THE LITTER BOX
What a cat needs in a litter box–
- An appropriate location (easily accessible at all times yet not too close to your cat’s eating and sleeping areas).
- The location needs to be quiet, where the cat will be free from interruptions or surprises.
- The location should not be too enclosed so the cat won’t feel trapped.
- A litter material the cat likes and an appropriate depth (most cats seem to like about two to three inches).
TYPES OF LITTER BOXES
There is a large assortment of sizes, shapes, styles, and elaborate to simple boxes ranging in price from inexpensive to very expensive. Some are motorized and are self-cleaning each time the cat leaves the box. Some contain state-of-the ark odor-control. Just keep in mind that these super elaborate boxes and litter systems were designed to appeal to the cat owner–not the cat.
Cats want an appropriately sized litter box that is located in an accessible, yet quiet area. Ideally the litter box should be at least one and a half times the length of their body, measuring from the nose to the base of their tail. Commercial litter boxes are too small for many cats. A plastic storage box is a good alternative. We use the long, rectangular under-bed storage boxes, about four feet long by eighteen or so inches wide, and six to eight inches deep. If you should opt for the plastic storage container, which we use sometimes, you can cut an opening a little lower on one side. Just make it wide enough. The point is to make the litter box very easy for your cat to enter. Instead of cutting an opening, you could also make a step. We do this for our senior cats who tend to have some difficulty in climbing over a litter box side. A step solves this problem nicely. The step can be made very simply and inexpensively. A small box the size of a large tissue box works well. It just needs to be strong enough to hold your cat’s weight. If needed, the box could be stuffed with a filler material, then sealed up (duct tape works well). We cover these steps with scrap vinyl or duct tape–just as long as the surface is easy to clean.
A litter box that is too small makes it difficult for a cat to get in the right posture for elimination, and in frustration, she may choose to go elsewhere. With a too small litter box with sides too low, your cat is in the litter box but will “over-shoot” and miss going in it.
One size box doesn’t fit all cats. Kittens and arthritic cats need low-sided boxes, or ones with low-cut entrances (or a step) so they can enter and exit with ease. Then you have the ‘rim-sitters’ with their ultra-sensitive paws, who may need a litter box with a wider rim. The step idea works well for these guys.
There are uncovered and covered boxes in dozens of styles and sizes. The idea of a covered box is to disguise the litter box, to hide it from view and to confine its odors inside the box itself.
Put yourself into your cat’s position. How comfortable would you feel if you had to squeeze through a small opening into a dark, small area (that, if not clean, would smell of excrement) to go to the bathroom? You would be unable to hear or see anybody or anything approaching. You could easily be trapped in there should a rival materialize and block the entrance. You too, would then prefer to use some other place.
Oftentimes some of these fancy, covered litter boxes, that are placed in out-of-way and out- of-sight places are the main cause for behavioral problems associated with the improper use of the litter box by the cat. Looking at it from the cat’s prospective, it is no wonder!
Many cats dislike covered boxes. They are dark, smelly, and difficult for a cat to turn around in. It is even difficult for them to bury their waste in the confinement of such a small space. The inside height of many covered litter boxes is simply not adequate. We advocate the open-pan litter boxes. We have dealt with many cats over a long period of time. We have found that one of the best ways to eliminate litter box problems is to simply use an open-pan and place it in an easily found and reached place for the cat–not behind the dryer or tucked away in a closet, and of course, you need to clean it every single day.
Note: You already have covered pans. The top of a covered pan can be cut off. We use tin snips to do this. Removing the top gives you a pan with nice, high sides, but also allows easy access to see if it is dirty. You can now easily scoop it out without having to remove the top. Last, but not least, it allows fresh air into the box and eliminates the nasty odor buildup of covered pans. By the way, the filter in the top of a covered pan really does not work that well. You can even save a few pennies by removing the top since you won’t have to buy filters any more.
The covered boxes make your job of regular monitoring and cleanup much more inconvenient and troublesome. You must take the lid off, sometimes this can be tricky, just to see if it needs scooping. This can cause you to scoop less often, a BIG MISTAKE. The cover holds the odor so you won’t notice or remember to clean the litter box as often. Keep in mind–Your cat must deal with the smell each and every time she uses that box. Cats are very clean creatures. They simply will not tolerate a dirty box for long periods of time. They will just find another, cleaner place to go and you can bet it won’t be one of your liking! Again, look at it from your cat’s view, if you had to use a litter pan for elimination purposes, how would you like to repeatedly step into a box that is becoming fuller and fuller each time you must use it? You can bet you would object loudly!
