or a spray bottle. But have in mind that if it is a new kitten, it is scared, so I wouldn't go handling it. One should approach new kittens as you would an introverted person or a person that survived trauma - let them come to you. But in the mean time, water down some lavender and catnip and spray away my friend! :D

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