Litter box habits: what cat owners need to know

Litter box habits are the number one reason cat owners relinquish their feline friends to animal shelters. Soiling outside of the box drives cat owners batty and because they don’t properly understand their cats’ needs, give up on their pets. But with a little effort on the owner’s part, this litter box drama will soon be resolved. Here’s how:

Litter box habits: why size matters

The bigger the box the better. An ideal size is big enough for the cat to turn around in the box without touching the sides of the box (1 ½ times the length of your cat from nose to base of the tail). If you can’t find a litter box that’s big enough, consider any flat-bottomed, low-sided plastic container as long as it is the right length and width.

Litter box habits: covered vs uncovered

We know that many pet owners prefer covered litter boxes – both to keep the litter in the box when kitty’s scratching is too vigorous – and to harness the odour, but imagine how a fastidious cat feels when it has to enter this small and smelly confined space? When given a choice, cats prefer uncovered to covered litter boxes. Keeping the litter box clean, and having one big enough to scratch in, should eliminate mess and odour.

Litter box highs and lows

Some cats prefer a low-sided box to a high-sided one. If you have a cat eliminating outside the box but right next to the box, try a low-sided box. It may be your cat has some arthritis that could be causing pain when entering the box. This is particularly relevant to senior cats as arthritis is common in oldies yet they often don’t show us their pain. A low-sided box makes it easier for your cat to get in and out of the box. Low-sided and disposable boxes are also ideal for kittens. For cats that spray near the box, try a higher-sided box.

Keep it clean

Cats are fastidious creatures, as you know, so keeping that litter tray clean is the best way to ensure your cat continues to use it. If it is smelly and damp, chances are they’ll eliminate elsewhere.

Numbers are important

If you live in a multi-cat household, you’re going to need more than one litter box, says Cottage Vet Clinic’s Dr Morné de Wet. Always have one spare. The rule of thumb is number of cats plus one. They don’t always like sharing, so give them the option not to.

Location, location, location

This is hugely important to your cat. Cats are very private creatures and like to do their toilet alone and in peace. If you have more than one box, don’t put them together. “We don’t like army latrines, and neither does your cat,” says Dr Morné. Also, try hide them behind doors, in private corners. You don’t like pooping with an audience, neither does your cat.

What about litter?

Clay, non-scented, clumping litter is preferred by most cats over any other type of litter. Do not forget: no liner (cats often don’t like how a liner feels in their claws), scoop the box daily, refresh litter when needed, and completely clean the box at least once a week with mild, non-citrus smelling soap and water.

additional info from Christine D. Calder DVM

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