For many of us, our first experience with cats is when we get a new kitten. Sometimes it's when a hapless wanderling comes our way and "adopts us." So, we go to the pet store and get some kitten or cat food, a litter pan, some litter, a few toys and maybe and a little scratcher. For those of you who have or have had cats in the past, you may fully understand the needs of cats or may have been lucky to have cats that tolerated the litter box, litter and location you provide. Unfortunately we are not all so lucky!
To help set Kitty up for success, offered here is some information regarding number of litter boxes, litter box size, type of litter, location considerations and cleanliness.
NUMBER OF LITTER BOXES
So, let's start with the number of litter boxes needed in the home. There is a rule... for each cat in the home, there should be one litter box plus one extra (the overflow box). This allows, hopefully, sufficient space for the eliminations of cats until the boxes can be scooped. Some cats have a strong preference to urinate in one area and defecate in another. Having an extra box allows for this preference. If you have a multi-level home, there should be at least one box on each level of the home. This provides kitty a chance to have his/her potty near in case of urgent need. Don't you like having a bathroom on the same floor you are occupying? Be aware too that having two litter boxes in close proximity, to a cat, is the same as one litter box. Place the boxes in different locations in the home.
SIZE OF LITTER BOX
Now, let's talk litter box size! So, you bring a new cat/kitten into your home, you stop by the pet store and get all your kitty needs as stated above. Some stores have a great deal of choice in litter boxes, others do not. Even where there is a great deal of choice, it may be related to type of box, not necessarily size of box. There are the basic plastic pans, covered boxes, corner boxes, litter systems, automatic boxes and now even flushing boxes. You would think with all this choice, the purrrfect box would be easy to find; right? Unfortunately, manufacturers are working to make kitty caretakers happy, not necessarily the cats. It seems many do not truly understand kitty's needs. It is important to consider caretakers' concerns; however, if cats' needs are considered and they are happy, then the caretaker's happiness will generally follow. Many of the litter systems, automatic and covered boxes are generally too small for cats to fit into comfortably. Most basic cat litter pans sizes are appropriate only for smaller cats. Did you know litter boxes should be 1 and 1/2 times the length of your cat?! If you've adopted a kitten or young cat, it may be appropriate to have a regular box initially; however, be prepared to "grow your litter boxes" as your cat matures. Cats need space to perform the digging and olfactory rituals involved in the elimination process. Have you ever paid attention to what your cat does in the litter box? Cats go in, sniff, scratch, sniff, move around, maybe turn and continue on until they have "just the right place" and then eliminate. Afterward, they go through much the same process in order to cover their waste (Granted, some cats don't cover. Cats cover their waste because, as prey animals, it is smart to "leave no trace behind!").
For full grown cats, a great option is to use clear storage/sweater boxes obtained at your local home store (see Products page). Boxes that are at least 29" in length are best, longer are better. If longer than 33 inches though, realize that handling them at cleaning/emptying time will be difficult and cumbersome (due to the weight of the old litter). Most of these boxes are anywhere between 5 and 7 inches deep and 19 or so inches wide. If you have cats that throw litter out of the box during their scratching ritual or are starting to stand while urinating, you might consider getting a storage box that is at least 13 inches high (see Products page). Having boxes that are so high will make it necessary to create an opening in one of the ends or the sides for the cat(s) to enter/exit the box. Draw a "U" shape on the box and use a utility knife or dremel tool to cut out the "U." Be sure to smooth down the rough edges for your cat's safety and comfort.
A few words regarding covered litter boxes. Going into a covered litter box is similar to entering a smelly, cramped cave. Have you ever gone into a "well used" Port-O-Potty at night? You're almost afraid to touch anything; right? Imagine how a cat, fastidious creature that it is, might feel going into a dark, smelly area to eliminate. It is NOT pleasant! It restricts the area of mobility within as well. If choosing a covered litter box to "hide" the eliminations of cats, the "need to scoop" and clean is also hidden. The odors of the eliminations will be contained within the box and create a very unpleasant elimination experience for your cat. Please ... be kind to your kitty, just don't use covered litter boxes.
TYPE OF LITTER
As for the type of litter, that can depend on you AND your cat. Many cats have a substrate preference, generally preferring a soft textured litter. This is particularly important should you have adopted a declawed kitty. There are numerous choices of litter, non-clumping, wood pellets, clay clumping, "natural" products made of wheat, grass, corn, etc.. If young kittens are raised on a certain type, that will likely be their preference. Although, that's not to say they cannot be trained to another litter. Many litters are "scented." Manufacturers believe that litters must "cover" the smell that arises from and surrounds the litter box. What they don't seem to understand is that 1) if the box/litter is kept clean, there is no foul scent to disguise and 2) a "scented" litter can be so repulsive (to a cat's sensitive nose) that the cat will find somewhere else to eliminate; thereby, driving the cat AWAY from the litter box! Please, for your and your cats' sakes, stay away from scented litters. A cat's sense of smell is extremely sensitive. We truly cannot fathom the information they obtain through smell. Human's likeness for floral, citrus, essential oils, etc., does NOT extend to cats. Again, choosing an unscented, soft textured litter is best. Some of the best are those developed by Dr. Elsey (Products page). Place 1 and 1/2 to two inches (at the most) of litter in the box. This will be enough for kitty to dig in, but not so much as to make the litter heavy.
PLACEMENT OF LITTER BOXES
Location, location, location...isn't that what realtors proclaim? We know they are right! For cats, location of all of their resources is important, litter boxes included. We must understand that when cats eliminate (remember they are prey animals as well as predators), they feel very vulnerable, and truly, they are. Litter boxes should be located in quiet, but not isolated locations. The litter box should have a clear view around it so kitty can see what might approach. It should be in a well lit area, and not hidden behind corners of any kind (this vulnerability is another good reason not to have a covered litter box). Placing a litter box near an appliance is not advisable. Being startled by an appliance while eliminating could drive kitty to find a more secure location.
CLEANLINESS OF LITTER BOXES
Following is some advice regarding cleanliness of litter boxes. If using a non-clumping clay litter, it is necessary to remove the solid wastes once or twice daily. As for urine, have sufficient litter (1 1/2 to 2 inches) in the box to stir the litter around so that wet areas mix with the dry to ensure absorption and drying. To keep the litter at its freshest, it's best to mix the wet and dry litter each time you see new urine in the box. Once weekly all litter should be thrown out, the box washed with a gentle (and fairly unscented - floral and other scents can drive kitty away.) cleaner, such as Dawn or Soft Scrub Gel, and fresh litter placed into the box.
When I first started using clumping litter, there were no instructions regarding how to be rid of the waste once clumped. Until recently (Litter Genie), there was no product sold in which to put the waste and discard it. Initially, I did what others have done and used plastic grocery bags. Over time, I switched to using Freezer Zip Lock bags. They hold in the odor and there's not much worry of them puncturing. Litter boxes should be scooped at least once daily, preferably twice or more to keep the litter clean and your cat happy. The small, broken pieces should be removed as well as large clumps. Doing so lessens the amount of bacteria and odor build up and provides clean space for your cat to perform their elimination activities. As the litter is used, add fresh litter to keep the level at 1 1/2 to 2 inches of depth. Following this regimen should keep the litter fresh so that it can be used for approximately four weeks. At that point, if not before, all litter must be thrown out, the box washed with a gentle (no odor) cleaner, as stated above, and new litter placed in the box.
These guidelines will help cat parents set their kitty up for litter box success! So just remember, a large litter box, a litter your kitty will like, a safe location and keep it clean!
Should you be experiencing litter box issues, refer to the Behavior/Litter box link on this site.