Cats are reliable when it comes to litter box preferences; humans just need to understand how and why.
Fastidious creatures, cats prefer to relieve themselves in a clean and safe environment. (They are instinctively cautious and in the wild -- in their “natural state” -- become more vulnerable to predators while eliminating.)
In order to encourage healthy “bathroom” habits in your home, your cat needs to feel safe and clean. There are specific rules to keep in mind when managing your cat’s (or cats’) litter boxes, which, when followed, allow for peace, harmony and no poop or pee outside the box.
The Litter Box
Boxes should be kept in a quiet and easy-to-reach location. While a basement location seems perfect from the point of view of humans who have one, it’s not always ideal for cats, particularly older cats (with arthritis or bad eyes) who may find it challenging go down -- then up -- stairs. Large closets, breezeways, or other designated areas in a home office are among the preferred locations to consider.
The quantity of litter boxes is critical: cats need one litter box per cat -- plus one box. Yes, you read that correctly. If you have one cat, you should provide two boxes. Two cats? Three boxes, etc. It’s logical if you think about it. If you had to use the bathroom and found a mess in the toilet, wouldn’t you flush first? Cats feel the same way, and by providing additional boxes your cat will choose the cleaner location.
Listen Up About Litter
One of our most frequently asked questions is: “What type of litter should I buy?” The answer is simple: cats prefer the most basic litter, meaning unscented and clumpable. Cats are averse to fragrances in general and they particularly don’t like it where they relieve themselves.
Texture is also critical, as most cats prefer litter that resembles sand. (In the wild, cats tend to eliminate in dirt under bushes.) It is also important to change the litter completely and not just add litter when the boxes are low. Adding to soiled litter encourages bacterial growth, which can cause urinary tract infections. Scoop boxes no fewer than two times a day. (Again, would you use a dirty toilet?) And it’s optimal to do a full litter change every four-to-six weeks. Brands we recommend are Arm & Hammer, Dr. Elsey’s and Fresh Step.
Stick To The Basics
Litter box style is also a major consideration for cats. Remember: cats feel vulnerable when they eliminate, and a covered litter box can be challenging for some cats that might feel trapped. Standard, low sided plastic boxes are not only inexpensive (around $7), they are also the most cat-friendly. Litter boxes should be thrown away and replaced with new ones once a year.
Avoid using expensive, self-cleaning boxes. The pellets required for this style of box are uncomfortable for cats to step on, and the noise and movement can scare them.
So Much Cleaning; So Little Time
Why do we recommend all this “litter work?” Proper litter box care means healthy cats. When they feel their box is too dirty or if they’re unhappy with its location, cats tend to “hold it in,” which can cause urinary tract infections and/or constipation. The more common outcome is cats having accidents -- or urinating or defecating around the house because they are unhappy with their litter boxes.
Over time, litter box behavior avoidance issues can lead to permanent behavioral problems. If a cat discovers something that makes them feel safe, clean and comfortable when they relieve themselves -- even if it’s your favorite rug -- they will return to it. You might think it’s out of spite, but it’s just a simple instinctual drive. If you don’t take care to make sure you have an appropriate litter box setup, you can bet your cat will find one.
Health issues such as kidney disease and diabetes can cause cats to drink more water, which inevitably makes them urinate more. If your cat suffers from these diseases, our rule of thumb is to treat these cats as if you have an an extra cat, and you should add another box to your collection. If one of your cats develops diabetes and you already have five boxes because you have four cats, you better add the sixth box.
If your cat has an accident, you should address it right away and consider making an appointment for them to be checked by your vet. Cats often have accidents due to urinary tract infection, which are easy to resolve in most cases. If it’s not an infection, then behavior modifications and litter box adjustments may be needed.
Know Your Cat; Love Your Cat
Litter box avoidance can destroy the relationship between cat and owner due to frustrations and damage it creates. In fact, urine elimination around the house is the number one reason cats are left at shelters, and many are euthanized as a result.
Understanding what caring for a cat entails, as well as accommodating their instinctual needs, will help your cat have a good relationship with you (and with the litter box). Our expertise, years of training and love of our own cats have helped us develop these litter box recommendations. These tasks may seem daunting at first, but your efforts are essential to understanding your cat's needs and being able to address them.
Remember: it’s your cat’s house. You just cohabitate there.