Cats & litterboxes

Whether they are leopards or house cats, I swear cats are from another planet and it is one of the many reasons I love them so much. It is with great pride that I celebrate May 30 – Hug your cat day. Although, I don’t hug them on just this date. My guys constantly get hugs and cuddles from me each and every day. One of the most disheartening things about working with animals is seeing misunderstanding from pet owners and the poor animals who have to suffer from it.
One of the biggest issues with cats I’ve seen time and again is litter box issues. If your cat is having issues such as going outside the litter box – the very first thing you need to do is get your kitty to the vet!!!! There are many medical reasons – some very life threatening as to why a cat could be going outside the box. Next week, I will be discussing the different health reasons as to why inappropriate urinating is a sign there’s something wrong. This week, though, is all about cat behavior, litter boxes and types of litter.


Urine Spraying…not just for the boys! Both sexually mature female and male cats can and will spray to mark their territory. The cat sprays to also alert other sexually mature cats that they are ready to breed. Cats become sexually mature around 6 months of age. Spaying or castrating your cat can minimize urine spraying. The percentage is roughly 90% in males and 95% in females show a significant decrease in spraying once they are neutered.

First rule that is a must for any multi-cat household or a home that is thinking about adding another cat to the house is: EACH cat in the house has a litter box PLUS ONE!! You read that correctly; if you have 3 cats in your home, there should be 4 litter boxes. There are a couple of reasons for this rule:

1.  Feline Hierarchy – Not just for lions. Scientists used to believe lions were the only felids that had a social hierarchy. More recent studies revealed cheetahs, domestic felines, and a few other wild cats all have group social structures. These social structures have rules like who is allowed to eat first, where they are allowed to sleep and even certain bathroom rules. Just like with dogs and their “pack rules”  any time you add a new member to the group (like a new kitten), there will be an upheaval in the ranks. Stress (regardless where it comes from) can cause a cat to go outside of the appropriate elimination areas.
2.  Cats, even inside social groups, are territorial. The cat that is in a socially higher position may not allow the lower cat to use his/her favorite box. Therefore, the lower cat will have to look elsewhere so it can relieve itself.
3.  Cats are very clean creatures and many don’t like to have a dirty litter box. If you’re like me, I can’t be home to clean my group’s boxes every hour, so multiple boxes allow for more clean areas to go in. Experts recommend cleaning litter boxes once a day and washing boxes with soap and hot water every 1-4 weeks. NEVER use strong chemicals or ammonia-based products to clean the boxes. Harsh smells could deter cats from using their box.

By having the correct number of litter boxes, no one will ever be prevented from eliminating because the box is occupied. This brings me to the next important rule: location.

1.  Cats can be very particular about the location of where they are supposed to go. They prefer to not have their litter boxes close to their food and water. Plus, having their food and water bowls close to their litter boxes can cause certain illness like Feline Infectious Peritonitis.
2.  Cats like to have their privacy when they are doing their business. Try to avoid placing their litter box in busy areas (high foot traffic areas) of your home. Make sure that if you keep the box in a closet, small room or basement that the cat could not become cornered in or blocked off from coming or going.  This could cause a negative experience and result in the cat avoiding the area and consequently not using the litter box.
3.  Other negative experiences to abstain from when the cat is in the litter box or near it include: administering medications, grabbing the cat to place it somewhere else (i.e. like a carrier), having a child trap that cat inside the box.
4.  Avoid placing a litter box close to something that could make them startled by sudden noises, such as furnaces and washing machines.
5.  Keep litter boxes apart from one another because your cat will think it is just one large litter box.
6.  In multi-story homes, a litter box should be placed on each level of the home. Younger kittens and senior cats may have difficulty getting to the litter box when it is on another floor.
7.  If you do have a senior cat in your home, you may have to add another litter box to the areas they spend the most time in.
8.  If your cat has been using a different location to relieve itself, you may have to place another box to that site to get the cat to start using the box again.
9.  If your cat is happy with a location of their litter box, don’t remove it because you want to rearrange the room.

Speaking of location… did you know that the areas of inappropriate urinating could indicate what the issue is? Surprisingly, it can help us  to get to the bottom of house-soiling by knowing where in the home (or what items) the cat is urinating on. Urinating at windows and doors usually suggest a perceived threat coming from outside. Cats will mark their territories from inside the home when they see outdoor cats walking in their yard. Marking in hallways, doorways, and stairwells can indicate stress (new baby, remodeling, new person in the home). If your cat is going right outside of the litter box, it can indicate that the litter box is too small for your cat.

Size is important! The general standard for the size of  a litter box required for your cat is that the litter box should be 1.5 times the length of cat from nose to the base of the tail. If you’re wondering… many commercial litter boxes are too small for many cats. Alternative suggestions for a litter box can include no lid plastic storage containers or concrete mixing trays. While I am on the subject, they do make a variety of different types of litter boxes. They make covered boxes, covered boxes with a flap, self-cleaning, etc. All these different types have pros and cons to them. You may need to change the type of litter box to see if the reason your cat isn’t using it is because of the box itself. When I first started out with owning cats, I got the cheapest type of box that was on the market at the time but you do get what you pay for. So the cheap box didn’t last very long and I had to replace it. Over the years, I’ve had a chance to buy all kinds of boxes and I can tell you that each one of the cats I’ve had the pleasure of sharing living space with, has their own preference on the type of box they like to use. To be honest, I’m a big fan of covered boxes but none of the cats I’ve had liked the type of box that has the flap on it. Also, when my first cat became geriatric, he had arthritis pretty bad and it became difficult for him to step up and inside the regular box. I had to get him a low sided litter covered box and even the younger cats liked using this larger, lower to the ground box.

