Kittens & Litter
Kittens have a unique set of needs when it comes to litter and litter box systems. While you might think that you want to get your kitten set up with the litter system they will use at an early age, the truth is that you need to take special consideration and care for at least the first six months of a kitten’s life. This article provides useful information into the unique aspects of a kitten’s litter needs.
That’s not food!
The main issue with kittens and litter comes with their natural predisposition to explore and sample 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 risky in any case, 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 of it; potentially, litter ingestion could cause blockage and/or dehydration.
With older cats, they’re not only familiar with litter and litter boxes, but their digestive systems are developed enough that blockage wouldn’t necessarily be an issue. If a cat leaves a box with recently damp clumping litter, they may even have a few particles that stick to their paws, which they lick off the next time they clean themselves – this is normal. With kittens however, the risk can exist with any type of adult litter, so it’s best to treat their litter needs as special and keep them away from adult litter.
The peace of mind
Luckily, there are various types of litter that are safe and/or specifically designed for kittens. They’re usually made of different materials – pine being one of the most common – and come in larger pellets, rather than small grains. The different materials will often break down when they get wet, instead of clumping or absorbing. The advantage is that if a kitten ingests these pellets, they will break down and pass naturally without an issue.
If your kitten is under six months of age, always buy a litter that’s specifically marked as “Safe for Kittens” to keep your new pet safe.
What to do with your box
Depending on the age of your kitten, the only real concern with the litter box is that the walls are low enough that they can actually get in it. Young kittens (1 month and under) are still learning how to jump, balance and climb, besides still growing to a regular height.
For young kittens, you may need to get a special shallow box, but assuming your kitten is over one month old, then a regular sized litter box should be acceptable. If you’re in doubt, just monitor the kitten and make sure it can enter and exit the box easily.
If you’re planning on using an automatic litter box solution like LitterMaid or ScoopMaid brand litter boxes, it is a good idea to still buy the box to get your kitten used to it. Simply buy the system you want, but leave the litter box off. Fill the box with kitten litter in place of whichever litter type it uses. Then, when your kitten celebrates its six-month birthday, you can refill the litter system with normal litter and turn it on to start working. (For more information on changing a cat’s litter type, please refer to our full article on Acclimating Your Cat.)
Kittens, litter and multi-cat households
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 to accommodate the new member of the family. In this case, you would 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.
In this case, we recommend getting a small box for the kitten and filling it with kitten litter. Keep the box in a separate area of your house for the first six months, so the kitten won’t go into the wrong box. Then, when the kitten is six months, 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 in the home and make sure to keep the kitten separated from the 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. (See our article on Integrating Your Cats for more tips and tricks for a new kitten in the home.)
Keep track of tracking
If you’re using a clumping litter system, your cats can get grains of litter stuck on their paws as they exit the litter box (known as litter tracking); this litter gets 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. As such, 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 in making sure your adult litter area is kept clean (and your floors, in general). 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 and/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”.