Litter box wisdom for cat owners

Litter box issues are one of the biggest concerns for cat owners – and for cats themselves! Even experienced cat owners can ponder on which trays or boxes to choose, where to place them and how to keep odour and tracking to a minimum. We share top tips for box success.

This article is adapted from a more in-depth guide from our friends at cleanpetclub.com on best practices for litter box management.

Which litter box is best?

When choosing a litter box, it should be at least one and a half times the cat’s length from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail and wide enough for them to turn round comfortably. Look for low sides if your cat is frail or has mobility issues such as arthritis

Self-cleaning litter boxes may sound marvellous to a busy owner, but they can terrify a cat with the movement and noise they produce. Heavy-duty plastics without texture are easy to clean and sturdy enough to stay in good shape, or if you prefer biodegradable materials, consider eco-friendly alternatives such as Beco’s Eco cat litter tray.

Covered boxes can stop litter from being scattered far and wide but leave cats in multi-cat groups concerned they could be cornered. As to how many, there will ideally be one more litter box than you have cats; for example, a household with two cats needs three boxes.

What cat litter should you choose?

A fine sand-like, unscented litter would probably be most cats’ preference, being closest to their choice of a surface outdoors. Clumping litters make daily cleaning easy, and there are biodegradable options too. While artificial deodorizers and scented liners may be ideal for your nose, they are very definitely not pleasing to your cat. Whichever you choose, fill the box with at least 3cm of litter.

Where should you put a cat litter box?

Positioning boxes wisely and well helps your cat to feel secure and encourages successful use.

Many problems come from inappropriate locations that might be convenient for us but don’t suit the cat.

Consider your house layout carefully from a cat’s eye view.

Aim to position your boxes:

  • where there is easy access to and from the box, with no risk of the escape route being cut off by another cat
  • with a box on each floor of the home that the cat has access to
  • making them easy to reach for less mobile cats
  • in quiet areas, away from frequent human footfall and the hustle and bustle
  • in a well-ventilated room, to help odour control
  • away from their feeding and resting areas

Top tip:

Where your cat chooses to sleep should be seen as their core territory. For their comfort, they need food and water to be placed, separately and some distance from this, with litter boxes still further away. 

How do you clean a litter box?

Solid waste and urine-soaked or clumped litter should be scooped out twice a day, topping up with clean litter to previous levels. Weekly, throw out all the litter and wash the box with hot water and a mild, unscented detergent – the smell of strong detergents and bleach are a big turn-off for cats. 

Why isn’t my cat using the litter box?

Finding the cause of problems in litter box use can be complicated, so do seek veterinary advice to get to the bottom of things. Observe carefully whether the cat is soiling close to but outside of the box, over the edge of the box, or some distance away, as each of these problems needs a slightly different approach.

It’s important to rule out underlying health problems, everything from emotional issues to physical bladder ailments and kidney disease. At Vet on the Net, our experienced vets are available for consultation to discuss your particular problems and help you create a plan of action.

How do I encourage my cat to use the litter box?

Here are seven vet-approved recommendations to encourage your cat to use the litter box:

  • Use gentle, positive reinforcement to encourage the behaviour you want; never resort to yelling or physical punishment if there are problems but stay calm and quiet.
  • Remove the temptation to use alternative objects for toileting – tidy shoes away, pick up clothing from the floor and keep your cat away from carpets and rugs while training to the box.
  • Clean properly: maintain good hygiene in the litter area and if the cat does urinate or soil in the wrong place, follow the proper cleaning procedures. This is important to stop the problem being repeated – see the link for full guidelines below*.
  • Remove offputting stressors; keep the litter box away from high-traffic areas, noisy appliances, small children and other pets.
  • Use pheromone therapy: place a Feliway Optimum diffuser** in an appropriate place to help calm and destress cats who are urine-spraying or suffering from stress-related problems.
  • Consider your schedule: if you're going to be away from home for an extended time, try to arrange help so that cats' routines are disrupted as little as possible.
  • Eliminate outside threats: look out for other cats hanging around your home, who may be visible to your cat from inside. If they mark nearby or around doors or windows, they will be seen as a threat.
* see ‘Clean soiled area thoroughly’ in the Litter box problems section of our guide. 
**Feliway Optimum diffuser

A final word: managing multi-cat households

Urine marking and spraying or toileting outside the box can occur when cats sharing a home are not part of the same social setup. It’s important to pay close attention to the dynamics of a group and to do all that we can to create harmony. Head to the multi-cat households section of the cleanpetclub.com guide to learn more and seek appropriate veterinary advice.