Male cats usually require higher sides on the litter boxes since most of them will spray when they urinate. Some females will spray also. If the sides are too low, even though the cat is in the box, the spraying might be too high for the sides and will over- shoot and miss the box entirely. A simple solution to this is to use double sheets of newspaper, tape the top edge to the wall and allow the bottom edge to hang into the box. This will ‘catch’ the high spray stream and filter it down into the box, thus protecting your walls and floor around and under the box. Simply dispose of the soiled, wet newspaper and put up more paper. This is one way to recycle your newspapers!
If your cat is elderly, you may need to have a lower entrance to the litter box (or a step). With age, as with people, problems with stiffness, soreness and even arthritis that will make it more difficult to climb into the box. Of course you always want to accommodate your older cat or she might decide to eliminate elsewhere.
If you really can’t resist the more elaborate self-cleaning litter box systems, go ahead and purchase one but, until you know if your cat will like it, keep a plain, open litter box available for your cat until you know whether she will like and use the new elaborate system one.
NOTE: The most expensive, well-disguised, elaborate litter box is worthless if your cat finds it too small, too smelly, or too scary to use.
We recommend that if you have a multi-cat household, have one litter pan per cat, plus one extra for good measure. The litter box placement is crucial–perhaps even more than cleanliness! A cat who is cornered, harassed, or surprised by another cat, a noisy piece of machinery (like a washing machine), a loud person, an unusual odor, or a lot of activity taking place while she is in the litter box will be understandably unwilling to go back there in the future.
In a multi-cat household, never place the litter boxes side-by-side. The cats are likely to think of them as one big litter box and this defeats the wisdom of having one litter box per cat plus one extra.
A bathroom is an ideal place for a litter box, if you have enough space for it. A spare bedroom, a laundry room (not against a noisy machine), on an enclosed front or back porch area, or sunroom that is ALWAYS accessible to the cat are fine areas. Basements sometimes are okay if you will check and clean the litter box each day. Usually the more out of the way the litter box location is from where you are, the less often you will clean it. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind”. The location site for the litter box needs to be quiet, clean, hygienic, tidy, safe, and well lighted for your cat. Dark, secluded corners are a poor choice. Just be sure that the box isn’t close to a piece of machinery (like a furnace) that could suddenly “come alive” with a frightening sound that will scare your cat. She won’t return to that spot if she has been frightened there.
NOTE: A rule of thumb to follow when choosing the location of a litter box is to consider if you would venture there several times a day. If not, why should your cat?
In the wild, cats don’t use a fixed place to urinate or defecate. Cats generally don’t urinate in the same place they dispose their feces. And in no case is excrement disposed of in the proximity of sleeping or customary eating places. Urine normally just seeps into the ground whereas feces is carefully buried by most cats.
Placing two litter boxes in different areas, is ideal. Most cats, though, will do fine with only one litter box. Just keep it clean!
NOTE: In a two-story home, one litter box upstairs and one downstairs (less chance of improper elimination problems ever occurring) is the best way to go.
A cat wants to be undisturbed when using the litter box. Therefore, place it away from frequently used areas in the house. However, it must be accessible to your cat at all times. Place the box near–but not too near–the usual eating spot. You wouldn’t want to eat against your toilet, now would you? Also, litter can be scattered, and could land in the food. Ugh!!
It should, if possible, be at a good distance away from favored sleeping places.
We recommend that you replace litter boxes annually because odor and bacteria can hide in the scratches the cat makes. It is important to make any changes gradually. A good idea is to put some of the used litter in the new box to deposit your cat’s own familiar odor. Avoid switching boxes and litter at the same time. A new litter box filled with new litter might not be appealing to your cat. It won’t smell right to her and another place may be sought out to eliminate in, say behind your sofa!
TYPES OF CAT LITTER
There are literally dozens of brands, made of dozens of materials, of cat litter for you to choose from. The most important thing to remember is what one your cat will like and use.
Texture is key to cats. Cater to the texture your cat prefers. Very fine particles probably feel better to a cat’s paws.
Plain Natural Clay–This gritty-textured litter consists of fairly large particles. It is usually quite dusty and will coat furniture and other items nearby. It does absorb moisture well, but the urine tends to spread, and the clay rapidly becomes saturated. Some brands contain fragrances or deodorizers, but many cats dislike these odors. When the box needs cleaning, the entire contents must be discarded. The particles tend to get caught between the cat’s toes. Plain clay litter is very inexpensive and widely available.
Clumping Litter–This kind of litter is a good alternative to plain litter. These clumping litters contain a particularly absorbent type of clay (sodium bentonite), that concentrates the urine into a compact clump so that it doesn’t spread out and can easily be removed. Most cats like this type of litter since it is fine and sandy. Cats find it easy to scratch and dig in. The texture is comfortable to their paws. It costs more than plain clay litter but is actually more economical to use. You only have to scoop out the urine clumps and feces, then add more clumping litter to the box. Dust can be a problem with some brands. We use the Wal-Mart Special Kitty brand, since it hasn’t much dustiness to it. Its price is most economical for us with all the cats we have in our cat colony. It is also not hindered with strong scent and deodorizer which makes it more attractive to cats.
