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Litter Box Basics

There is so much information about litter boxes and litters for your cat, how do you know where to start? We’ll go through the basics to help guide you and your feline friend!

*Important note: if your cat is experiencing any type of litter box issues, the first step is to have them checked by a vet to rule out any medical concerns.

Boxes: From open to closed, reusable to disposable, and name brand to DIY – the options are endless! Find an appropriately sized box for your cat and the designated space for their litter area. If your cat is larger, then they will need a taller and wider box than a smaller cat or kitten would require. If you find that your cat likes to really dig in their litter (or fling it!), then a covered box might be a better option to help contain the litter. Depending on your space, you may be able to DIY a box by carefully cutting a hole into the side of a large storage container. Don’t hesitate to shop around to find a box that fits you and your cat’s needs. Having a backup box (or 2) in storage also never hurts! If you are interested in splurging a bit, there are a few automatic litter boxes on the market to explore as well.

Litter Types: There a lot of different types of litters available. Finding the best one for your cat and you can involve some trial and error. Important factors to keep in mind are dust levels, clumping, odor control, tracking, price, and availability of the litter. There are pros and cons to most litters, so it may take some time to find the right fit. When switching or trying new litters, it’s best to always offer a box of litter that you know your cat will use alongside the second box of the new litter. Providing fresh current litter can help avoid issues in case your cat doesn’t want to use the new litter. Once your cat has used the new litter, you can switch completely over to it. If your cat seems unsure, you can mix the two litters for an easier transition, until the cat is more comfortable. The main categories of litter are Clay, Crystal, Corn, Walnut, Grass, Pine, and Paper. The most commonly used is clay litter. Clay is absorbent and a finer grain for easy waste removal, but can be dusty. There are many brands of clay litter, including clumping/non-clumping (See Kittens below), scented/unscented, and lightweight to name a few. Crystal litter is unique in that it is absorbent, you can see the waste easier, and is typically dust free. Some even have color changing properties to assist tracking urinary health in your cat. However, crystal litter does tend to be more expensive. Corn, Walnut, Grass and Pine litters are natural products that are usually free of toxins and chemicals, and most are biodegradable. These tend to be pricier as well, and there are many brands to try of these types of litters. Paper litter is a great choice as the safest litter to use, and is typically low-tracking. It is often used with cats who’ve had toe/foot injuries that need a gentle litter in their box. Paper litter doesn’t clump as well, or have great odor control like other litters, so it needs changed out more often. It can be used as regular litter or temporarily while a cat is healing. Try out some different litters to find out what works best for you and your cat!

Cleanliness: It is highly recommended to scoop the litter box at least once a day. This keeps it fresh for your cat to dig and bury their waste, just like they would in nature. Sometimes, if the box gets too full of waste, your cat may feel they don’t have adequate room to utilize the box, and may choose to find another place to go to the bathroom! Scooping once a day will help avoid issues such as that. A complete cleaning of the entire box is suggested monthly to every other month. This involves safely disposing of all the litter, washing the box with plain dish soap and hot water, drying it, and refilling it with fresh clean litter. This helps prevent bacteria from forming in the litter box. Don’t forget to wash the scoop too!

Accessories: There are lots of different types of litter accessories to explore! Products like litter liners and litter genies can help make your job a bit easier. Some cats do well with liners, which allow you to bag up all of the litter right out of the box when it is time to completely change it out. Some cats don’t do well, and may scratch through the liner, putting a hole in it. If you aren’t sure – give it a try and see how it goes! Litter genies (or waste collection containers) are great for holding the scooped waste in a sealed container until you are ready to take it out to the trash bin. They typically have bag liners that the waste goes in that can be replaced once you’ve used it up (usually around 2 months for 1 cat). Finding a good scoop that works for you can make the daily task much smoother. If you have a larger cat that has bigger waste, a sturdy metal scoop may be something that interests you. Litter mats are great for helping decrease the amount of tracked litter outside of the box. There are a ton of different types and materials, so you just need to find one that fits your space and works well with your cat. A high-quality handheld brush and dust pan are very helpful to easily sweep up stray litter.

Multiple cats: If you have more than one cat, then you need to increase the amount of litter boxes that are available. The rule is - there should be one box per cat, plus an extra box. So, if you’ve got 2 cats, you should have 3 litter boxes. This helps prevent issues with going to the bathroom outside of the box, marking, and territory issues in multi-cat households. This will also help ensure that the boxes don’t fill up with waste too quickly. It is still recommended to scoop daily, even with multiple boxes, but depending on your cats, you may need to scoop even more often than that. If you have recently adopted a cat, it is also a good idea to follow this rule, to help prevent any issues or confusion as they adjust to their new surroundings.

Kittens: You will want to make sure you are using non-clumping clay or paper litter for kittens. They tend to be wobbly and unsteady on their feet, and they are usually still learning how to cover their waste, so this will help avoid messes. Kittens also tend to accidently ingest litter (when sniffing/burying in the box), so this will help prevent any internal issues in case any litter is ingested. Their litter boxes also need to have shorter walls so that they can get in and out easily! If your kitten needs help learning to use the litter box, there are products like litter-attractant that you can sprinkle on top to help encourage them to use the box.

The Smell: No one wants to experience the unpleasant smells that can come from a litter box! You can cut down on the stink by using a good quality litter, scooping regularly, and cleaning the box and scoop often. There are products that are made specifically to help the smell of a litter box, but be cautious of those. While it may help us to not smell the odors, sometimes the perfumes and fragrances in these odor-eliminating additives can be very overpowering for your cat. A cat’s sense of smell is significantly greater than ours, and so their sensitivity to smells is greater as well. Perfumes and fragrances can sometimes be too much for a cat and have the opposite effect that you want – it can deter the cat from wanting to go near the super strong smell coming from the litter box. The same thing goes for scented litters. The companies make these scented litters for us humans, not for the cats! If you try a scented litter and your cat seems to be weary of it, try an unscented litter and see how your cat responds. Unscented litter is healthier in general for the well-being of your cat.

Hopefully this information helps you find the best litter box set-up for you, your cat’s environment, and most importantly – your cat!!


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