May 22 2012

The Litterbox. Not Just A Load of…

(Not an endorsement for this brand of litter, but the message is very true!)

Litter boxes. If you are owned by a cat, the litter box is one of the most important components of living harmoniously with a feline friend, especially if you have multiple cats.  A cat’s standard for litter box cleanliness far exceeds humans.  Here are some helpful tips to help you and your feline family members live peacefully.                                             

The Location
While it is tempting to place the litter box out-of-sight, and out of mind, keeping it in an out-of-the-way location can keep your kitty from using it.  A cold cement floor, next to an appliance or dark corner is not exactly a good compromise for your cat. 

The box should be kept in a place that provides your cat with some privacy but is also convenient, especially for kittens and senior cats.  If it’s hard to get to he may just decide it’s too inconvenient and find a new place to do his business!  Avoid placing the litter box next to large and noisy appliances like a washing machine, furnace or freezer.  Loud noises can make cats nervous and the heat generated from these appliances will heat the litter and magnify the smell, causing your kitty to steer clear.  

Also, avoid placing the box near food and water bowls.  Think about it, WOULD YOU want to do your business at the dinner table?

There should be one litter box for each level of your house, giving your cat some options.  If you have multiple cats, make sure you have several locations on each floor so the cats don’t ambush each other from using the box.  The rule of thumb is one box for each cat, plus one.  Each cat will have a main litter box they prefer. Providing multiple boxes and locations will help ensure that most everyone is happy.  

The Litter

There has been a lot of research on types of litter cats prefer.  Fine-grained litters are preferred by more cats, it is thought because of the softer feel.  The new scoopable/clumping litters have finer grains and do tend to control the odor more.  No matter what the research says, a cat is a cat is a cat and each has their own persnickety preferences. You may have to try several before finding the right one for your household. 

Some people think the more litter they put in the box, the less often they’ll have to clean it. Not true.  Most cats won’t use litter that’s more than about two inches deep. In fact, some long-haired cats actually prefer less litter and a smooth, slick surface, such as the bottom of the litter box. Adding extra litter isn’t a substitute for scooping and scrubbing.

If your cat has typically been an outdoor kitty and prefers dirt, you can protect your houseplants by placing medium size rocks on top of the soil or try mixing potting soil in with your litter.  If you should be “lucky” enough to be owned by a cat that hates all litter, you can try using sand.  

One big tip, once you find a litter- stick with it!  Switching litters or buying something that is close because it’s on sale could result in your cat not using the litter box at all.

The Smell
Many of us use litter that smells pretty.  But those scents can deter cats.  Because of this, it might be a better idea to use a room deodorizer or air freshener in the room and not in the litter.

Some owners have used a thin layer of baking soda on the bottom of the box to help absorb odors without deterring the cat.  Keep in mind, if you keep the box incredibly clean, you won’t have this problem.

A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times higher than humans.  If YOU think the litter box smells, then your cat probably finds it EXTREMELY offensive.

The Box

There are numerous kinds of litter boxes available: covered, uncovered, self-cleaning and lined.  Humans tend to like to provide a covered litter box because of appearance.  While some cats might prefer this type of privacy, and they can cut down on the amount of litter escaping the box, some scaredy cats might be too nervous to enter this dark box. 

Also think about the old adage “out-of-sight-out-of-mind.”  If you don’t see the dirty box, will you remember to keep in pristine?  A covered box can trap litter, but it can also trap odors and it would “literally” need to be cleaned after every use. 

If you have a full-figured kitty, a covered box may not provide enough space to turn around and to cover or position himself.  If you have multiple cats, this also sets up for ambushing.  Consider starting with a basic set up and see how it works for you and your cat(s).

“Litter training”

There’s really no such thing as “litter training” a cat in the same way one would housetrain a dog. You actually don’t need to teach your cat what to do with a litter box; instinct will generally take over. You do need to provide an acceptable, accessible litter box, using the suggestions above.

It’s not necessary to take your cat to the litter box and move his paws back and forth in the litter. In fact, we don’t recommend it; as such an unpleasant experience is likely to make him afraid of the litter box and you.

If you move, however, you will need to show your cat where the box is, though his sensitive nose will probably find it first.

Solving Problems
If your cat begins to go to the bathroom outside the litter box, your first call should always be to your veterinarian. Many medical conditions can cause a change in a cat’s litter box habits. If your veterinarian examines your cat and gives him a clean bill of health, your cat may have a behavior problem that needs to be solved.  Punishment is not the answer, nor is banishing your cat outdoors. For long-standing or complex situations, contact an animal-behavior specialist who has experience working with cats.

Written by Trish Stinger
Web/Marketing Manager at Wayside Waifs

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