Litter Box Training a 13-Year Old Cat

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Last week, I got the following e-mail from a new reader, Susan:

Susan and Sally
Susan and Sally

“I am relocating from South Africa to Switzerland in October and Sally, my 13-year old kitty, is coming along.  She has been an outdoor cat all her life and will become an indoor cat now, with a nice balcony though.  I am a little nervous and do not know exactly how it will all work out for her being indoor.  She also doesn’t use a litter tray (wants to play in it rather than doing what she has to do).  Do you have any advice on how to handle the indoor & litter tray situation?  How I should go about?  Books and newsletters I’ve read in the past tend to spend very little on training/relocating of cats at different ages.”

That was a first for me!  I had not thought of an older cat needing to be litter box trained!  This is how I replied:


“I am far from an expert on this, nor do I know for sure what to do.  But this is what I would try.  I would find her feces outside and bring it in and put it in the litter box, while you are still in South Africa and if you can get bits of her urine too – that way she will associate it with a place to go.  What kind of litter do you have in their now?  Maybe try and find a litter that is most like the soil in South Africa that she likes to go in.  In other words, scented litters aren’t going to be ideal – but try to find a non-scented and similar texture to the South African soil.

You might mix litter with outside dirt.  For example, when you switch litter brands, they recommend doing this:

Week 1 – 25% new litter, 75% old litter
Week 2 – 50% new litter, 50% old litter
Week 3 – 75% new litter, 25% old litter
Week 4 – 100% new litter

So instead of doing that with litter, I wonder if you could do that with soil – soil from where she goes the bathroom the most.”

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I asked Susan a bit more about Sally and she said, “I adopted Sally when she was about 5 years old because the previous owners didn’t allow her inside their house and that was unacceptable to me being an animal lover.  However she loves being outside and she has a window where she goes in and out all the time.  She sleeps (every night) and spend lots of time with me inside but loves to be outside in the garden most of the day (it is a huge garden with lots of trees).  I have once, during winter time while it was raining very hard, scooped some soil in a litter tray cause I didn’t want her to go outside but all she wanted to do was play when I showed her the tray with the soil.  The window is always open for her so she can go outside. She also goes outside when we have thunder and hard rain .. she doesn’t like that and wants to go outside then.  The idea of putting her feces and maybe some urine in the soil in a litter tray and starting to “train” her now sounds like a good idea.  I am definitely going to give it a try 🙂  I think I should maybe contact an anmial behaviourist in our area and ask.”

So, I asked Susan if I could post our e-mail correspondence because I wanted to know if you guys had any more ideas.  What would you do if you owned Sally and needed to train her to use a litter box?  Or where would you go to learn how to litter train cat?


Comments (10)

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  1. I think your advice is spot on, though Susan should know that it will still be difficult and there will be accidents (just as when training a kitten.) Putting the feces (and IF POSSIBLE urine) is key. But be sure not to accidentally pick up some OTHER cat’s feces! You might start by putting a litter box with a couple of feces outside on top of her favorite spot. This may or may not work at all. A slightly harsher but more sure-fire method would be confining Sally for a few days in a single room with no point of egress with a litter box containing a couple of feces, well separated from bedding, toys, and food. I know this will be hard on both Susan and Sally, but it will teach Sally quickly. When the outside’s still an option, I imagine that’s what she’ll choose, but it should break down the litter box barrier.

    I do think it best to start in South Africa just to reduce Sally’s stress and damage to Susan’s belongings, but I think moving to Switzerland (where’s there’s no outside to choose) will expedite the learning process.

    I’d love to hear a follow-up story about Susan and Sally moving to a different country. In January my family (including two cats) will be moving to Brazil from the US, and I worry about how the furkids will handle it, from the airplane ride to the different food and air and water, and especially the much more confined living quarters.

  2. Jenny,

    I agree with AMD; I think you’ve given terrific advice. And I certainly wouldn’t have thought about getting the feces from outside to use to acclimate Sally. Although I do know about slowly incorporating changes (adding) new litter.

    Good luck to Susan and Sally on their upcoming adventure and to AMD at her move come January.

    1. Thank you so much AMD for your input, I really appreciate it and I will try the litter box outside method first with Jenny’s mixture and if I really have a problem I will have to follow the more sure-fire method. As long as she does it once at least because I have to reduce the stress on her of all the changes that will happen to her. I will definitely keep Jenny posted with pictures. All the best to AMD with the relocation to Brazil 🙂

  3. Jenny, thanks for helping Susan and Sally! I really hope this works (can’t think of any other advice to add). I wish them both good luck and happiness in their new home 🙂

  4. I’m bringing in an 18 month old cat. he is being neutered this weekend and will be brought in for the first time,on Monday.he was born to a feral mother and has a feral brother,But we have been feeding and handling him for several months now.he is not afraid at all.he lets total strangers play and pet him. His brother goes off by himself and is way more independent and not so friendlily.The mother was hit by a car and killed several weeks ago. This little guy never leaves our front door and with winter approaching we have decided to adoopt him. My main concern of course is his adjustment from going outdooor to being an indoor cat. I am so worried about him being traumatized by beibng neutered and brough in the same week.But I want to get him in, before he meets the same fate as his mother. We live on a busy street. The problem with collecting any of his feces or urine is, I don’t know where he goes to the bathroom.I know where his brother goes and i think he goes in the same plot of grass.But i would beafraid to pick up any feces for fear of parasites infesting him.I have decided to introduce a litter box to him while he is still outdoors just to let him see it and smell it. Maybe even put him in it. Leave it at his disposal for a couple of days.Do you think this will help or confuse him or help him adjust.? The only other thing i have decided is to keep him confined at first to a small area of the house with his bed, his litter box and food..not to close to his litter of course and maybe put a Little of the outside soil in the pan ( again, afraid this is not a healthy idea, but then again he is healthy and has been using this soil outside for months). Any ideas? He is a tiny cat for his age,he was the runt of her litter. Mom and one other kitten got killed by cars, brother and Oliver Twist- the little orphan boy ( the one we are taking) are the only two left.I really love him and have had very little sleep for several nights worrying over how to do this in a way that will be least stressful for him and result in good litter habits as well.
    Thanks for any advice.

    1. Shelley, thank you for being such a kind lady. Oliver is very lucky you found him and I wish you a long happy life together!

      Most cats use a box automatically. We have one who wouldn’t – tried putting real dirt in a box for her and that worked. Plain dirt makes for a stinky litter box, though! We added clay litter bit by bit and eventually eliminated the dirt. She would rather go outdoors, though. Once in a while, if she’s not well or upset about something, she will poop in the planter dirt.

      Good luck to both of you 🙂

  5. Hi, I’ve been having a lot of trouble with my adult cat not using the litterbox. I have an enclosed litterbox, and three other cats. I guess I have 3 litterboxes, and keep them clean, and clean the boxes every 6 days or so. The other cats have no trouble using the boxes, but Stripes, my problem cat does. I have tried scratching the litter with him, but he’s not that interested. I have a hard time getting him into the box because it is enclosed. I am thinking of using an open litterbox just for him, he used to use the litter box for urinating when it was an open one. Do you have any ideas? How can I get him to go into the box? Maybe that’s the first step…

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