This is part two in a series about litter boxes where my goal is to change the human perception that litter boxes have to be gross, smelly and unsightly. They do not have to be.
In this post we will explore different types of litter to offer your cat, how often you should be cleaning their box, what you should be using to clean it, and how often the box itself should be replaced.
That is correct, your litter box should NOT be around for the entire life of your cat contrary to common practices!
Please join me in being the change cats so desperately need and let's make their litter box the cleanest and nicest boxes in town!
To clump or not to clump, that is the question.
If clay, non clumping litter is selected about 1-1.5 inches of litter should be offered to cover the bottom of the pan thoroughly. It is difficult to scoop out urine, though a children's sandbox shovel can work nicely. Because it is non-scoopable it is recommended to dump the entire box daily.
Unfortunately, most humans that use this type of litter only scoop out the fecal material and then stir in the soiled, urine soaked litter. This is NOT an acceptable way to maintain the litter box.
To the cat, the entire box is now soiled and there is not a clean place to step. This is very much like us using a public toilet that is not flushed and has pee on the seat. You would go to the next stall wouldn't you? Well, your cat can't, so they choose the dining room carpet instead! After all, it is soft, absorbent and always clean.
Clumping litter is preferred by the majority of cats and their humans. But cleanliness can still be a huge issue. Cats do not ever want to have to step on urine or feces to go to the bath room (See Part 1 of this series about size and number of boxes).
Clumping litter allows for easier removal of waste and you can provide the preferred litter depth (for most cats) of about 3-4 inches.
Let's talk litter depth for a minute. Too deep is well, too deep and cats don't like to feel as if they are navigating quicksand. This is especially important with seniors!
Too shallow leaves the box gummy and gross and can make it difficult for the cats to leave the box without soiling their paws.
Adjustments may need to be made based on individual preferences, handicaps, disease processes etc.
All litter should be scooped daily,
twice daily is better.
Alternative substrates: thinking outside the box
While some cats will use whatever you offer others have distinct substrate preferences. A cats paw pads are extremely sensitive and some textures may just not feel good to a particular individual.
For the most part cats prefer the softest texture you can provide. Sadly, there are many products on the market made for humans and not cats and they are too hard on their delicate feet. Litters to avoid include: pine nuggets, newspaper pellets, hard plastic crystals. These litters are designed by and for humans and in most cases do not appeal to cats.
Alternative Substrate Ideas:
- Puppy training pad
- Empty pan (no litter at all!)
- Shredded paper or paper towels
- Sandbox sand
- Sterile potting soil
- Carpet scraps/washable bathmats
*This list is for cats that have already decided that traditional litter is not something they are interested in using.
A word of caution...
Abruptly changing your cats' litter is very stressful. There is a scientific way of going about solving these problems which allows your cat to make a behavioral choice. If your cat is not using their litter box and you would like help, please complete the behavior questionnaire for a consultation and I will help you through this process in a way that will give you the best possible outcome.
So how often should you dump and scrub the box and what should you use to clean it?
If using clumpable litter I recommend that you dump and scrub all boxes on average every 4-6 weeks. This will vary based on the number of cats, number of boxes and the frequency of use. (Hint: the more boxes you have the cleaner they remain for a longer period!) Use unscented dish soap or at least a scent cats like such as lavender or honeysuckle. Cats hate the smell of citrus so stop washing out their litter boxes with lemon scented dish soap if you would like your cats to continue to use their litter box! I like to scrub with hot water in the tub but allow the sun to dry them when weather permits.
If using clay litter and only providing a shallow amount since it needs to be entirely dumped daily, it should be scrubbed out at least once a week.
If using a puppy pad, empty pan, or one of the alternative mentioned substrates that do not clump the box may also need to be entirely washed more often.
How often should I replace my litter box?
See all of those scratches on the bottom of the box in this photo?
Plastic is porous and harbors odor and bacteria which is why the litter box should be entirely replaced every two years!
Both the cats' nails and the litter granules scratch up the interior of the box and no matter how much you clean it, to your cat, it still smells yucky!
Using a Sharpie to date the bottom of the box is a helpful reminder that it is time to get new ones.
A quick reference guide of basic do's and don'ts
- Scented litter
- Not cleaning the box with soap & water
- Hooded boxes
- Automatic boxes
- Not scooping daily
- Making box too hard to get to
- Using old boxes/pans
- Utilizing cat doors
- Plastic liners
- Changing brands of litter often
- Placing food and water near litter
- Using citrus scented cleaners
- Use of strong smelling or ammonia based cleaners
- Placing box in busy/loud areas
- Offer large boxes
- Scoop daily, twice a day is best
- Use unscented litter
- Offer soft, fine grain litter
- Place boxes where you and your cat spend time
- Use unscented cleaners or
- Use cleaners with scents pleasant to cats (lavender, honeysuckle, basil)
- Dump and scrub out box every 4-6 weeks
- Entirely replace box every 2 years
- Provide one more litter box location that the number of cats in the home
- Do not place boxes in dead end areas with only one way in and out
Think about how your cat experiences the litter box. All you have to do it scoop it, they have to dig in it, posture to pee or poop, cover and then groom the scent of the flowery fragrances off of their coats. The fragrance that YOU like, not them. Cats don't eliminate in a pile of perfumed sand, they go in dirt, sand, pine straw or mulch. Plus, scented cat litter, combined with the ammonia of urine, well, that IS stinky!
Use a soft, unscented litter, scoop daily, dump and scrub out every few weeks, and change your box entirely every 2 years and litter boxes will not stink up your house.
Join my crusade to prove to the world that you can have litter boxes that are not ugly or stinky, but rather boxes you can be proud to show off. Get the scoop! Be the change!