On to the litter itself. Cats don’t like change. They are creatures of habit. Don’t change their litter every time you go to buy a new bag. If you found a brand and kind that your cat likes and it uses it, stay with that exact one. Just because two different brands say they are (for example) clay litter doesn’t mean that they are made the same way. They could have different size clay pellets, slightly different scent, or slightly different amount of dust and those little changes could be enough to upset your cat and they will let you know by going to the bathroom somewhere else.

Cats have extremely sensitive noses and their sense of smell is twice as strong as your own. Because of their incredible sense of smell, it is recommended to not use scented litters or deodorizers. These scents might smell good to you but can be overwhelming to you cat. Also, having an aroma plug-in or aroma diffuser in the same room as their litter box may have the same effect. Pungent odors can also make your cat avoid their litter box.

Before there became a huge market for kitty litter, people with cats used to use sand. Nowadays, there are many different types and textures of cat litter. Cats do have a preference on what they like to use. Sometimes, you might need to offer different types of litter to see if your cat is picky on the type of litter. Also, keep at least one box with the same kind they are used to close to a new type of litter. If you do need to switch litters, make sure to transition slowly from the old kind to the new one. For example: First week, Litter A makes up about 75% of the box and Litter B is 25%. Keep this arrangement for about 2-3 weeks then make a mixture of 50% each of both Litter A and B. Again, keep this for a few weeks, then increase Litter B to 75% and Litter A to 25% in the box. After a few weeks, it should be okay to completely use Litter B only.

Litter can come in clay (scoopable and non-clumping), biodegradable materials, and Silica gel (“crystals”). Again, there are pros and cons to each type of each material.

*   Clay litters are made up from different materials depending on whether it is clumping or not. They are usually cheaper than biodegradable or crystal litters. But both scoopable and non-scoopable tend to have more dust in them.
*   Biodegradable materials tend to be packaged in a pellet shape. Wood pellets, recycled newspaper, scoopable sawdust, corn, and wheat are just a few of the materials that can be listed in this section. A nice bonus to these litters is that they can be added to your compost heap. There is less dust when compared to clay litters too. Usually you will use less pellets in the litter box then the amount needed with clay. But these litters are a little more expensive. **Special note about wood pellets – if you are thinking about buying wood pellets that are typically used for wood stoves be very careful. Some types of woods used for wood pellet stoves are harmful to your cat and can cause organ failure.**
*   Silica gel or crystal litters are your most expensive type of litter that you can buy. But they also have the highest absorbency and  complete odor elimination for an extended period of time.

Pay attention to the recommended depths of the litter you are using. Companies provide this information because of research they have done and what works best for that type of litter. I read an interesting little fact that long haired cats like to have the depth of their litter less than 2 inches deep.

Litter companies also make box liners. I would recommend not wasting your money on them. Most cats that I have met, don’t like them.

Remember, if you have taken your cat to the vet and there isn’t a health issue that needs to be taken care of and you start to work on the other items in this blog, don’t go and change a lot of things all at once. That action can cause inappropriate urination as well. Plus, you won’t be able to decipher which thing was the issue by changing a lot of things at the same time.

If you don’t like the idea of having several litter boxes sitting around your home (or there isn’t enough space for all of them), there are alternatives to regular litter boxes. There are several companies that now make furniture that can hide a litter box. For the crafty builders out there, you can also make your own hidden litter box furniture.


The one thing that I would love to try is to toilet train my cats. It would drastically cut down on all the money I spend on cat litter but having dogs that like to drink from the toilet if the lid is up isn’t conducive in trying to toilet training my cat. There are special toilet seats that help transition your cat to using the toilet.

Other considerations:

  • Consider using comforting synthetic pheromones. These have calming qualities to help ease the stress your cat is feeling.
  • Laying plastic carpet protectors upside down can create uncomfortable areas you don’t want your cat to be in.
  • Restrict outdoor cats from coming onto your property. Motion activated water sprinkles can deter these threatening invaders from your cat’s territory.
  • Clean urine marked areas as quickly as you find them and clean that area frequently. Clean the affected area with a good quality urine odor and stain remover that is made to destroy urine enzymes. Make sure to clean up to 3 times the size of the soiled area that you see.
  • The usage of a black Light can help see urine areas that may be invisible to the naked eye.
  • Never use ammonia-based cleaners around your cat.
  • Never punish your cat for house-soiling. This can lead to a lot more issues. If need be, after having a discussion with one of our vets and steps have been taken and there are still house-soiling issues, your cat may need a prescription medication to help with stress and anxiety. (Don’t laugh! I have a cat that was so attached to me that he would defecate at whatever door I left from to go to work. He had to be on a kitty Prozac for a few months before the defections stopped and I could wean him down off the Prozac).


House-soiling can be a very frustrating problem for both you and your cat. Your cat is trying to tell you there is something wrong in their world and you need to have patience to figure out what is causing the problem instead of just restricting them to the outdoors.


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