8 tips to make the litter box a happier place

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Kitten in litter box | Tips to make the litter box a better place for your cat
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Nov 26 2014

Updated January 17, 2019

The litter box is a source of stress for many cat owners and the cats who have to use them. In our united (and continual) efforts to domesticate wild cats, we have offered them a less than ideal place in which to “do their business”—a small box filled with highly perfumed litter. This is to make our lives more convenient, but our cats don’t really get a say. Or do they?

Many cats who urinate outside the litter box are simply trying to voice their opinion in the hotly contested battle of the box. But the occasional incident can easily turn into a chronic problem, and litter box issues are best dealt with PROactively rather than REactively.

Is your cat merely tolerating his or her litter box? Could you make it more inviting?

Here are my 8 tips for creating a stress-free litter box for your family cats:

1. Always follow the “n + 1” rule. That means for each cat, you should have a box, plus one more. For example, if you have 3 cats, n = 3, and 3 + 1 = 4. You should have four boxes! Simple!

2. For a cat, cleanliness truly is next to godliness, especially when it comes to litter boxes. You should be scooping the boxes twice a day and changing the litter once a week. I know, I know—twice a day is a lot to ask. 

3. Avoid chemical cleaners when washing your cat’s box. Their sense of smell is so much better than ours, and odors from harsh cleaners linger in the box well after they are dry.

4. Also avoid heavily scented cat litter, which your cat surely does not enjoy. This type of litter is a convenience for us, because it masks the smell of urine and feces. But if you’re scooping deposits twice a day, this won’t be an issue!

5. Bigger is better. You know how using a cramped airline bathroom can be an exercise in futility? Try being a big cat in a little box! Give your cat the space he needs to eliminate in comfort. Large plastic storage boxes (think summer storage boxes for sweaters) are ideal litter boxes. Try it!

6. Find the best litter for your cat. There are so many choices: corn, newspaper, clumping clay, non-clumping clay, crystals, pine pellets, etc. Try setting up a smorgasbord and see which your cat prefers. Once you’ve found the perfect litter, experiment with depth. Does Fluffy prefer just one inch of litter? Or is 3 inches ideal for him? (PARENTS: this sounds like a really good science project idea, doesn’t it??)

7. Location, location, location! Don’t line up all four boxes in a row along the back row in the basement so that you don’t have to look at them. Just like you, when the urge hits your cat, he’ll want to find the closest box, so have one on each floor of the house.

8. Avoid ambush! Like most siblings, many cats have a love/hate relationship with their furry companions. Make sure your cat has more than one way to exit a litter box, in case a bully brother is waiting to pounce!

I don’t mean to make light of litter box issues—it’s a serious problem with serious consequences for cats who develop litter box aversion. If your cat is eliminating inappropriately (outside the box), a medical problem could be to blame. Make sure illness is ruled out first, and then talk to your vet about additional ways to create a luxury box that no cat can resist.