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Litter League (Litter Box Basics)

When people enter my home, I don’t want their noses to reveal that cats live here and I certainly don’t want their noses to lead them to the litter boxes. It’s easy to keep the house smelling fresh all the time and to make litter box scooping a breeze by following a few basic guidelines.

But first, I want to address the two most common questions I get about litter boxes.

What if your cat suddenly stops using the box? It’s best to visit the veterinarian first to rule out medical causes (such as urinary tract problems, kidney disease, or diabetes) before considering possible environmental or behavioral causes.

What litter set-up requires the least amount of effort? Here’s what I recommend for people with arthritis, back problems, limited mobility, or who just want things to be as quick and easy as possible:

dirty-litterbox2Now, without further ado, here are the tips.

  • Keep ‘em clean. This will enable you to more easily notice signs of possible health issues such as changes in urine or stool volume, consistency, or smell.
    • Most cats prefer daily scooping.
    • Wash or replace the entire box every month or two to avoid that icky litter box smell. I clean mine with OxiClean once a month. Some people use litter box liners/bags so they don’t have to clean the box as often.
    • Wash rugs or flooring near the box weekly, too.
  • litterbox-by-foodSelect the best location, location, location. Place litter boxes where they’re easily accessible to the cats and where they feel safe.
    • Avoid placing the box in or near or active areas such as children’s play rooms or utility rooms with loud appliances.
    • Some cats are nervous if doors can swing open unexpectedly as they use the box. When using the box, cats should be able to avoid being ambushed by other cats, dogs, or kids.
    • Cats’ dining areas should be distant, too. (Think about how committed cats are to cleanliness. Would they really want to go potty next to their food?)
  • Provide multiple boxes for multiple cats. In households with more than one cat, dominance and territory issues are often expressed around litter and food resources. So feline behaviorists say we should have one more box than we have cats. That is, houses with 3 cats should have 4 litter boxes. This is just a guideline, not a rule. I know many happy households with fewer boxes than that. But revisiting this guideline can sometimes alleviate elimination problems. (Try saying “alleviate elimination problems” 10 times fast!)
  • Find their ideal litter and stick with it. Some cats are very picky about the type of litter they find in their box. The scent can be as important as how the litter feels under their feet. Perfumed clay litters are the most popular in the US, but they end to be the least preferred litters when cats are offered a variety of litter.
  • litterbox-domeDetermine what style of box they prefer. Some cats don’t care, but others have strong preferences for details like:
    • Covered or not
    • Door flap or not
    • If there’s a door, whether it’s located on the top, side, or front
    • Round, rectangular, oblong, or square
    • Length, width, and height
  • Skip the box liner if it’s a hassle. Liners that are similar to plastic bags work well for some cats. But skip the liner for cats puncture holes in or shred the bags as they dig. If the bag makes it more difficult for them to dig in the box, they might start looking for a different place to relieve themselves. If the bag gets holes in it, you’ll still need to clean the entire box once a month or so.
  • litter-scoop-to-avoid1bMatch the scoop to the type of litter. Different scoops work better for different litters.
    • For wood pellet litters that turn to dust when used, my favorite is the Durascoop.
    • For clumping corn litter, the Litter Lifter is the best by far.
    • Avoid scoops that are jagged or notched at the tip; curved scoops (unless you have a round litter box); and scoops that are similar to flat, slotted spatulas. Otherwise, you’ll spend a significantly longer time scooping the boxes.
  • Limit litter tracking through the house by using higher-pile throw rugs in front of the box or higher-sided boxes.
If this article is helpful & you’re able, please consider sending a thank-you tip/donation. Even small donations will help me keep my business running during the travel industry slump that has brought pet sitting to a screeching halt. Thank you! (FYI, for a sliding scale fee starting at $30, I offer consultations to help people solve their specific cat-related issues. Let me know what I can help you with.)

(Note: Nonexclusive use of this article has been granted to other pet industry organizations but Kari Kells retains copyright.)

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