The Scoop on Litter Boxes


Oh that pesky box. It smells, it spreads particles all over and cleaning it is the last job anyone wants to do. But if you love your cat – it’s a necessity. How can you resist that soft fur, curious eyes and little nose that begs to be petted? So yes, time to talk about the dreaded cat box.

So, should you hide it in the corner, under a table, next to the washing machine? Which litter is best and should you go natural with something that is flushable or with something as cheap and easy as shredded paper or high tech with little crystals. Each person has their own preferences to make the job easier but there is one thing you can’t leave out of the equation when answering these questions – your cat. The old saying goes that cats were once worshipped in Egypt and they never forgot that. If the cat puts up their nose at your selection of litter or can’t seem to find where you hid their box you will be in for some stinky nasty surprises. Some things to remember when making choices about your cat’s bathroom:

• Your cat has to be able to find the box easily.

This may sound obvious but if you put it in the basement behind the water heater your cat may decide it’s easier and faster to use that shaggy throw rug in your bathroom. Your cat no more wants to go on a long journey to relieve themselves than you want to go out in the middle of the night to find an outhouse in the woods.

• If you have other pets in the house, try to find a way for your cat to be able to relieve themselves in peace.

Yes, I know, the cat always wants to be in the bathroom with you, why should they get privacy? The differences is, if you’re interrupted, you don’t just find a corner and go there instead.

• The litter box is not just a bathroom for your cat. It is a way for them to mark a territory as theirs.

Even when clean, your cat knows who has been in there after the first go. If you have multiple cats, you should have multiple litter boxes. If they don’t like the smell of the litter they also won’t mark it and will find a nice potted plant or corner of the rug to claim.

• Your cat no more wants to use a dirty litter box than you want to use a smelly outhouse.

Once again, this seems obvious but some cats are pickier than others and you might have to clean the box more than once a day. Just like flushing a toilet after each go.

• Sometimes your cat is trying to tell you something else is wrong if they are going outside the box.

According to WebMD, Urinary tract infections, Feline interstitial cystitis, Bladder stones or blockages can also affect your cat’s habits due to pain, urgency to urinate or difficulty urinating. If you’re suddenly finding your cat doesn’t seem to want to use the litter box after a time of using it with no issues, you might want to consider a trip to your vet. If a cat starts associating pain with the litter box, you might have a longer road to getting them back into using it than you planned.

• Most cats do NOT respond well to punishment for going outside the box.

If punished with spankings, the cat may decide the problem is with going at all and may decide to try to hide it’s leavings in a closet corner or under a bed, or worse, it may decide to punish you back by going on your bed or shoes.

• Don’t change the litter type or brand suddenly.

Cats don’t understand that you bought the pellets instead of the clay litter because the bag design or promise of ‘organic’ inspired you, or that the fine clumping sand was on sale and you couldn’t pass up the bargain. The cat may perceive it as a new place and may try to find someplace that smells more familiar, like your bed. Mix the litters a little at a time if you have to change the type or try a disposable pan of the new litter next to the old litter to try to get your cat to associate the new litter with relieving themselves.

• If you have to blow your nose after putting in dusty new litter – your cat is probably licking it off their fur.

Litter dust is more pervasive than you might think and can irritate your sinuses, making an unpleasant chore even more unpleasant. But as unpleasant as it is for you that same dust (with the clumping chemicals) may leave an even worse taste in your cat’s mouth.

• Change the litter at least once a month

The litter itself has a smell the cat will associate with relieving itself and it will appreciate the chance to re-claim a new box of litter.

Remember if you are getting a rescue cat that your new friend may have habits, stresses, or traumatic experiences you don’t know about and be inexplicably picky about the smell and feel of the litter, or the placement of the box. You may want to try various options, not only with litter type and location, but also with lighting and box size. There may be accidents and misunderstandings but with patients and a gentle hand you and your cat can find what works best for you. Many Shelters have a limited budget and will start off kittens using shredded newspaper so when the kitten finds it’s forever home it may not understand that the papers on the floor are the rough draft of a term paper or the recently delivered news. Even cats that have been with one owner for years can develop problems with the introduction of a new pet, and new baby, or a move to a new location. If there is NO new stimulus that was introduced it might be also be a medical issue, so a visit to a vet might be in order also.

Just like some humans favor certain kinds of toilet seats, or flushing methods on their commodes, or the ever favorite toilet tissue roll direction, cats have their preferences too. Unlike humans, though, cats have no other way to communicate their displeasure or confusion other than relieving themselves in inappropriate places. Before investing in a cabinet that hides a litter box behind a pretty cabinet façade, or trying that cool new crystal litter that says it lasts twice as long, you might want to try out a plain cheap enclosed box or a second cheap pan of the crystal litter next to the current box to see if your cat will even use your new inspiration. As pet owners we would like to assume our pets will want to please us in all situations and that we are in control but unfortunately some of our pets may have overriding concerns. There are factors humans aren’t really equipped to consider that can be very important to a cat. How the smell of the scented litter mixed with urine might change the smell of their territorial marking, the feel of it on their toes or if it is so fine it sticks to the hair between their pads when it gets dirty may concern a pet, while an owner worries about the smell, how much litter is tracked out of the litter box, and how it effects the ease of movement through the area of the house. As much as we would like to think we can change things when we would like because it is what WE want, it would be in both you and your cat’s best interest to move slowly when changing your cat’s bathroom.

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