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At PetPeople we are a group of dedicated and passionate pet people. We are so enthusiastic to engage our customers, exchange information, and work together to solve common pet problems. We hope you will continue to come to us with questions, problems or situations regarding your pets’ care. It is our goal to be a partner with you and your veterinarian in the health and well-being of your pet.
While we are happy to advise you and share our knowledge with you, we would never propose that our recommendations be used instead of consulting with your veterinarian about any concerns or issues. You know your pet better than anyone, and should always use your best judgement regarding obtaining the best care for your pet. ©2015 PetPeople Enterprises, LLC
We provide advice and recommendations on this page to help you prevent problems. If you are already experiencing a problem you may want to refer to our page “Solving Litter Box Problems” for tips to resolve existing issues. And, as always, our associates are happy to discuss options with you and provide additional recommendations.
Choosing a Location
If you have a family dog, be certain that the dog does not have access to the area where the litter box is. Not only can the dog make the cat nervous if he is in the same area, but dogs will sometimes ingest the cat litter and feces. This could lead to intestinal blockage or could infect the dog with any intestinal worms or parasites that the cat may have. One great suggestion is using a pet gate across the doorway to the room or closet that houses the litter box. Set the gate a few inches from the floor so there is a gap at the bottom large enough for the cat to get under, but not the dog.
Changing the Location of the Litter Box
If you are changing the location within your home, leave a box in the old location and add one to a new location. Keep them both clean and accessible. After a period of adjustment, begin cleaning the box in the old location less frequently so the cat more often uses the box you want him to. Cats prefer a clean litter box. Regularly cleaning the litter box can prevent many behavioral litter box problems from beginning.
Introducing Your Cat to the Box
Be certain that you show your cat or kitten the location of its litter box. Put your cat or kitten in the litter box and using the cats paws gently scratch at the litter. With younger kittens, you may need to place them in the box a few times during the day, such as when they have just woken up, finished eating, or playing. Cats prefer to have privacy when using the litter box. After you see that they are using the box, leave them alone.
Number of Boxes
Most experts recommend that a home has one litter box per cat, plus one extra. Most cats are very particular about having a clean litter box. Some cats will not share a box with other cats. If your home has several levels, consider having litter boxes on more than one level.
If you have more than one cat, make sure that the litter box is not in a location where a more aggressive cat could interfere with another cats’ ability to access the box. Try to find a location that will not allow one cat to ‘corner’ another (such as at the end of a hallway that has only one escape route).
Choosing a Type of Litter Box
There are a wide variety of litter boxes, including regular open boxes, covered boxes and self-cleaning boxes. Always buy a litter box large enough to accommodate your cat. It will help keep the area clean, and make the cat more comfortable. You may want to buy a small inexpensive box when you have a young kitten so that it is easy for them to get in and out of, but keep in mind that you will probably need to invest in a larger box when they get a little older.
Boxes with hoods work well for cats that scratch and bury very hard and fast, creating a mess with the litter. They also work well for cats that stand near the edge of the box and miss the mark. Hooded boxes trap odor more and they need to be cleaned often so your cat does not rebel. It is also recommended not to use a flap - leave at least one end open to keep air circulating.
Automatic self-cleaning litter boxes have become very reliable in recent years and can really save on clean-up time and cut down on litter box odor. They typically have sensors that trigger a cleaning cycle after any cat has used the box.
Self-cleaning litter boxes require a good quality clumping litter. Many people who are not happy with the performance of their self-cleaning litter box have reported tremendous improvement after switching litters. Generally cats use them well because it keeps their litter area cleaner than it would otherwise be. These automatic boxes are also good if you are gone a longer period of time - they clean whether you are home or not.
Choosing a Litter
Most litter is clay based; however, there is a trend to alternative materials such as silica beads, corn, wheat, and paper. Many people feel that the clay has the best clumping properties and odor absorption. Finer textured litter will have better clumping properties and is readily accepted by most cats. In testing, scoopable litter has been shown to be more effective with problem cats and kittens. Unscented is preferred by cats, scented is preferred by owners. You may want to try a few to see what works best for your cat and you. We recommend that you cover the bottom of the litter pan with at least 2” of litter. If you use a clumping litter, you will need a slotted scoop to remove the clumps from the box. Periodically, add more scoopable litter between cleanings to maintain a level of roughly 2”.
You may find that you are not happy with the clumping properties or odor control of your current litter. If your cat is accustomed to a litter and not having litter box problems, we suggest that you put some of the current litter on top of the new litter you are switching to. Keep a close eye for a few days to be certain that you have not upset your cat and he is still using the box. Cats are picky and you do not want to cause the cat to eliminate outside of the litter box.
Keeping the Litter Box Clean
Scoop the litter boxes at least once daily. When using traditional and non-clumping litters, wash the litter box and change the litter completely once a week. When using a premium scoopable litter, we recommend that the cat boxes are completely changed and washed once a month if being used by one cat.
Mild dish soap works well. Avoid cleaning products with a strong disinfectant smell. Do not use any ammonia based products. Rinse the box well after washing it. If you have a covered or automatic box with carbon filters, be sure to change the filter every other month. The amount of effort involved to keep your litter boxes clean will vary based on the type of box and litter, along with the type of food that your cat is being fed.
Input = Output
A high quality, nutrient dense cat food will greatly aid in litter box maintenance. If you are feeding a premium food that has a high meat content without many fillers, you will need to feed less and there will be less to clean up as well!
Any accidents should be cleaned up with an enzyme cleaner specifically made for pet stains, including cat urine. Regular cleaners may mask the odor so that we can't smell it, but to a cat's superior sense of smell, the odor will still be discernible, and can prompt a cat to continue to use that area as the bathroom. Enzymatic solutions actually have natural organisms that digest the bacteria that cause stain and odor, thereby breaking it down.
Solving Litter Box Problems
For help with elimination problems that have already started, please refer to our paged titled “Solving Litter Box Problems”
You have decided to open your heart and home to a new cat or kitten. Before you bring a new cat or kitten home, make sure you have everything you will need to properly care for your new family member. One important thing that you must give some thought to is the litter box. Non-use of the litter box is the number one reason that cats are given up to shelters. Having some basic information about cats and litter boxes can help prevent problems, and preventing a problem is much easier and less frustrating than trying to correct one.
The good news is that cats have a natural instinct to eliminate in sand or soil. You will not need to train a new kitten to use a litter box the same way you would housebreak a puppy. Most kittens have observed their mothers using a litter box and will begin learning this at 3 to 4 weeks of age. Generally, by the time they come into their new home, they are already using a litter box.
Cats do not have the pack instinct that dogs and humans do. They will not learn from or respond appropriately to punishment. Harsh treatment, yelling or using a squirt bottle will contribute to the cat’s stress and may worsen the situation.