When setting up the litter box, the more complicated you make it, the less likely your cat will want to go there. Sure, you can find litter boxes on the market that do just about everything except take the bag of dirty litter out to the trash can for you, but the price you pay for them (and I’m not talking financial price) may be too high.
Ok, I admit that scooping the litter box isn’t the fun part of being a cat parent. Many humans go so far as to try to pretend there isn’t even a litter box in the house at all by locating it in such a remote area a cat would need a GPS to find it. The reality is if you live with a cat he needs a litter box and that box should be:
1) the right size/type
2) kept clean
3) conveniently located
Taking shortcuts when it comes to setting up and maintaining a litter box will put you on a slippery slope toward being the cat parent of a cat with a litter box aversion problem.
The most common calls our office receives are from people who have cats with litter box problems. Many of those problems are the result of cat parents not following the 1-2-3 rule mentioned above. I’ve visited countless homes where litter boxes were hidden in damp basements or shoved in dark closets. I’ve seen boxes where it was obvious they hadn’t been scooped in days. Those poor cats had to step on mounds of soiled litter while attempting to eliminate. Would you want to use a toilet that hadn’t been flushed for days?
It’s time to take an honest look at your cat’s litter box set-up.
1. Litter Box Size and Type
Covered litter boxes top my list of horrible ideas. The covered box reduces air circulation so it takes longer for the litter to dry. The cover also reduces head room for the cat when he’s in there. If your cat feels too cramped when in the litter box he’ll very likely choose another location… your living room carpet, for example. That’s probably not a choice you’re going to like.
If you live in a multicat household don’t use boxes with covers or you may create an anxious situation whenever a cat has to eliminate. The covered box reduces escape potential. Covered boxes can leave a cat vulnerable to an ambush. When in the litter box, your cat needs more than one way to escape.
If you have a large cat but have chosen a small litter box so it will fit neatly in a specific area, then it probably won’t be long before kitty decides to seek a more comfortable location (perhaps your dining room carpet this time). The box size should be large enough for your cat to eliminate in there several times without having to stand on previously soiled mounds of litter. It’s not fair to ask a large cat to impersonate an accordion and squeeze into a small litter box. In general, the box should be one-and-a-half times the length of your cat.
Electronic and self-cleaning litter boxes are potentially too noisy (which can scare a cat) and the surface the cat stands on can be uncomfortable. Some self-cleaning boxes require the use of a special substrate which may be a texture some cats find objectionable. I’ve also found high-tech boxes to be too small for the cat. The entire box may be large but the actual litter surface area for the cat is too small. These boxes also prevent you from monitoring what is or isn’t happening in the litter box. The ability to monitor what does or doesn’t happen in the box is a valuable diagnostic tool when it comes to your cat’s health.
2. Litter Box Cleanliness
Scoop the box at least twice a day. It only takes a few seconds to scoop. If you find your cat is eliminating just outside of the box, it may very well be because that’s as close as he can get to the box because of how dirty it is. He may be trying to go where he’s supposed to but his nose is warning him about the stench coming from the filthy box.
The entire box should be thoroughly scrubbed and replaced with fresh litter on a regular basis. If you use scoopable litter, clean the box at least once or twice monthly. If you don’t use scoopable litter then the box needs to be cleaned more often.
And here’s the part cat parents never want to hear – there should be the same number of boxes as cats. A common reason for litter box aversion is that too many cats are forced to use too few litter boxes. If there’s a litter box problem currently going on in your home then you should even increase that number by one extra box.
3. Convenient Location for the Litter Box
Nobody wants a litter box in the middle of the living room, but make sure the location is convenient for your cat. If you live in a two-story home there should be a box on each floor. In a multicat home the boxes should be scattered so one cat doesn’t have to pass another cat’s area in order to eliminate. To prevent risk of ambush, don’t locate boxes in closets or closed-off areas. Give your cat maximum visual advantage so when he’s in the litter box he has adequate warning time in case an opponent approaches.
The litter box shouldn’t be located near the feeding station. We don’t eat in the bathroom and cats don’t eat where they eliminate either. For cats this is actually an important survival rule that even the most pampered indoor cat will feel compelled to follow.
Be mindful of physical limitations your cat has. If he has trouble going up and down stairs don’t place the box down in the basement or in a spot that’s difficult for him to access. If you have a kitten, place the box in a hard-to-miss location. Kittens don’t have enough bladder control yet so don’t make them go on a litter box hunt when nature calls.
Remember, keep it simple and follow the 1-2-3 rule. Your cat will appreciate it.
Need More Information?
For more specifics on the proper litter box set-up or for help with litter box aversion problems, refer to the best-selling books from Pam Johnson-Bennett, including the latest release, CatWise. Pam’s books are available at bookstores everywhere, through your favorite online book retail site and also here on our website.
Note: This article is not intended as a medical diagnosis. If your cat is eliminating outside of the litter box there could be an underlying medical problem. Have your cat examined by the veterinarian at the first sign of a change in litter box habits.