When cats became indoor pets, we expected them to adapt to our lifestyle, and the confusion began. Much of it centers around the litter box. Cats are actually quite easy to understand, but all the options—covered or uncovered box, clumping or non-clumping litter, large or small box—can make choosing their litter box frustrating. Village Animal Hospital hears you. Here is our list of the most important factors for litter box success.
Thinking inside the cat’s litter box
Cats can be finicky creatures, and you need to satisfy their desires, both inside and outside the box.
- Cleanliness — The most important step toward promoting proper cat litter box habits is practicing good box hygiene. Scoop their box at least once per day. Change their litter completely once per week, washing the box with a mild soap and rinsing with a dilute bleach-water solution, but taking care to remove all traces of bleach odor. Never use ammonia-based cleaners, which smell like urine to a cat. Dry the box thoroughly, and fill with two to three inches of fresh litter.
Cats have a highly developed sense of smell—more than 200 million olfactory receptors—making them sensitive to strong odors and fragrances. Thus, cats have high cleanliness standards, and will refuse to use a litter box that contains any trace of urine or feces. This highly acute sense of smell is also why many cats reject litter and deodorizer products with strong perfumes and fragrances, and products with natural odors like pine.
- Substrate — The pet store cat aisle illustrates why cat owners get confused trying to satisfy their feline’s desires. Dozens of cat litter formulations are available, and pet owners can spend a fortune to determine the product they will like, and use consistently. Knowing a few things about cat elimination habits can save time and money, so skip the intimidating advertising and consider these points:
- Cat litter is a relatively recent invention, developed in the 1940s. Prior to that, cat boxes were filled with paper, ash, or wood chips.
- Cats prefer fine, soft substrates, such as sand and soil, that are reminiscent of their natural outdoor habitat. Clumping or non-clumping is an individual cat preference.
- Dust and fragrance can make feline and human respiratory conditions such as asthma worse. Avoid these hazards, and use dust- and perfume-free formulas.
Thinking outside the cat’s litter box
Cats can be fussy about where you place the box, but not so difficult about the box’s style.
- Location — The litter box location is another key to ensure consistent use. While you may prefer the box in an area that does not clash with your decor, you must put your cat’s preferences first. Nothing will ruin your home’s aesthetic faster than a cat who uses your houseplants or closet instead of the litter box.
Cats prefer quiet, low traffic areas for their litter box. If you have dogs, consider a gate that allows cats in but keeps dogs out to protect your cat and the litter box. If you have a multi-cat home, you will need one box per cat, plus one additional box, to prevent bullying and competition. Place the boxes strategically out of the other cats’ line of vision. A cat who is denied litter box access by territorial housemates will find somewhere else to relieve themselves.
- Style — Also in the cat supply aisle, owners are inundated with every model and style of litter box. It’s akin to a kitty car lot, with an inventory from the basic plastic box to a fully loaded, top-of-the-line robot model with wi-fi capability.
Cats actually have simple wants and needs. Like a child who would rather play with a cardboard box than the toy that came inside, most cats are content to use a basic, rectangular, open litter pan. Why?
- Cats want more than one escape route. They want a large box one and a half times their length, which allows for digging and turning around.
- Odor dissipates more quickly from an open rather than a covered box.
- Basic litter boxes are easier to enter and exit.
- Litter box liners are a deterrent to most cats.
Nervous or private cats may prefer a covered box, but ensure you remove any door flaps and clean the box regularly, to eliminate odors and promote air flow.
Making a change? Ask your cat first
Keep changes involving your cat’s litter box to a minimum. Make any necessary changes gradually. For example, if you change the litter brand or litter box style, use half of the old litter to begin with, or place the new box beside the old. Your cat will appreciate being able to use the familiar option while investigating the new product.
We want our clients to think outside the box by thinking inside the box, to get to know their cat’s needs. A commitment to strict hygiene and decisions that prioritize your cat’s preferences will help guarantee litter box harmony in your home.
Is your cat eliminating outside the box, or have they suddenly changed their litter box habits? Cats often change habits to communicate stress and illness. Contact Village Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment so we can first rule out any health problems.