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How Do Cats Know How To Use a Litter Box?

Updated: August 11, 2022 by Kristen Chapple

We’re sure you’ve wondered how do cats know how to use a litter box. If you’ve never had a cat before, you might think that it takes quite a lot of time to train your future feline friend to use a litter box instead of your sofa or that high quality carpet you just bought.

If you’ve been a proud cat owner for a while now, you already know that they almost never miss. If the cat is completely healthy and you regularly clean her litter box, that is.

So How Do Cats Know How to Use a Litter Box

The answer is that cats don’t know how to use the litter box. They do it by instinct.

Cats always prefer to bury their waste, so the litter box feels like the only place in your house – hopefully – where they can do that.

Feral cats, as most wild animals, have very well-developed survival instincts and that revolves around hunting their prey or avoiding greater dangers and other predators without them being seen or sensed. That includes hiding their smell, so burying their waste is one of their survival instincts.

One might think that domestic cats, since they never go hunting or end up chased by other larger predators, they don’t have to hide or bury their waste. The thing is that all cats, no matter if they’re domestic or wild, they’ve got those survival instincts implanted into their heads, so they will act according to them no matter if they live outdoors or in your home.

Reasons Cats Poop Outside a Litter Box

No matter how instinctual that behavior is, sometimes you might notice that your little furry friend is pooping outside the litter box.

There are a few reasons as to why they do that.

Either the litter box is too small, hard to access or placed in a location your cat doesn’t like, or maybe your cat has a health problem which makes her change her behavior, sometimes avoiding the litter box. Most often than not, the main reason for a cat avoiding it is that the litter box is too dirty and stinky.

Cats are very clean animals and they will avoid places that they sense they’re too dirty, so always make sure your little feline friend’s litter box is clean at all times.

Sometimes, they might avoid a litter box if the path is blocked by another pet that they don’t like or if they have a bad and painful memory about that specific litter box.

An interesting fact about this topic is that even little kittens somehow know that they have to bury their waste without their mother ever needing to teach them. It’s all about their natural survival instinct.

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