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The Lowdown on Litter Boxes

Sarah Hilario, DVM

This article is written specifically for all my fellow cat lovers. As you may know, one of the top reasons that owned cats are surrendered to shelters is because they are not using their litter boxes appropriately. Many of these cats are turned outside or even euthanized because of this problem. Hopefully, this article will give you some new ideas on feline bathroom habits and allow you to spread the word to other cat owners about this topic.

What comes to mind when you think about your litter box? How about its size? Big is not enough…we want huge! The litter boxes that are available at pet stores are generally not adequate. For the last few years I have been using a cement mixing pan from Lowes for my cats’ litter box needs. It has low sides, is made of durable plastic and measures one and a half feet wide by over two feet long. Not only is it roomier for my cats, but it was less expensive as well. Covered boxes are also an option but the same principal applies. They should be large and roomy. Cats need the option of both a covered and uncovered box as some prefer one over the other.

What about number of boxes? The veterinary behaviorist’s rule of thumb is one box per cat plus one. That means if you have two cats, you should have 3 litter boxes! You may get away with less without problems but at the first sign of any inappropriate elimination, I recommend adding an extra box. How about scooping the box? Ideally, once a day is the minimum for scooping. No one likes a dirty bathroom and cats are no exception. Most cats are fastidious groomers, never requiring a bath, and this obsession with cleanliness extends to their litter box. Once a month you should toss out the old litter and clean the box with plain dish soap and water. Never use bleach. Finally, what should you fill the litter box with? I personally like Purina Tidy Cats Instant Action clumping litter but any unscented clumping litter will work. It’s important to stick with the same litter once you have found one that your cat prefers. They dislike change as well as strong smells. It may be tempting to plug in an air freshener by the box but this may actually deter some cats from visiting the box. They especially hate citrus smells.

Litter boxes are essential items in our cats’ lives. Hopefully these ideas will make visiting their box a pleasant and stress free experience for your cats.