The Scoop on Litterbox Cleaning
Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Cats can be quite particular about their bathroom habits, so keeping your cat's litterbox up to their standards is LITTER-ally quite important if you want to avoid dealing with recurring messes at home. The suggestions below include types of boxes, types of litter, setup & training, and should help keep your finnicky cat from thinking outside the box.
The general rule of paw is one litter box for each cat in the home, plus one more. This way none of them will ever be prevented from using the litter box because it's already occupied.
A dirty litterbox with odours trapped inside isn't the most appealing to your kitty. Help their general sense of confidence and wellbeing by keeping their litterbox clean by scooping it out at least once per day, preferably right after they do their business. Make it a part of your routine! If you have multiple cats, scoop at least twice daily.
A cat may occasionally refuse to use a litter box after another cat has been in it. While it is not possible to designate a private litter box for every cat in your household [as cats will use any litter box that's available], you will likely need to maintain all of the litter boxes extremely clean, but it's still best if you add additional boxes to avoid yourself & kitty any frustrations down the road. Please note: it is best to not place all the boxes in one location because your cats will consider them jointly a big box and the ambushing of other cats doing their business will still be possible.
Types of Litterboxes
Most NYC apartments have limited space, as such, most of us opt to provide our cats with a covered litter box. While covered boxes can increase privacy and reduce the number of litter debris that flies out the box when your cat buries their business, there are some potential downsides you should be aware of. An “out of sight, out of mind” litterbox is easily ignored especially if not cleaned regularly. Covered boxes also can be difficult for larger cats to move around and position themselves in, for which the Catit Jumbo litterbox, is a very good solution. The Gargoyle Catterie has several of these across our foster network.
Ultimately, if your cat doesn't like a covered box, they will not use it. To determine which sort your cat prefers, you may need to experiment or ask the Foster Home which they seem to prefer as they usually have different types.
At the Gargoyle Catterie we have several jumbo-size covered boxes, two types of top-entry boxes, some corner boxes, and for younger kittens still learning: open/no lid boxes.
There's a wide range of automated litterboxes available that supply convenience in cleaning your cat’s litter. But beware, many cats despise these types of boxes, and some are even afraid of them, which will definitely prevent them from using it.
So if your cat is already habituated to a conventional box, it’s best to keep using what they're used to.
There are several differing types of cat litter available on the market. The foremost popular ones used are traditional scooping/clumping litter.
We advocate for natural plant-derived/biodegradable litter. Clay and crystal-based/silica gel litter are bad for your kitty, the environment, and in the case of clay litter issue can cause humans health issues.
The Gargoyle Catterie's foster network mostly uses ÖkoCat pine pellets or World's Best. For finnicky cats running into issues using their litterbox, we add a layer of Naturally Fresh Walnut litter with Herbal Attractant to give the box more allure.
Most cats prefer fine-grained litters, likely because they want a softer feel. Newer scoopable and “clumping” litter have finer grains than typical clay litter and are highly regarded because they keep down the odor. But high-quality, dust-free clay litters are fairly small-grained and should be perfectly acceptable to your cat.
Once you discover a litter your cat likes, stick with it. Switching litters constantly could end in your cat not using the litter box.
Some folks use scented litter or air freshener to mask normal litterbox odours, but often times, these odours is off-putting to cats. A layer of sodium bicarbonate placed on the underside of the box will help absorb odors without repelling your cat. Scooping immediately after your cat poops will also help the smell dissipate quicker.
Note if you have plants: If your cat has previously been an outside cat and prefers dirt, you'll be able to keep them out of your houseplants by placing medium-sized rocks on top of the soil within the pots. you'll be able to also mix some soil with their regular litter to lure them in. A cat who rejects all kinds of economic litters is also quite proud of sand.
Best practice is to put the litterbox in an out-of-the-way spot to reduce odour and help keep your home cleaner by preventing cat litter from being tracked throughout the house. But if the litterbox is hidden away in the basement next to a scary appliance or on a chilly cement floor, your cat may not be too interested in doing their business there. So you'll need to compromise.
Keep the litterbox in a spot that offers your cat some privacy but is also convenient. If the box is just too out of reach [especially for a kitten or elderly cat], they merely might just choose to not use it.
Avoid placing litterboxes next to things like furnaces or the washers. Noisy appliances can scare a cat, while heat-radiating appliances could amplify the litterbox smell, which again will deter them from using the box.
Be sure to place the box as distant from their food and water bowls as possible.
If you you live somewhere with several floors, definitely provide one box per floor!
If the litterbox is kept in a bathroom or closet, make sure the door is wedged open always, to stop your cat from being trapped inside or locked out.
For multi-cat homes, it's important to provide litterboxes in several locations, so one cat can't ambush another using the litter box.
To meet the requirements of the most persnickety cat, you should definitely aim to scoop poop out of the litter box at least once daily. How often you fully replace the litter and rinse out the box itself depends on: the type of litter you use, the amount of cats you've got, and the amount of litterboxes they have available.
A general guideline for fully replacing litter is once every other week; You could end up replacing it every week, or every other day or just once every 3-5 weeks depending on your personal circumstances. If you maintain the litterbox with a scoop clean daily, you will have to change out the whole box much less often.
If you notice an odor, or if much of the litter inside the box is wet or clumped, it is time for a full change. Be sure to scrub the box well anytime you change out the litter. Use mild, scentless detergent to wash it, as products with ammonia or citrus oils can turn a cat off, and a few cleaning products are even toxic to cats. Here at the Gargoyle Catterie we use diluted Dr. Bronner's Unscented Pure Castille liquid soap for this task.
Box liners are merely a convenience for you, the owner. In a perfect world, the liner gathers together and can be tied up like a garbage bag, but the reality is that almost all cats will shred the liner into bits while scratching within the box to bury their poop. Even if your cat doesn't try too hard to bury their waste, a liner ads to pollution in landfills, so at the very least consider a biodegradable kind.
Depth of litter
Many cats won't use litter if it's more than 2-3 inches deep. Some long-haired cats even prefer less litter than that, and/or a smooth, slick surface [like the underside of the box]. Adding extra litter will not reduce the quantity of cleaning needed for a litter box.
As opposed to how one would housetrain a dog, there isn't really such a thing as an equivalent feline "litter training". Most cats will instinctually want to, and know how to use a litterbox. You actually don't need to train your cat on what to do with the litterbox. It isn't necessary to take your kitty to the litterbox and move their paws back and forth in the litter. or anything silly like that.
Your job is to: provide an acceptable, accessible litter box, and keep it clean using the suggestions above.
If you're bringing a new cat home for the first time, or you've moved to a new place, please show your cat where the new box placement is.
If problems arise
If your cat starts going outside the litterbox, your first call should always be to your vet. Many medical conditions can cause changes in a kitty's litterbox habits. If your vet examines your cat and gives them a clear bill of health, your feline may have behavior problems that need solving.
Punishment is never the answer! Or banishing your cat outdoors. For long-term or complex situations, seek an animal-behavior specialist who has experience working with cats. Jackson Galaxy offers the advice below for behavioural litterbox issues:
Setting up your cat for Litterbox Success | The Humane Society
Litter Box Mastery Part 2: Cleanliness Is Next To Catliness | Jackson Galaxy
11 Simple Litterbox Hacks that work | Caticles
How Often Should you Scoop The Litterbox | Cat Behavior Associates
Alternatives to clumping clay litters | The Gargoyle Catterie