Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Potty training foster kittens: How to set your cats up for success

Tiny kittens share a bed
Tiny kittens at the 6-week mark, like Patrick and Kathleen here, can do a lot for themselves. They can eat food without the help of a bottle, they can keep (mostly) clean and they can move from one place to another. But they still need to master some adult-cat skills. And some of those skills involve potty training.

Cats will root and scratch in particulate matter even when they're as small as 2 weeks. And at the end of that rooting, they will often settle right down for a pee or poop session. But, little kittens often make mistakes on the way to that box. Some kittens will only use the box when you put them in the box. And others need a few reminders in order to use the box consistently.

By the time cats reach the adult stage, most have the litter box thing down pat. Cats like Popoki, for example, are completely bored by the mere idea of even talking about the cat box.

Popoki in the middle of a cat yawn

But, kittens need help to build up those cat skills. And when cats are in foster programs, they need help from their human foster people. Why? Because litter box issues are the No. 1 reason adopters bring a kitten back to the shelter as a return. People who adopt just do not want to deal with a kitty that cannot use the box. And without a kitty mom to model behavior, it's up to the humans to help.

One solution involves confining the kittens to a very small space, like a bathroom or a dog kennel, so they will know right where the box is when they have to go.

But, most adopters do not take a kitten and ask it to live in a bathroom or a kennel. They let the kittens run free throughout the house. And if foster parents don't let kittens figure out how to succeed in big spaces like that, the kitten will come right back.

I've been allowing my little kittens to roam in my writing studio, which is about 300 square feet. I started this project by placing about 6 small litter pans in this room, scattered a few feet apart. When I saw kittens sniffing, I popped them in the pan.

When I went several days without an accident, I pulled back one pan. And then another. My goal is to allow the kitties to live in this room with only one pan. Then, they can move to a bigger room.

This approach takes time, and some kittens learn a little faster than others. And it's certainly not the most fun thing about having foster kittens. But, I'm hoping this work will mean that my kittens move from my home into a permanent home. And that's what we all want, right?


  1. Kudos to you for fostering and potty training! I imagine that is a big task to undertake. Good luck with the adorable little kittens!!

  2. Very good point that I had never thought about before. My goal is to eventually foster, so this will certainly be something I need to know about.