General Litter Box Advice

By Dr. Emily Hoppmann

  • The rule is one more box than the number of cats living in the home (if possible)
  • Scoop boxes at least once daily. Change out the litter weekly.
  • Clumping scoopable, unscented litter is often preferred. Finer grain is best.
  • When deciding on locations of the boxes, consider the relationships between the various cats. Signaling in cats may be hard to pick up on as owners, and cats that seemingly are friendly may sometimes have a mean or dominating streak. The multiple litter boxes in should be in separate locations.
  • Location, location, location: Boxes should be away from commotion, where the cat(s) can feel secure and are afforded privacy. However, being “trapped” in a corner can be a problem. Basements may be a source of loud and sudden sounds which can be frightening. Also, as cats age, navigating stairs may become difficult.
  • Place litter boxes in various places around the house so they’re not all located in one room.
  • For cats that develop a substrate preference for carpet, try placing a carpet remnant in the box. If the cat begins to use the box, gradually litter can be added while the remnant is cut away.
  • If boxes are covered, consider having at least one uncovered. As cats are successfully re-directed to a litter box, provide positive reinforcement with praise and a treat (as you would house training a puppy).
  • Cats must never be physically punished, or have their nose “rubbed in an accident”, as this will only heighten anxiety in an already anxious cat and can create mistrust. Also, they do not understand what they are being punished for.
  • The litter box(es) should generally not be in close proximity to food and water. Indoor/outdoor cats generally require litter boxes. Approximately 1 ½ to 3 inches of litter in the box is appropriate. For cats that do not use the box but overshoot the top of the box (“shooting urine”), try a covered box or a box with higher sides. Another option is to affix a piece of washable Plexiglas to a nearby wall.
  • Confining the cat to a small room, such as a bathroom, may “re-train” a cat having accidents to the box and prevent accidents elsewhere in the home. However, the inappropriate elimination is likely to return unless the underlying issue which caused the problem is resolved.
  • Enriched environments are particularly important for indoor cats. It’s been demonstrated that cats lacking enrichment are more susceptible to stress, which may lead to inappropriate elimination.
  • An excess of resources, resting places, litter boxes and scratching posts, etc., is always a good idea. Medications may not help cats with aversions to litter, litter boxes or location, but drugs potentially may help cats with anxiety issues, including inter-cat relationship issues with behavior modification.
  • Clean accidents with enzymatic cleaners. Those sold over the counter often do not work because it is an unregulated industry. Consult your veterinarian before picking a cleaning product.