Orange and white cat laying on a carpet next to an accident or pee stain, illustrating common litter box problems

How to Avoid Common Litter Box Problems

Cats can get fussy about their litter boxes. Things like the size of the litter to the location of the box in your house are important. You certainly don’t want your cat to develop any sort of elimination problems. This can mean occasionally eliminating in inappropriate places in the house (like your bed!) and excessive digging that can make a mess outside the box. Your cat can even start to completely avoid the litter box. Do you think she forgot where it is? No, she’s trying to tell you something.

You can keep kitty happy and avoid cat litter box problems by knowing a few basic tips. Let’s take a look at a few factors you need to know in order to avoid common cat litter box problems so you can rest assured that you are providing the best cat litter box experience for your furbaby.

According to the ASPCA “At least 10% of all cats develop elimination problems. Some stop using the box altogether. Some only use their boxes for urination or defecation but not for both. Still others eliminate both in and out of their boxes.”

Which Type and Size of Litter Box is Best for Your Cat

You will need more than one box if you have more than one cat. Have at least one litter box per cat plus an extra one in the house. It’s also recommended to have 2 boxes if you only have one cat. Here are some practical tips to help you select the perfect litter box…

 Size Matters

Informative chart showing how to choose the right size litter box based on cat body length to prevent litter box problems

Cats prefer larger boxes where they have sufficient space to move around and dig at the litter freely. The ideal litter box size should roughly be the length of your cat from the nose to the base of the tail. The width of the box should be the length of the cat without an extended tail. This provides ample space for your cat to move around and dig comfortably without stepping on clumps from previous visits.

  • The average litter box size is approximately 12”x16”.
  • The height of the box can be anywhere between 5” to 7” for a regular adult cat with no mobility issues.

Material Considerations

Tabby cat demonstrating the use of an appropriately sized, stainless steel litter box, helping avoid common litter box problems

Photo Credit: https://www.chewy.com/frisco-stainless-steel-cat-litter-box/dp/336159

Opt for stainless steel litter boxes for durability and odor resistance. While the initial cost of investing in a high-quality, stainless steel litter box may seem a tad steep compared to standard plastic options, it's essential to consider the long-term benefits. These durable alternatives are built to last a lifetime, eliminating the need for frequent replacements and ultimately saving you money in the long run. So, while the upfront investment may be higher, the lifetime value far outweighs the initial expense. Additionally, these options offer a bunch of health & safety benefits for your kitty.

  • Stainless steel is rust-free and doesn't absorb stains or odors, making it easy to clean and maintain. These litter boxes can withstand high volumes of cat traffic without cracking or becoming gross.
  • Stainless steel litter boxes do not trap odors like plastic alternatives. Their non-porous surface prevents the absorption of smells, ensuring a fresher environment for both you and your cat.
  • Stainless steel litter boxes eliminate the risk of your cat coming into contact with toxins from plastic, providing a safe and healthy environment.
  • Stainless steel litter boxes are more eco-friendly than plastic alternatives. They have a longer lifespan and are recyclable, reducing waste and environmental impact.
  • The production process of stainless steel is also less harmful to both people and the environment compared to plastics.

Type or Tray Design

There are a few types of litter boxes on the market today.

  • Regular Open Tray: A good size tray is usually the least expensive option and a good overall choice. Open trays allow your cat to keep an eye out for any potential dangers while using the litter box, making them feel safe and comfortable.
  • Hooded or Enclosed: Hooded litter boxes are not recommended because strong smells get trapped inside the box when can provoke breathing and health issues. Scented litters make the experience even worse for your cat. Your cat doesn’t appreciate floral scents as much as you do. They have very sensitive noses and may stop using the box altogether.
  • Self-Cleaning: One of the newest trends is the self-cleaning litter box. It’s great not to have to scoop out poop every day. But the success rate of these boxes is not high because some cats get startled by the noise that they make and consequently refuse to use them. Also, it’s a good idea to scoop every day in order to keep an eye on your cat's poop because this is where you can pick up any health issues. For these reasons, we recommend avoiding these types of litter boxes.

Where to Put the Litter Box in Your Home

Location Ideas

The best place for the litter box is in a quiet, secluded spot in your home where your cat can have some privacy while doing his or her business. While cats appreciate privacy, they also need easy access to their litter box. Choose a location that is easily accessible for your cat but out of sight from main living areas to maintain a tidy appearance in your home. Consider placing the litter box near a door or exit point, especially if your cat spends time outdoors. This allows your cat to quickly access the litter box when coming inside from outdoor adventures. If you have a multi-level home or multiple cats, consider placing litter boxes on each floor or in different areas of the house to ensure easy access for all cats and reduce competition or conflicts over litter box use.

  • Usually, spare bedrooms, low-traffic bathrooms, or offices work best.

Places to avoid

Just like knowing where to put the litter box, it's just as important to know where NOT to place the litter box. So, here are places to avoid putting the litter box.

  • Cats don’t like to feel cornered. Your cat needs to be able to see if anyone (or anything) is approaching. So putting the litter box in a corner with no possible way out is not a good idea.
  • Kitties need some space to do his or her business, so a closet a tiny room won’t usually work.
  • Avoid putting the cat litter box near their food and water bowls. Cats don’t like to poop where they eat.
  • Avoid putting the litter box in a high traffic area. Cats also need a little privacy!
  • Avoid placing the litter box near loud appliances or machinery. Cats prefer quiet, serene environments for their bathroom activities, so keep the litter box away from noisy washing machines, dryers, or HVAC units.
  • Steer clear of placing the litter box in damp or humid areas. Moisture can clump the litter, making it less effective at absorbing odors and creating an unpleasant environment for your cat. Avoid placing the litter box in bathrooms or basements prone to dampness.
  • Avoid placing the litter box near household cleaning supplies or strong-smelling chemicals. Cats have sensitive noses and may be deterred from using the litter box if it's surrounded by strong chemical odors. Keep the litter box away from areas where you store cleaning products or use air fresheners.
  • Avoid placing the litter box in direct sunlight or near heat sources. Excessive heat can make the litter box uncomfortable for your cat and accelerate odor development. Choose a location away from windows or radiators to maintain a comfortable temperature for your kitty.

