Before I even get into any discussion at all regarding litter box training or re-training, it should be noted that bengals do NOT do well as single pets in homes. We have come to the realization after sending many single kittens home with clients, that bengals often react negatively to being without other animals when they leave our busy cattery full of friends and litter mates. Bengals are highly intelligent and social animals who require constant attention and play. Humans can meet many of a bengal’s needs, but not all. While bengals love their humans and love spending time with them playing fetch or cuddling in front of the TV, they especially thrive on “animal play” – chasing, wrestling, biting and grooming one another – things that a human can not replicate for them. We have had some success placing single bengals in homes where the owner is always home during the day and not away at work and where a cat wheel is provided to help deter boredom and burn off pent up energy that would otherwise be used in play with other animals. In our Questionnaire we specifically ask a question along these lines: “If you don’t already have an existing pet (cat or dog) at home, would you be willing to acquire one as a companion for your bengal to meet his socialization and play requirements?”. This is because we feel it is SO important to the successful integration of one of our kittens into your home. Issues such as that discussed in this article can be averted by providing the proper stimulation and socialization for your bengal.
Ok let’s begin.
Litter Training within our Cattery
All of our kittens are 100% litter trained before leaving our cattery. They spend their first several weeks contained with mom in a kitten-friendly enclosure with access only to their food, toys, climbing apparatus and several litterboxes. They are successfully using their litterboxes by 3-4 weeks of age and have 99% of the time not even had one accident outside the litterbox. This is due to the confinement and from watching mom right from their nest box using the litterbox directly in front of them over and over again.
Once our kittens are approximately 8 weeks old we begin to let them have supervised access to the main parts of our home – the living room, kitchen, and dining area. We have several litter boxes placed in these areas for the kittens to easily find. We will have strongly recommended that you have two litter boxes containing pine pellets (emptied and cleaned DAILY – bengals will not use a dirty litter box) on each level or separate area of your home – for use after the initial confinement period is over and you begin to allow your kitten supervised access to other parts of your home. The larger the home, the more litter boxes you need to set out. You can never have too many.
We only have the kittens out when we are available to watch them directly the entire time they roam. When we go to bed, or have to leave the house to run errands, or are busy cooking dinner, helping the kids with homework, etc, the kittens are put back in their safe, secure kitten enclosure where there is no chance of them being injured or having a litter box accident. Our reasoning behind this procedure is that if the kitten is not put in a position where he may have an accident, he will not experience an accident. Once accidents are allowed to happen, the kitten loses confidence in his ability to find the litter boxes and a bad habit of urinating in different places begins to form. The kitten cannot be blamed for this. This is completely the human’s fault.
When we send your kitten(s) home with you, we will have given you the strong recommendation to keep him safely confined in a small un-carpeted room with his food, toys and litter boxes for 1-2 weeks before supervised introduction to the rest of your home may begin. We refer to this as the kitten’s “safe room” and the “confinement period”. This is not cruel treatment… your kitten will feel safe and secure in his safe room, even if he objects at the beginning. Do not give in to his cries – just go in the room with him and play with him in there until he settles in. A move away from our cattery where your kitten has had familiar daily interaction with all of his litter mates and other animals in our home is VERY stressful for him. You are new people to him. Your home is completely new to him. Everything smells new and strange to him. Things are completely different. Everything is in a different place and he can’t find his usual places or friends. Unfamiliar little hands (if you have children) are reaching for him, grabbing him, picking him up when he wants to find a quiet place for a nap. Imagine how all of this must feel for a moment. Teach him that his safe room is always there for him when things get too busy for him around the house.
Prevention of Litter Box Issues
We will send you home with your kitten’s regular food, dishes, toys he’s been playing with, litter he uses – even the same type of litter box. He will have a blanket with him that has the scent of our home and his litter mates on it. Your kitten MUST be placed in a confined, comfortable and safe place with these items for the transition period to help your kitten feel a little bit less stressed. Changes in food, litter, and bedding items will cause unnecessary stress. Stress will lead to peeing problems and can even create a condition called “stress cystitis” which causes inflammation of the bladder, blood in the urine and can lead to urinary tract infection. This all comes from STRESS. This condition WILL lead to peeing outside the litter box. Take your kitten to the vet immediately if you witness him squatting several times in a row to pee, but voiding very little, or nothing at all. If you see blood in the urine this is a sure sign of inflammation of the bladder, cystitis and/or bladder infection. Always take your kitten to the vet to rule out health problems that are causing the litter box issues.