Plant-based Litters–These litters are made of corn (kernels or corncob flakes); wheat; kenaf (the core of a fast-growing relative of the hibiscus); cedar chips or flakes; compressed or crumbles wood pellets; hardwood sawdust; or other organic materials. These litters claim to be very earth -friendly. They are generally dust-free but are less widely available than the clay litters.
“Crystal” or Silica Litters–Silica litters are highly absorbent. The litter is made up of silica gel mixed with sand. Tiny beads entrap odors. Liquid evaporates rapidly and the tiny beads remain dry.
Other Litters–There are litters made from shredded, ground, or palletized newspaper or other recycled paper.
NOTE: Be careful in choosing a scented litter. You may like it, but your cat may very likely hate it and consequently refuse to go near the litter box. A cat’s sense of smell is far greater than ours. Strong scents are most offensive to them.
The best and only litter for your cat is the one she will use. The cat must like the texture, the feel, and the smell of the litter before she will actually use it. If you are not sure which type your cat likes, or if she dislikes the one you have already selected, then set out two or three litter boxes and fill each one with a different type of litter. See which she prefers. It is very important to accommodate your cat is this, otherwise she will use some other area in your house, like behind your favorite chair, on your bed, etc. as a bathroom.
The majority of cats seem to prefer a plain, uncovered litter box with clumping litter in it. Forget about those plastic cat box liners–they are a waste of money. Many cats don’t like them and tend to shred them with their scratching and digging anyway. These liners make frequent scooping difficult and messy, and trap used litter under them where bad smells begin to build up.
The basic simple, uncovered, high-sided box with clumping litter (which we highly recommend) makes cleanup quick and easy. Frequent scooping is a must (at least once a day). Scooping takes only a few moments and your home will remain fresh and clean smelling. Besides, the cleaner you keep the litter box, the happier your cat will be and the less likely you will ever have to face an inappropriate elimination problem with your cat. We scoop twice a day, morning and night. We maintain a large number of litter boxes (2 per cat). Our cat colony does not reek with cat odor. If you did not see any cats around, you probably won’t know that we had any at all!
We simply carry a covered bucket around (similar to a diaper pail and lined with a plastic garbage bag), scoop out each litter box, and dispose of the clumps and feces in the covered bucket. Fresh litter is added as needed. Some clumping litters come in covered plastic pails and work great for this purpose. This system is simple, neat, fast, and economical to use.
NOTE: Do not flush any litter down the toilet, especially if you have a septic system. This is a very bad idea, even if the label on your litter claims that you can flush it. You may think it is cleaner to flush the litter down the toilet, but the pollutants that enter the waste-water system are much more likely to cause environmental problems than those that stay on the land (placed in the garbage). Flushing spreads out the pollutants and bacteria and they become relatively uncontrollable in groundwater lakes, rivers, streams, etc.
When the litter box begins to look dirty and grubby along its sides, the time has come to give it a thorough cleaning. First, scoop out the box as you usually do. Then, pour any unused (clumping) litter in the box into a large garbage bag to reuse when after you have scrubbed out the box thoroughly with hot water. Sanitize the box by filling it with a solution of 1 teaspoon of ordinary household bleach to a gallon of hot water and letting it stand for several minutes (away from your cat, of course). Then rinse it out thoroughly and dry it out with paper towels. Be sure all the bleach odor has been removed. Just avoid the use of chemical cleaners and NEVER use ammonia-based cleaners.
Be careful and avoid strong smelling cleaning agents. Many cats will stop using their litter boxes because the odor is overpowering to them. Remember, cats have a very sensitive sense of smell–much higher than ours.
Now that the box is clean, and completely dry, refill it with the still-clean litter you saved in the garbage bag and also add some fresh litter so that the depth is 2 to 3 inches. The litter box is now ready for use again.
NOTE: When using clumping litters, keeping the depth of the litter at two to three inches helps to prevent the litter from sticking to the bottom of the litter box like cement. You’ll break fewer litter scoops. We prefer metal litter scoops to the plastic ones. They last longer.
Always protect yourself by washing your hands thoroughly immediately after scooping the litter box out or cleaning it. If you happen to be pregnant, have someone else scoop and clean the litter box. A pregnant woman can contract a parasitical infection (toxoplasmosis) that could harm her developing fetus.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER ABOUT LITTER BOXES IS TO:
Keep Them Clean Every Day!