How to Litter Train a Stray Kitten

Litter box training some stray kittens

When you first adopt any kitten, you have to wonder what litter box training will be like. However, with a stray kitten, you might have all sorts of concerns – after all, they have never been required to use a litter box before.

Thankfully, we have been through it before, and we know how frustrating it can be. We decided to provide you with a guide to mastering this difficult task.

Taking On The Litter Box Task

There are a variety of ways you can address the issue, but most new cat parents have streamlined the process into a few simple to follow steps. It is important to remember when starting out, that it likely won’t be as hard as you think – cats are naturally inclined to bury anything they excrete, so it doesn’t take much convincing to get them to be successful.

The Introductory Steps

Upon bringing in your new kitten, you should realize that they may not initially understand the common expectations of your regular house cat, like a kitten who was adopted from a friend or a shelter would. That being said, it is important to give your new kitten time to acclimate to the new environment and understand the concept of the litter box, which you can assist with initially.

Many individuals advise that the best thing you can do is initially keep your kitten in a small room – such as a bathroom, or another room that has tile or hardwood and is easy to clean when accidents happen because they will. Once you’ve selected an area to start litter box training your kitten in, you will need a few supplies starting out:

  • a small litter box, cake pan, or shoe box (depending on the size of your kitten)
  • dirt
  • cat litter (to be added slowly)

Once you have laid out these supplies, it is important to also provide your kitten with food and water. In most cases kittens will want to potty in the corner of a room – therefore, you should put your litter box in one corner of the room, and the kitten’s food and water in a different corner, to provide a deterrent to using multiple corners to potty in.

Furthermore, in many cases, your new kitten will likely need to use the bathroom approximately an hour after eating (depending upon the age of the kitten – in some cases, this will vary.) It is important to practice specific mealtimes and keep an eye on your kitten for signs it may need to use the bathroom – this way you can guide it to the litter box, filled initially with dirt as it is similar to what the kitten is used to.

When you realize your kitten needs to use the litter box, it is best to place it inside the box – this way it can begin to associate the litter box with being the place it is allowed to use the bathroom. If it has an accident or does not use the litter box, it is a bad idea to scold your kitten – instead, you should scoop up any messes and put them in the litter box so the kitten realizes that is where they belong.

The Understanding Phase

Given some time – usually a short period of time, all things considered – your kitten will begin to understand that the litter box is the place it can – and is expected to – poop and do so consistently in the box. Once this step is complete, it is time to start transitioning in the kitten litter.

Initially, we advise you to use a small amount of litter, primarily with dirt. As the kitten was initially stray, it is not used to the concept of litter yet and is used to the dirt, so the transition should begin slowly.

Typically, your kitten will not have too much difficulty transitioning to regular litter. If your kitten does not experience any issues, initially, with the litter and dirt mix, you may begin including more litter and less dirt.

Over the period of a few days, you should be able to train your kitten to consistently use primarily kitten litter in the box. While there may still be some accidents that do happen, it is important to remember that you should not scold your kitten when these accidents occur, and instead use encouragement and positive reinforcement to assist in litter box training your kitten.

Ultimately, after a few days to a week (dependent upon your kitten’s progress and acclimation to the litter training), your kitten should be comfortable using the makeshift litter box consistently. Once you are confident in their ability to consistently use the small litter box in a contained space, you are ready to move on to the final steps.

The End Stages

Once your kitten is reliably using their small, makeshift litter box, you should be able to let them out into the rest of the house without worry of accidents. It is important to note, however, that in the first few days of truly being allowed to explore their new home, there may be a few small accidents – kittens are very small and can get lost or overwhelmed easily, after all!

It is important to note that once you have decided your kitten is ready to explore the rest of the house, you should show them originally where the litter box or boxes are. This will help them identify where they are allowed to use the bathroom – some owners find it beneficial to move some of the used litter to the new box, so the kitten is able to identify the area as their area to potty.

As with the previous steps, it may take your kitten a few days to adjust – but at this point, they most certainly understand the concept of the litter box and what it is used for. Therefore, once they are comfortable with their surroundings, they should consistently use the litter box for all of their potty needs.

Lastly, it is important to note that every kitten is different – while with some stray kittens, it may be relatively easy to litter box train them, some may struggle with the concept. This is why it is important to make sure you go at your kitten’s pace and reward good behavior with positive reinforcement, giving your kitten time to adjust as it needs to each step of the process along the way.

There are some factors to consider if you notice your kitten is having issues acclimating to the litter box. For instance, some cats are picky about how clean the litter box needs to be, meaning you may need to scoop the box more often than you would initially expect.

Furthermore, there could be other barriers that are keeping your kitten from using the litter box. For instance, if their litter box is too close to their food and water, they may not be inclined to use it, as they feel as though their food would be contaminated.

Moreover, if you provide your kitten with too much space, they may begin to feel overwhelmed and not be able to make it to the litter box in time. If you notice that there are frequent, seemingly random accidents, it is important to attempt to adjust your space and continue to use positive reinforcement so the kitten associates the litter box with the correct place to use the potty.

Lastly, it is important to note that if your kitten is still not understanding the concept of the litter box, they may have an underlying health issue, such as a UTI, that makes it difficult for them. If you are worried that your kitten is acting odd or not adjusting quickly enough, it is best to speak with a vet to rule out underlying health issues and other behavioral issues that may need to be addressed by your vet.

In most cases, however, you should see that within a week or so, your kitten will catch on to the expectation of the litter box and you should not have any issues in the long term. It is most important to remember that while there may be some accidents, your kitten is naturally included to bury any excrement, so they will learn, with encouragement.


While it may seem difficult, initially, to litter box try your stray kitten, it is not hard in the long run. As long as you understand how to litter train your kitten, you should be able to effectively train them in virtually no time.

If you run into concerns, as previously stated, it is always a good idea to consult your vet – they will be able to advise you of any health issues that may be present and provide insight to help guide you moving forward.