The Hervey Foundation for Cats

Litter Box 101

Litter 101 Graphic

The litter box is often the number one complaint in cat ownership. The image of a cat litter box is one that smells bad and is full of surprises – but it doesn’t have to be. For all the love and rewarding experiences your cat provides you, the least you can do is provide them with a place they are comfortable using to ‘go to the bathroom’.

Cats have an incredibly augmented sense of smell compared to humans (click here for more info). We all know how powerful the scent of a dirty litter box can be and one can only fathom how strong the smell must be for the cats themselves. Keeping it clean keeps your cat happy and continually using their box instead of other places in your home.

When thinking about how to provide ideal conditions for your cat, consider their instinct and behaviour while they use the box. They dig a hole, drop their waste, then cover it and move on. Some cats get ‘the zoomies’ after using the litter box – a behaviour thought by some to be the cat distancing themselves from their waste to avoid predators picking up their scent.

Best Practices

How many litter boxes do you need?

There are a number of theories floating around online, but the general consensus is the more the merrier. Some people say you should have as many boxes as you have cats, plus one more. Some say having an average of 1.5 litter boxes per cat is the best way to go (rounding down in most cases – 1 cat = 1 box, 2 cats = 3 boxes).

How often should you clean them?

The answer to this is similar to the answer from the previous question. The more the merrier is the best rule. Some resources suggest scooping it twice per day, though if you can only get to it once per day, so be it. Just don’t let it go longer than a day as it can add up fast (especially with more than one cat).

Keeping a clean litter box not only benefits the cats, but it benefits you! When cats dig around in a dirty litter box, it gets on their paws and then they walk around your home. You can keep those paws clean by keeping the box clean.

What type of litter should you use?

Despite its popularity, try to avoid using scented cat litters. It goes back to the whole idea that cats have an incredibly powerful sense of smell and the artificial scents in those types of litter can overwhelm them. Another thing to avoid is non-clumping litters. These are messy and smelly and often are difficult to keep clean.

Unscented clumping cat litter is your best bet, and the new lightweight litters are excellent for a number of reasons. For one, they are easier to carry and change over when the time comes. They also leave very little dust in the room compared to standard clumping cat litters.

There are also other types of litter such as crystal and shredded newspaper. Find something that won’t stress out your cat and doesn’t require a ton of extra clean up.

What type of box is best for your cat?

Despite their popularity, enclosed cat boxes are the worst option for a cat. It contains the smell and forces them to get close to their waste. In the wild, cats almost never encounter scenarios where they are stuck in an enclosed space while going to the bathroom. This can turn the litter box into a stress point for them and you don’t want that.

What if you absolutely hate cleaning the litter box?

Then thank your lucky stars you live in modern times. There are multiple automatic, self-cleaning litter boxes available online or at your local pet store. Some are more efficient than others so make sure you do your homework before you pick one up. Take a look online at reviews and pick one that doesn’t require too much additional maintenance or cleaning.

Should I use a Liner?

The answer is simple: no. The goal of a liner is to make it easier to remove the dirty litter once it fills, though this goal is usually missed. Cats naturally scratch at the edges and bottom of their box and will quite literally shred the liner. The texture of the liner also throws them off and can make a cat avoid their litter box.

How much litter should I put in the box?

This seems to be a disputed area. It might just be easier to experiment and see what your cat prefers. Some suggest about 4 inches of litter in the box so the cat can bury its waste. Others say their cats prefer a smoother surface with much less litter. Unfortunately, a clear answer is not easy to find here. Do your best to determine what your cat prefers. Start with 2 inches, then see how they react to it. Make adjustments as needed.

Patience is a virtue!

If your cat is having litter box issues, do some reading online or talk to your vet. Do not punish them. Cats are often unable to connect the dots on litter box misuse and your punishment. Cats do not learn through anger and it will only strain your trust and relationship. Trying different things and being patient is the best way to determine their needs. If they don’t seem to take to anything you try, get an expert involved!