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My 8 years old boy loves cats, but I work a full time job and of course my son would be at school at the same time that I work.

I would like to get a cat, but am concerned about how to litter train it if I'm not with it all day. Is it something easy? How long does it take to get it trained?

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To directly answer your question, litterbox training a cat that doesn't already naturally take to a litterbox is not easy, and the process can take weeks.

However, cats are not like dogs. Many cats do not need to be so formally trained to use the litterbox. Litterboxes are designed to appeal to cats' natural instincts, and so many cats are "trained" early on by the proper encouragement, and instinct fills in the blanks. But this is certainly not true of all cats. Those cats that need more formalized training in order to figure out how to use one can definitely be difficult. If you are worried about it, make sure to adopt from someone that is aware of their animals' toilet habits and only get one that is known to be trained already. Since cats are generally easy to "train," a great many available animals will already know to use the litterbox.

Be aware when you bring a new cat home, it will be very stressful for the animal, and there may be accidents or territorial marking. It is recommended in order to try to prevent this as much as possible to keep your cat confined to one room at first. The cat can then explore its one room, and that one room will become its safe zone. Since it is only one room, the cat will definitely become aware of the location of the litterbox also. You may even try placing the cat in the litterbox a little while after a meal to try to encourage it to use it. Then, once the cat is settled, you can allow the cat into a little bit larger area more and more until it has explored the entire house.

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Most cats require little to no litter training, as litter boxes are designed to appeal to their instinctive need to bury their waste. As long as the box is of a sufficient size (larger is better than smaller) and the litter selected doesn't bother them (declawed cats or cats with sensitivities may not like many types of litter), then there should be very little effort involved, if any.

If you're adopting from a reputable rescue or shelter, the cat should already be litter trained; the shelter and foster families aren't just letting them go anywhere they want. An adult cat will also have a set personality and behaviors, and is less likely than a kitten to develop litterbox issues after adoption. Adult cats often have a harder time finding placement than kittens, often because of a perception that they've been surrendered due to litterbox issues; a rescue will be able to help you find a cat with a suitable personality and no known issues.

When bringing a new cat home, a good way to help it acclimate is to restrict the space available at first, and to ensure the cat knows where the litterbox is on arrival in the strange new space (litter attractants can also help during this period). It's often recommended to set the cat into the litterbox when letting it out of the carrier on the first arrival. Let the cat have space and time in the new room; let it hide and don't harass it or try to force it out of hiding. Leave the room entirely so it can get comfortable, and it'll use the box on its own.

Additionally, be prepared to clean up any accidents appropriately during the settling period. Don't scold the cat for them, and do clean them up with an enzymatic cleaner designed for cleaning up pet waste, or that area will begin to smell like an appropriate toileting area to the cat.

You can also minimize the chance of future litter issues by making sure the cat has plenty of clean water available and ensuring they are well hydrated (feeding wet food is very helpful for this); most litter issues are actually related to health problems, not behavioral, and most of them originate from urine that is not sufficiently diluted. Promoting dilute urine helps prevent these health issues.

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I'd definitely agree with Alison's suggestion to get a slightly older cat, which will then already be trained. In fact, as you're out all day, I'd suggest getting two (most shelters have pairs of cats they'd like to see go together), that way they can keep each other company while you're out.

Make sure they have places that feel natural to them, well away from their food and water. Our two prefer the dirt under the shrubs in our garden - one trick is that, when you're ready to let them out (after three weeks or so, depending on how quickly they acclimatize), sprinkle some of the used litter in the area you'd like them to go, so that it has their scent - then they know to go there and not in your neighbour's prize roses!

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  • "If and when you're ready to let them out." Not all owners are willing to let their cats roam freely, and it's much safer for them to remain indoors; many rescues, as well, require adopters to keep the cat indoors after being adopted. – Allison C Aug 14 '19 at 11:47
  • @AllisonC The OP states that they are all out all day. The RSPCA state that if a cat is kept indoors it should not be left alone for long periods during the day. Both they and Cats protection recommend that a cat has access to the outdoors to allow them to express their natural behaviour. – Nick C Aug 14 '19 at 12:37
  • It does seem to be a difference between UK and US viewpoints - American sites seem to prefer keeping cats indoors, whereas on this side of the pond we prefer to let them out – Nick C Aug 14 '19 at 12:39
  • I've never seen my cats having a problem being left alone while I'm out at work; they have plenty of enrichment and naptime available. It does seem to be a cultural difference, but I've seen a lot of cats have short lives with violent ends as a result of being allowed outdoors, particularly in cities, and our rescues here do often require adopted cats to stay indoors. – Allison C Aug 14 '19 at 21:56

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