Products that can help immensely during the transition period to the kitten’s new home are Zylkene and a Feliway diffuser. Zylkene is a milk protein based supplement that calms and soothes stress felt by your kitten. This product can be purchased online or from your vet. It must be used daily for a period of time to begin taking effect: https://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=zyklene Make sure you give your kitten the correct dose for his weight. Feliway diffusers can be purchased from your vet or online as well: https://www.amazon.ca/Comfort-Zone-100512641-Feliway-Diffuser/dp/B00I9SI40S/ref=sr_1_1?s=pet-supplies&ie=UTF8&qid=1496866082&sr=1-1&keywords=feliway They will give off pheromones into the environment that act to sooth and calm the kitten.
Nine times out of ten when we hear back from a client that their kitten is “peeing on everything” it can be traced back to the fact that one (or all!) of the instructions listed in the previous sections has not been followed. Once we rule out a lack of consistent confinement combined with gradual, supervised introduction in order to avoid stress, for instance, we can move on to looking at what items in your home are acting as “triggers” for your bengal to pee outside the litter box.
You will find that owning a bengal will quickly turn you into a very fastidious house keeper, if you were not one already. A messy, unkempt house is like a giant litter box to a bengal. Keep your home tidy, items picked up off the floor, bags, drawers, lids and doors closed, and you will not experience what we call “offsite peeing”. You are ASKING for your bengal to pee inappropriately if you allow him instant access to a large, unfamiliar home, with unfamiliar smells and items present – all are begging for him to pee on them. Leaving your bengal to roam free in a MESSY home is just like putting icing on the cake for him. You will never have been so tidy as you will learn to be once you own a bengal or two!
Trigger items for a bengal kitten include (but are certainly not limited to!) the following:
- Sinks, showers and bathtubs. These places are seen by bengals as a natural place to pee as they are aware that water runs in these places (they’ve probably seen you turn on the tap or step out of the wet shower – they are SMART, don’t forget) and in nature an Asian Leopard cat would pee in a stream or river so that its scent can be carried away.
- Goose or duck down comforters and pillows on beds (beds in general are a hot ticket item – keep bedroom doors closed! We still have one adult female bengal that will run into our bedroom and pee on our bed as soon as she sees the door left open. Some bengals will do this for life. It's just a simple fact). Unmade beds are especially inviting. To a bengal this just looks and feels like a giant clean litter box!
- Leather items – shoes, jackets, couch cushions, purses. These items are often soft and cushy, and smell like animals. A bengal will leave its scent on these items to ward off intruding animals. Put shoes and jackets away in a closet, prop up couch cushions, zip up purses and bags and don’t leave them laying on the floor.
- Wool and other natural fabrics with “animal” scent on them (as above).
- Pet beds for your dog or cats. Cats like to sleep up high on a cat tree or high shelf. There is no need to put a cozy fabric bed that looks like a litter box on the floor for them. If you must, use pet beds (for your dog) that are easy to machine wash and dry as your bengal will most likely pee on these at least once.
- Plastic or plastic shopping bags. These items have a nice crinkly sound and texture – not very unlike the sounds made while scratching in the litter box. They shouldn’t be left laying on the floor – pick them up and keep them in a closed cupboard.
- Recycle boxes left full of newspaper or other items. Again, obviously a large litter box in the eyes of a bengal.
- Laundry baskets with clean or dirty laundry in them. This one should be obvious. Empty laundry baskets, for that matter. Again, obviously this is a giant, clean litter box! Turn them upside down when not in use, or close them off in the laundry room.
- Loose papers scattered on messy desks. Tidy up or keep your desk and office items in filing cabinets or behind closed doors.
- Messy piles of clothes or other items left on floors or in children’s rooms. Pick up or keep doors closed. Anything that the kitten can dig around in (ie piles of clothes or bedding) will present itself as nice soft litter material to him.
- Children’s toy boxes! Especially when full of nice plush stuffed animals, etc. Keep such items tucked away in the child’s room with door closed or in a box with a lid and teach your child to close the lid after taking a toy out. It’s never too early to begin teaching your children good habits… or the bengal will teach him for you!
- Open tool boxes, craft boxes or other storage areas – drawers, etc. Close boxes and drawers after use and keep closed when not in use.
- Potted trees and plants. Some bengals will never touch these items, but some will be instantly attracted. Use your judgement – if they go for it once, it will likely be an ongoing trigger item and should be removed.
Litter Box Re-Training
“I have done everything you advised, and my kitten has begun peeing inappropriately around the house anyway!!”
