Kittens have a unique set of needs when it comes to litter and litter box systems. While you might think it best to set up your kitten's litter system immediately, you must take careful consideration when selecting your kitten's first litter.
That’s Not Food!
The main issue with kittens and litter comes from their natural predisposition to explore and taste their environment. As kittens grow and begin to socialize, they – like human babies – go through a phase where they will put almost anything in their mouths as they learn about their world.
Obviously this can be a bit dangerous, but a kitten eating litter has a very specific set of potential risks involved. The main issue is that most cat litter is designed to be as absorbent as possible. This is good for liquid waste but bad for the digestive system. If a cat were to eat enough litter, it could potentially result in a blockage or dehydration.
Older cats are more familiar with litter and litter boxes, and their digestive systems are developed enough that a minor blockage wouldn't be as much of an issue. So, yes, if a cat leaves a box with a few litter particles stuck to their paws and they lick them off when cleaning–this is normal. With kittens however, the risk is greater, so it's best to keep kittens away from adult litter.
Specific Kitten Litter
If your kitten is under six months of age, always buy a litter that’s specifically marked as “Safe for Kittens”.
Luckily, there are several litter varieties that are designed with kittens in mind. They’re usually made of different materials – pine being the most common – and come in larger pellets, rather than small grains. These materials often break down when they get wet, rather than clumping or absorbing. The advantage is that if a kitten ingests these pellets, they will break down and pass naturally without an issue.
The Box Problem
Depending on the age of your kitten, the main concern with a litter box is simply ensuring the walls are low enough for your kitten to enter the box. Young kittens, one month and under, are still learning to jump, balance, and climb.
So, for young kittens, you may want to invest in a smaller, shallow box, but if your kitten is over one month old, a regular-sized litter box should be acceptable. If you're in doubt, monitor your kitten and make sure it can enter and exit the box with ease.
If you’re planning on eventually using an automatic litter box solution like LitterMaid® litter boxes, it is wise to buy the system to get your kitten accustomed to it. Simply purchase the system, but leave the automatic cycle off. Fill the box with kitten-safe litter and when your kitten celebrates its six-month birthday, you can refill the litter system with regular litter and turn it on. For more information on getting a cat accustomed to a new litter or litter box, see our article "Acclimating Your Cat".
Kittens, Litter, & a Multi-Cat Household
The solution above works well, assuming the only cats in your house are kittens. However, if you already have grown cats in your home, you don’t want to disrupt their litter environment simply to accommodate the new member of the family. In this case, you should eventually want the kitten to use the same box as the rest of your cats, but for the first six months of the kitten’s life, it will need its own special area.
We recommend getting a small box for the kitten and filling it with kitten litter. Keep this box in a separate area of your house for the first six months, so the kitten won’t use the wrong box. Then, when the kitten reaches six months of age, move the kitten’s box over next to your regular litter area and monitor your kitten to make sure it finds the box. Change the litter type according to the instructions in "Acclimating Your Cat" and remove the temporary box once the kitten has adjusted.
Also, take special consideration to try and keep the kitten away from the adult litter area. Monitor the kitten when you’re at home and make sure to keep the kitten separated from the litter area anytime you leave. Since the kitten can get itself into trouble with the older cats anyway, it’s a good idea to separate them in another room with a high gate, door, or other tall partition.
Keep Track of Tracking
If you’re using a clumping litter system, your cats can easily get grains of litter stuck on their paws as they exit the litter box (also known as litter tracking). This litter will spread around your house as they walk or clean themselves. In addition, some cats have quite of bit of enthusiasm for covering waste and can throw litter over the sides of the box. Unfortunately, grains of litter end up on your floors – particularly around the litter box area.
With a kitten in the house, you need to be vigilant when making sure your adult litter area is kept clean. Make sure any scattered litter gets swept up, particularly if it gets scattered in places where the kitten is eating or playing. To help, you may want to get a litter box carpet or a litter box tent. The carpet is designed to remove stuck-on grains as the cat exits the litter box and the tent prevents “flinging”.