The cat’s relationship with the litter box is more complex than many cat parents realize. We typically assume the litter box to be a place where a cat simply eliminates. It’s the place we want kitty’s pee and poo to be exclusively deposited and as long as kitty follows the plan, everyone is happy. For the cat though, the relationship to the litter box is more complicated than just an elimination spot. It’s important to look at your cat’s litter box set-up from his perspective to make sure it meets his needs and not just our convenience. The needs of a young kitten may be different from the needs of an adult. The needs of an overweight or senior cat may be different from those of an active young cat. If you live with more than one cat, the litter box needs will be different than when there was just one kitty. You have to make sure the set-up works for YOUR cat.
When it comes to the litter box, there are certainly more than just 8 mistakes that cat parents can make but here are the ones I tend to see most often during my consultations.
1. The Wrong Sized Litter Box
A mistake I commonly see is that a cat parent will purchase a particular litter box in order to fit it into a tiny or cramped spot so it can remain out of sight. The size of the litter box should be determined based on the size of the cat. Here is my general recommendation: the box should be 1 ½ times the length of your cat from nose to base of tail.
2. A Litter Box That isn’t Cleaned Enough
I’ve said it many times over the years – a dirty litter box is like an unflushed toilet – but yet many human family members don’t seem to understand how a dirty box is just as unappealing to a cat as a dirty toilet would be for us. The litter box should be scooped at least twice a day. If using scoopable litter, the entire box should be emptied, scrubbed and refilled with fresh litter at least once a month. If using non-clumping litter then the box should be scrubbed and refilled at least weekly.
3. Choosing the Wrong Location for the Litter Box
The first rule is to never place the litter box near the feeding station because no one likes to eat next to the toilet. For cats, the separation of the feeding station and elimination location is also based in survival. Cats eliminate away from where they live to avoid attracting predators.
When it comes to location it’s also important to look at what’s convenient and easy to access for the cat. A litter box in the basement may be unappealing because of the dampness or because of the discomfort of going up and down stairs if a cat is older or less mobile. A cat shouldn’t have to travel too far to find a place to pee or poop. There should be litter box availability on each floor of your home. The box should be a location that’s safe and will allow the cat to eliminate without being disturbed or startled.
4. Too Few Litter Boxes in a Multicat Household
If you have more than one cat you need more than one litter box. The general rule of thumb is to have more litter boxes than you have cats. Usually one extra will do, but that also depends on the dynamics without your home. The litter boxes should be scattered throughout the home so one cat doesn’t have to pass through another cat’s preferred area. One of the ways to keep peace in a multicat home is to not force cats to compete for resources. If you have five cats it may not seem like much fun to have to scoop six litter boxes but it’s better than having some or all of the cats stressed out and maybe ending up with a litter box avoidance problem. Cleaning a litter box is easier than cleaning soiled carpet.