If you have REALLY done all of the things mentioned thus far during the introduction of your new kitten and diligently kept your kitten confined for the entire transition period, including having him vet checked for UTI, putting him away in his safe room at night and every time you leave home (I recommend this right up until he is an adult) and he is STILL not complying 100% with the litterbox, then there are some other things that need to be looked at or done.
Confinement. Retraining your kitten once you’ve allowed him to have accidents around the house requires dedication and commitment. You need to act diligently and QUICKLY. Immediately confine the kitten to the safe room for the “re-training” period – which will last about two weeks. ONLY let him out of the room when you have him on a lead with his harness so that you are aware of his every move. Don’t let him out of your sight even for a second. Accidents turn into habits quickly, so do not let accidents happen.
During this period, the kitten will only be with you or in his safe room. No unsupervised time is spent roaming the house WHATSOEVER – this is what likely led to the accidents in the first place.
Positive reinforcement. While exploring the house safely with you keeping close watch, pick your kitten up and put him repeatedly and gently in all the litter boxes you have around the house talking to him and petting him the entire time. This is positive reinforcement of acceptable locations for urination. Make the litter boxes places where he receives praise. Give him a treat while he’s in there – do whatever it takes to create happy and positive associations with the litter box. If he happens to use the litter box while you are doing this – praise him immensely!!!! Bengals thrive on praise. NEVER, EVER, use negative techniques in response to peeing accidents - such as yelling, spraying with water, hitting, etc. You will create a fearful and aggressive cat if you do this. I guarantee you. Bengals are far too intelligent to be treated with this kind of disrespect. There is ALWAYS a reason they are peeing outside the litter box and it is up to us to find out what we are doing or not doing to allow it to happen. Instead of getting angry, pick the kitten up, place him in the litter box and say “good boy, this is where you need to go”. Take him away from the accident, and put him where you want him instead in a kind way with positive body language. Obviously the idea is that no accidents will happen while you are in this retraining process but in the unlikely event that you look away or don’t supervise diligently, remember to only use positive reinforcement.
Detection and Cleaning. Once you have your kitten back in confinement for re-training you will need to clean each and every spot or item that your kitten has peed on. We recommend using a “black light” in order to locate the areas the kitten has peed on. Here is a helpful video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRTIDH74esc Here is where you can purchase a black light like the one used in the video: https://www.amazon.com/Pet-Urine-Detector-365NM-Black-Light-Flashlight-Precision-UV-LED-Pee-Finder-Tool-Locate-Cat-Animal/dp/B00E9T92L6
Once you have located the spots that need to be cleaned you will need to use a very effective enzyme removal product. Regular cleaning supplies will not work. In fact, anything with bleach will attract the kitten to the spot to pee on it again. There are many enzyme removal products to choose from: https://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_5_14?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=enzyme+cleaner+urine&sprefix=enzyme+cleaner%2Caps%2C201&crid=3HUE0824VPY0I
Our favourite is “Icky Poo”… it works like NONE OTHER and is well worth the money: https://www.amazon.ca/MisterMax-Anti-Icky-Odor-remover/dp/B008A6XXB4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496864147&sr=8-1&keywords=icky+poo
BOTTOM LINE - If you don’t clean absolutely everything that you allowed your bengal to pee on, he WILL find it and pee on it again when you are not watching him. Please do not skip this critical step.
Other useful tips and last minute thoughts:
- Use a product called Cat Attract to help your kitten find the litter boxes or to draw a wayward kitten back to its boxes
- Clean the litter boxes daily. Bengals won’t use a dirty litter box.
- Always have at least two litter boxes in each zone for your kitten. Bengals often like to use one box to pee in and one to poop in.
- If your kitten simply does not want to use the pine pellets even though that’s what he has been used to here at our cattery, try putting a different type of litter in ONE box to see if this draws him. If he prefers it and uses it in preference to the others, consider switching litter.
In closing, I have decided that this article will be a work in progress. This is an ever-evolving topic and I am forever coming across new proven techniques and advice, either through direct experience, or via communication with kitten clients past and present. I will update accordingly and repost when I feel there is some substantial insight added. If you come across proven techniques in your daily interaction with your own bengals, please feel free to share these insights with us as well. We will add them here to help others. As bengal owners and lovers, we can only benefit from working together in an effort to help each other enjoy every moment with these intelligent animals we have been blessed with.
~ Carmen Klassen, Jewelspride Bengals
This article was written by Carmen Klassen and as such is the sole property of Jewelspride Bengals. Any unauthorized reproduction in any part or in whole of the information contained in the article constitutes copyright infringement. If you would like to share this material, please do so by sharing the direct link to the article on our website: http://www.jewelspridebengals.org/bengals-and-litter-box-training.html