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Litter Box 101

This article was written by Pet Community Center co-founder and former Board Chair, Jourdan Parenteau. You can learn more about the author at the end of the post.

For a lot of cat parents, we find that sometimes cats can be perfect angels when it comes to using their litter boxes, but other times, we might find it a bit more challenging. I’ll start with saying that if your cat is “going” outside of the box, always consult your vet first. You want to rule out any medical concerns first and foremost. Sometimes this could be a sign of a UTI or other health-related issue, so you want to put your cat’s health above all else. The advice I give below is to offer you possible solutions to help the behavioral aspect of not using a litter box once you’ve deemed your cat to be healthy.

Often, we like to think of the litter box as out of sight, out of mind. We hide them in closets, basements, garages, or as far away from our sight as we can. We cover them, disguise them or even use automatic mechanisms to clean them. We try to let the litter box be as little of an inconvenience to us as we can. The issue is that we are putting our own litter box convenience before our furry companions’ needs.

Let’s discuss where your litter box is located. If it’s out of sight, out of mind, and your cat possibly has to go through a doggy door into the garage or other hidden place to use the bathroom, chances are, it’s not very convenient for your cat. If you have a multi-story home, do you have only one litter box located on one level? If you don’t want to travel up or down a flight of stairs every time you want to use the restroom, your cat doesn’t either. Having easy access to their box is very important, especially for seniors or cats with any type of medical issue.

The specific location of the litter box is also very important. If you have other pets, it’s likely that your cat could feel vulnerable being cornered into a confined area without an escape route. If you’ve noticed your cat “going” in the middle of the floor instead of the box in the corner, it could be that he doesn’t want to feel trapped. This is especially true if you have other pets in your house. It’s natural for cats to need to have an entrance and exit option at all times.

This could also mean that the cover on your litter box adds to that feeling of entrapment. Try putting the litter box in a more open area, and maybe even try removing the cover as well. If you do have multiple cats in your household, you’ll want to have more than one litter box. Some say that you need a box for every cat, plus one. You could try that or just stick with two, and see how it goes, but if your cat is still going outside the litter box, you’ll want to add another one for him to see if that helps.

Cats have a primal instinct to eliminate waste and cover it to keep predators unaware of their location. When we use litter that makes it hard to scoop, it’s also hard for your cat to cover its waste. This could deter your cat from wanting to use that type of litter.

This also applies to scented litters. Your cat’s sense of smell is 14 times stronger than yours. Can you imagine how strong that litter must smell to your cat when she’s standing in it? That’s reason enough to want to avoid the litter box. Using natural, scoop-able litter is recommended.

Speaking of your cat’s very strong sense of smell, keep this in mind with how clean your litter box is. Have you ever walked into a public restroom or port-a-potty that was very overdue to be cleaned, and you walked right back out? No, thank you. This is the same for cats. Why would your cat want to climb into a filthy box and stand in it? They don’t.

Have you noticed how often your cat cleans himself? Cats are clean freaks, and they prefer their restroom to be clean, just like you do. Just think of it as something you both have in common. In my personal experience, I honestly believe that scooping my litter box throughout the day is actually much easier than waiting til the end of the day and scooping a ton at once. It only takes me about 3 seconds to scoop it, and it never smells and stays cleaner much longer. I also recommend changing the litter and wiping the box down with a non-toxic cleaner like vinegar water once a week. This really takes no time at all, and it makes a huge difference for my entire family, including my cats.

The bottom line is to stop thinking about how to make the litter box more convenient to you as a human and think of how you can make it more convenient for your cat. Try to put yourself in their paws and think like they do. How can you make this more appealing, less inconvenient, safer, and cleaner for your cat? After all, you do want them to use it. Your cat is part of your family, so ensuring their litter box needs are met is just as important as feeding and playtime. Your cat will thank you!

About the Author: Jourdan Parenteau

(Photo Credit: Mandy Whitley Photography)

Jourdan Parenteau is a co-founder and former Board Chair of Pet Community Center and currently serves on their Marketing Committee. Jourdan has volunteered with many animal welfare organizations trapping cats for TNR, fostering and adoption, providing advice as a cat behavior counselor, volunteering with several rescues and shelters, teaching kitten yoga, sea turtle nesting conservation, and animal welfare marketing, planning and fundraising.

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