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Monday, August 02, 2021
The independent student publication of The Unversity at Buffalo, since 1950

The art of potty training a kitten

The ins and outs of being a first-time kitten parent

Have you ever had to stimulate a kitten to use the bathroom?

Or experienced the art of distinguishing between a poop cry and a hunger cry?

Raising a kitten can be the most fulfilling feeling in the world. There are few things quite as blissful as having a six-week-old kitten wrap himself around your neck like a scarf or make himself comfy while you’re trying to sleep. The amount of love that radiates from something that is less than a pound is indescribable.

But raising a kitten is definitely not as easy as it seems — not even close. Stray kittens, in particular, are especially difficult; 75% of strays die or disappear by the time they turn six months old, according to the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project. That is mostly because of trauma-induced death and illnesses that come from living on the street. 

That was the case with my first kitten, ONYX, who had many unidentified health problems throughout his life and was sadly put down just a few weeks ago, on April 1. 

We spent a lot of money on vet visits, but because ONYX was a very independent and self-sufficient kidden, he was quite unexpressive about his pain, hunger and bathroom use. He was the opposite of the stereotypical cat, which was quite frustrating.

Which brings me to today.

Three weeks ago, baby Winston, a seven-week-old Maine coon kitten, stumbled into my life. I took him in, thinking I knew what I had in store. 

But, I definitely did not.

First, Winston was much younger than ONYX was when I rescued him. Although two-to-three weeks don’t seem like a big difference, it is. Kittens have particular developmental stages, especially early on.  

Since ONYX was older and more independent, he didn’t need to be litter box trained. Winston, on the other hand, didn’t even know what a litter box was. He didn’t know anything about the bathroom: when, where, how… he failed royally at his 5 W’s and 1 H.

Because the poor guy was suffering from horrible belly aches and a full bladder, he began crying and meowing. He didn’t know why he was feeling this way and neither did I. 

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I began Googling everything I could. Apparently, newborn to six-to-seven week old kittens need to be “stimulated” in order to use the bathroom, like us humans need to force a baby to burp in order for the pain of their colic to go away. This so-called “stimulation” usually comes from the mother cleaning their child to teach them how to use the bathroom and stop them from crying. 

But, I had no mother cat and no idea how to do this on my own. Google was definitely my best friend that day. I learned that if you take a soft tissue and gently rub it against a kitten’s bottom, it will naturally stimulate them into using the bathroom. 

I had to put my feelings aside and potty train this baby. I grabbed a new litter box, poured some of ONYX’s litter in so he smelled the cat urine, and filled up the rest with clean litter. I put Winston inside the litter box and, just like a baby sheep, he jumped right out. So I slowly placed him back and began making a digging motion with my hands. I thought maybe if I showed him what to do, he would do it, but it was to no avail. He didn’t even pay attention to the litter. 

I had no choice but to try and help him as much as I could. Since he was crying, I didn’t want to leave him in pain from not being able to use the bathroom. 

Once he went the first time, he immediately began using the bathroom like clockwork. He had finally made the connection between his belly pain and his need for the bathroom. But, while he learned how to urinate and defecate, he still did not want to do it within the litter box. 

It was a painful experience, to say the least. 

My house smelled like a sewer. If we didn’t scrub and use bleach to remove the feces and urine, Winston would pee in the same spot over and over again. Cat poop already smells terrible, but kittens eat 24/7, so you can only imagine how that smells. 

So, how did I end up getting him to the litter box? 

Well, I have a simple, yet logistically challenging answer for you: never leave an eight-week-old (or less) kitten alone for more than one-and-a-half to two hours. 

Listen to their cries.

Watch their movements.

Guide them to the litter box if you must.

It’ll take lots of patience, but it will eventually pay off.

Kittens are the best. They do eventually grow up to become independent and intelligent animals. 

But let my story serve as a warning: young ones need more attention and care than you might imagine. 

The arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com

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