Which Type of Litter to Use

There are many types of litters out there. The type you put in the litter box is quite important. Your cat will let you know pretty early on that she doesn’t like her litter texture or odor by refusing to use it. Here are a few suggestions to raise your success rate.

Low-scent or scent-free

It may seem tantalizing to get litter that has scent gels or some kind of odor control agent. Cats’ noses are extremely sensitive. Many cats are bothered by the strong smell and may refuse to use the scented litter. I’d suggest only lightly-scented (all-natural, of course) or scent-free litters. Remember, your cat’s nose has more than 200 million odor sensors in it, making it 14x stronger than yours! They can smell what you can’t. Keep this in mind when choosing a litter for them.

Plant-based or eco-friendly

Choosing a natural and eco-friendly litter is best to keep you and your cat healthy. Regular clay or silicone litters can be a health hazard to both your family and your cat. When clay litter gets wet, it forms a strong, hard clump (great for scooping the litter box; bad if ingested by kitties). As cats tend to groom themselves after using the litter box, they may inadvertently ingest some litter which could cause internal blockages that require an emergency run to the vet for your poor kitty. Additionally, the dust it produces when when poured, scooped, or dug in can be harmful to both cats and humans, leading to respiratory issues like bronchitis and even lung disease. Opting for alternative litters made of plants and organic materials that are biodegradable is a safer choice.

Common Cat Litter Box Problems

Here are a few common issues that cat carers encounter regarding litter boxes:

PROBLEM: The litter box is not cleaned regularly.

SOLUTION: Scoop every day (2x per day is even better) to keep kitty happy and returning to the box without having to walk over old poop.

PROBLEM: The litter box is too small/too big.

SOLUTION: Make sure to provide a large enough box for your cat to feel comfortable in. Get a tray with lower sides if your cat has mobility issues.

PROBLEM: The litter box is not accessible.

SOLUTION: Don’t hide the box where it’s difficult to get to. Your cat may simply not bother going to it.

PROBLEM: There’s too much litter in the box

SOLUTION: Cats don’t want to feel like they are sinking into the litter. Your cat may get scared if she gets the feeling of sinking in quicksand and may refuse to get into the box. Your kitty may just kick the excess litter out of the box to get the proper amount she likes.

PROBLEM: There’s not enough litter in the box

SOLUTION: On the other hand, your cat may not feel comfortable if there isn’t enough litter to cover up her business and decide to go somewhere else like your bedsheets. Typically a depth of 2”-3” of litter is a comfortable amount for your kitty to dig in and go.

PROBLEM: There are too many cats for the amount of cat litter boxes.

SOLUTION: Remember the rule of 1 box per cat plus an extra. Cats can get territorial if sharing boxes and one cat may intimidate the others making them avoid the litter box out of fear.

PROBLEM: The litter hurts your cats paw pads.

SOLUTION: Opt for a softer litter made of natural materials like soy, paper, or other plant-based alternatives. These options are gentler on your cat's delicate paw pads, reducing discomfort and potential injuries.

PROBLEM: The cat litter has a strong odor.

SOLUTION: Cats’ noses are extra sensitive and you should avoid strong perfumes and agents that mask smells.

PROBLEM: Medical issue

SOLUTION: Your cat may go outside of the box if she has a medical problem like a urinary tract infection, kidney stones, or feline interstitial cystitis. She may feel an urgency to urinate and can’t make it to the box. You need to see your vet if you observe your cat straining, peeing small amounts, or eliminating more frequently than usual.

PROBLEM: Stress

SOLUTION: Cats don’t like changes and something in their daily lives may provoke them to seek other places to do their business. Things like a house move, a new baby, even a new piece of furniture in the house may upset them. Observe your cat and put the litter box where she is going to eliminate if you can.

Tips for Successful Litter Box Maintenance

  • Keep the cat litter box clean by cleaning it 2x per day.
  • Provide enough litter boxes (1 box per cat + 1 extra).
  • Provide a large enough box.
  • Avoid litter boxes with hoods or self-cleaning mechanism.
  • Fill with no more than 2”-3” of litter.
  • Use only unscented, lightly (all-natural) scented, and natural litter.
  • Keep the litter box in a quiet, accessible area away from high-traffic zones and loud noises.
  • Don’t put the box near your cat’s food or water.
  • Don’t put the box near your cat’s bed.
  • If your home has multiple stories, place a litter box on each level.
  • Don’t use litter box liners. If you feel you absolutely need something, try using puppy training pads as an absorbent base layer.
  • When deep cleaning the litter box, opt for gentle, natural cleaners like vinegar, baking soda, lemon, and water to clean the litter box. Avoid strong chemicals that may irritate your cat's sensitive nose and skin.

Positive Litter Box Experience

Don’t scold your cat or shove her nose in her mess if she goes outside the box. Unless she has a major behavioral problem, there is usually a simple solution.

Following a few simple rules and having basic litter knowledge will help you to avoid any possible litter box problems. Providing a safe and comfortable litter box for your cat will have her happy and keeping her business inside the box and not anywhere else in the house.

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