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My new kitten is six weeks old and I think he's defective!

I adopted him from Craigslist and the people said he was litter trained, but he keeps going to the "bathroom" in the corner of the room. When I give him food I play with him after he eats, let him groom himself a little bit, then I put him in the litter box.

I asked for advice online and have tried a few things.

  • I tried to gently take his paws and rub them against the litter so he understands, but he just jumps out of the litter box. He disappears for 15-20 minutes, then I smell the feces, and of course he's in the corner making another mess. :(

  • People said to watch the kitten carefully and if I catch him mid-poop put him in the litterbox. I have tried that too.

  • Other people said to take the kitten and bring him back to the feces, then rub his face in it while saying "No!". I tried that about eight times over 2-3 days and the kitten still doesn't get it! Advice online when I said it didn't work was just to do it again, but rub his face in the poop more vigorously.

He's still not getting it! How do I make the kitten understand he has to use the litterbox?

  • I realize that this was posted in a fly-by rickroll attempt, but I suspect that this may actually crop up as a real question at some point, so I'm not deleting it. – John Cavan Apr 28 '14 at 0:20
  • @JohnCavan, and if I'd read your advice a few years ago, it would have really helped... – Benjol Apr 29 '14 at 6:35
  • @Benjol - Who knows, it may help in the future. Older cats can fall into this issue as well. – John Cavan Apr 29 '14 at 15:14
  • Cats poop in the place that smells poopy. Rubbing their nose in their mistake is maximally counterproductive. – sh1 Jul 26 '15 at 1:57
  • Why would you rub poop in your kittens face!!! This can actually be considered animal abuse!!! What would you do if someone rubbed your poop in your face!!! I sure hope you clean it off!!! I feel really bad for this kitten!!! – GoldNugget8 Apr 6 '16 at 1:46
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First, immediately stop the activity of rubbing his face in it. This is completely counterproductive, the kitten is not going to make that association, and is going to see this as abusive and become fearful of you. That advice is brutally bad, it boggles the mind.

Second, 6 weeks is way too early to separate a kitten from the mother, 8 weeks is minimum, 12 is best. So, whoever sold it to really has no business doing this and my guess is that they had an unexpected litter and were trying to get rid of them. That's unfortunate, a couple of more weeks and you might not be having this issue.

So, if you understand that the kitten is not properly weaned from the mother and trained by her, then you need to substitute for her. Some initial steps you need to do are:

Observe the pattern of elimination:

  • Does he go in the same place? If so, put a litter box there.
  • Does he always avoid the litter? Have you looked at a different litter option? There are some designed to attract cats for this purpose.
  • Does he go beside the box or entirely away from it? If beside it, the litter or the box may be the issue. Any idea what litter the people that sold you the cat use?
  • Does he spread it about? If so, he may be marking territory. Seems a little young, yet, for that, but still.

There's a whole program of behavioural medicine work around the answers to those questions, so a bit out of scope here. However, you can use this information to talk with your vet or use as the basis for trying some things out.

Reasons cats usually don't use the litter box:

  • Prefers or dislikes a certain kind of litter (gravel may hurt his paws for example)
  • Doesn't like the location, do you keep the litter box near his food? We don't like to eat in our bathrooms either
  • Do you clean it frequently, cats are fussy and will avoid soiled boxes
  • Fear, bad association around the current location of the litter box (which isn't helped by the existing bad advice you've already gotten)

Things to help:

  • Keep the litter box clean (assuming he's using it)
  • Wash it out once a week to remove odors
  • Different types of litters, switch them up and see if he shows a preference
  • Litter attractant, basically designed to attract cats to the litter box
  • Check the height of the box, he may be having a hard time getting in it as a kitten and so avoids (if he's going beside it, this is a possibility).
  • Don't put a lid on the box if you have one (concentrates the odors)
  • Ensure you thoroughly clean the area he defecated on, preferably with a cleanser designed for this
  • Move the box to a more open area and away from any food
  • If he tends to use quiet areas, move the box to a quiet area. If he tends to busy, move to a busy area

Things to avoid:

  • Liners, some evidence that they reduce litter box usage
  • Punishment. This will make it worse, not better, and may alienate the cat

The things about punishment, and why I'm kind of harping on it, is that there's this idea that the cat should be able to grasp "bad" in this context. Get past the idea that cat is like a human, they don't see it this way, they're just pooping.

  • Can you comment on this advice I used to follow: START cats poop where they can smell their poop, so take the poop outdoors and mask the smell on the floor with room freshener. Then they will start pooping outdoors. END Joined this site just to ask this, wonder if was just a myth like rubbing face in poop. – Jesvin Jose Jul 25 '14 at 12:20
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In addition to John's excellent advice, I'd add something that will help with very young kittens like this one (after you stop punishing him when he doesn't understand what's happening - chances are you're finding the poop long after he's done it so there's nothing to connect you being mad at him and him pooping in the wrong place)

Whenever you see him getting ready to go, in the squat with the tail up, gently pick him up and move him to the litter box, then stay with him and encourage him to stay in the box until he does his business. Once he's done, praise and pet him even if he didn't get the burying part. You want him to associate the litter box with doing his business and - after the horrible advice you got - good things.

For a kitten this young, I'd keep multiple boxes so there's always one close by because he's not always going to be able to find his way to it when he needs it. As he gets older, he'll pick out a favorite place, and you can remove the other boxes. This is how I handled the kitten I got at the age of 5 weeks: there were litter boxes in multiple places, and any time she showed signs of wanting to go, I took her to the nearest box and encouraged her until she was done. After the first few weeks accidents stopped and I was able to ease back to a single box.

Above all, no matter how unpleasant any accidents get, do not punish the kitten. He's too young to be away from his mother, possibly too young to remember where he should be doing his business, and trying to figure out a whole new environment that's both exciting and scary. You want him to trust you, not fear you.

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When one of my kitties stopped using the litter box my vet mentioned it could be from changing the type/brand of litter or possibly could have an infection. With an infection they may stop using the box because they associate the box with pain. You can mention it to your vet at the kittens visit. Even they would tell you not to rub noses in it.

protected by Community Apr 6 '16 at 2:53

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