Simple Principles for Litterboxes

Inconsistent litterbox use by cats is an extremely common problem and in our experience one that is usually – although not always – resolvable.  Because we had so many questions about these sorts of problems in our “Most Burning Question” box, we thought it would be helpful to once again describe 5 guidelines for creating a cat friendly litter box that most cats are likely to use.

Cats choose where to relieve themselves based on a combination of reasons that include surface and location preferences, convenience, and safety.  For example, your cat’s litterbox may be pristinely clean with the finest grained litter at just the right depth, but if your cat doesn’t feel safe getting to the box or using it, all your work will be for naught.

  • 1. Keep it clean.  When you go into a public restroom, don’t you avoid using a stall if the toilet hasn’t been flushed?  Enough said.
  • 2.  Keep it soft and shallow.  Repeated preference studies have revealed that cats prefer fine grained litter that feels soft under their paws.  AND you generally don’t see cats outside wading through piles of dirt, but merely seeking out a bit of loose soil they can scrape to cover their waste.  Hence, the shallow recommendation.
  • 3. Keep it simple.  Make the box easy to get to and easy to get in and out of.  Just because you prefer a cover to keep the litter in doesn’t mean your cat will.  Easy in, easy out –  make it a “walk up” box.
  • 4. Keep it convenient.  Don’t expect your cat – particularly if she is quite young or quite old – to navigate several flights of stairs or squeeze behind barriers to get to the box.  Provide several boxes so one is always within easy reach and to make sure there is always one unoccupied, unguarded box in a multi-cat family.
  • 5. Keep it safe.  If your cat is generally fearful, if there are conflicts between family pets, or if there is some other reason getting to the box is quite fear producing, your cat will instead choose an area that allows her to avoid her fear.  Determine what the fear is about – we’ve had cases in which cats would not enter rooms with ceiling fans – and either remove it, protect your cat from it, and/or help your cat overcome her fear.

Cats have a very strong inherent tendency to relieve themselves in loose, particulate matter.  If your cat is doing otherwise, it’s time to be a “behavioral detective” and determine why.  Always start with a good physical examination from your veterinarian.  If you think conflicts among your cats are contributing to a litterbox problem, contact us about scheduling a behavior consulting appointment.

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