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Litter Box Maintenance

As cat owners, we need to make sure that the litter boxes meet our cat's demands and, with some cats, this is not an easy task. Cats can be very fussy about their litter boxes and if anything fails to meet their standards, some cats may stop using them. Sometimes this can happen after years of using the same boxes and the reasons are not always clear to us.


If you bring home a cat for the first time, consider these guidelines when you set up the litter boxes. If you already have a cat that doesn't use the boxes regularly, the following points may help you find out what is wrong with the boxes and fix the situation.

Before we begin, please note that failure to properly use the litter boxes can have many causes. It could be, and often is, related to a medical problem, most commonly Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease. So, if your cat stops using the litter boxes, your first step must be a visit to the vet.


Remember that your cat is never to blame for litter box problems. Never punish a cat for not using the box! Don't shout at the cat and definitely don't smack her or rub her nose in the mess! These steps will never solve the problem and if anything, they are likely to make things much worse!


If your cat only urinates outside the boxes and at specific locations, you should also read the article about spraying behavior.

And now, let us discuss some of the features of the litter box.


Number of Boxes

The rule of thumb is one or two boxes per cat. Some cats like a separate box for each ‘function’ and will definitely require two. And in a multi-cat household you will probably need several boxes. Some cats don't mind sharing boxes, as long as they are cleaned often enough, but others may be more particular.

Read more here: How Many Litterboxes Should You Have?​


Type of Box

In the past the litter box used to be a simple plastic box with some variety of size and color. Today, litter boxes come in many shapes and sizes. Basically, there are three types of boxes available on the market:

  • The classic uncovered box - Most cats will do just fine with this type of box, as long as it's large enough and clean. However, you need to keep the litter extra clean to avoid unwanted odors in your home.
  • The covered box - this box provides the cat with extra privacy (although some cats prefer to have an open view while being in the box). Many owners prefer this box because it keeps odors inside and can be more aesthetic. If you opt for a covered box, remember that what you can't smell outside the box, your cat has to endure when she walks in. So, don't forget to keep the covered box just as clean!
  • The self-cleaning box - this kind of box seems to be a very good combination for both cat and owner. The cat benefits from a spotless box at all times and the owner enjoys an odorless litter box without having to do any manual scooping. These boxes are basically coverless, as they spread little or no odor at all, but hoods are available if your cat prefers privacy. The main drawback is cost - these boxes are much more expensive than regular boxes.


The choice of boxes depends on the preferences of the cat and owner. It's important to note that while many owners prefer the covered boxes, some cats refuse to use them. If your cat does not use her covered box properly, it's a good idea to take the top off, at least for a while.


Reead more about choosing a litterbox here: Choosing The Right Litterbox


Type of Litter

Today there are a variety of litter types. Most types are clay based, but you can also find silica based litter and natural litters made from wood, recycled paper, citrus peels, corn cobs and more.

Some litters, clay based, silica or natural, are of the clumping type. This means that the cat's urine does not seep through the grains to the bottom of the box, but rather creates a clump of litter that can be scooped out of the box along with the feces. Clumping litter has the advantage of keeping the box clean of urine between litter changes, as long as you make sure all clumps are scooped out on a regular basis.

So, which is best for your cat? That is something for your cat to decide. Generally speaking, it seems that most cats have a preference for clumping litter, perhaps because it is made of fine grains. Some cats develop a preference for a particular type of litter for their own reasons.

For most cats, litter preference becomes fixed at a relatively young age. That is why an abrupt change of litter can sometimes cause litter box avoidance. So, if you wish to try a new type of litter, make the change gradually - mix the old type with the new, increasing the amount of the new type with time.


Read more about choosing litter here: Choosing the Right Cat Litter



For some cats, this may be the most important aspect of the litter boxes. The boxes need to be located in a place that would provide the cat with privacy and a sense of security. At the same time, most cats like to have a good view of their surroundings when they are inside the box. To feel secure enough, they need to know that there is an unobstructed escape route from the litter box.

If you have only one box and suspect your cat may have a problem with its location, you may want to try adding another box. Place it in a different location - one that may be better suited to provide a sense of security - and see which box your cat prefers.


Read more about the location of the litterbox here: Litter Box Location Secrets




Cats are famous for their sense of hygiene and most have high standards for the litter box. You should scoop any visible waste from the litter boxes at least once a day. Some cats are so fastidious, they need their box to be cleaned after every use - in which case you may want to invest in an automatic self-cleaning box to help you maintain a state of perfect cleanliness.


Read more about cleaning the litterbox here: How Often Should I Clean the Litter Box?


Stability and Routine


Cats are creatures of habit and any change in their litter boxes may cause problems. Be careful when you need to change the type of box, the type of litter, location or any other feature associated with the boxes and make changes gradually.

Remember - litter box problems can have many causes, medical or behavioral. Getting the right box is a prerequisite, but it's not always enough. If your cat develops litter box problems, consult your vet and if necessary, ask him or her to refer you to a qualified cat behaviorist.



Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

Comments (7)

if i dont use arm n hammer clumping my cats wont use the box and i tried a covered box it failed i had to take the lid off my cats are picky
I have a Himalayan cat that was given to me. I was told it was a male; age uncertain. Now I have discovered the cat is female. So I have a female cat named "Winston". Winston is the most loving, calm and beautiful cat I have ever owned. However, I cannot get Winston to use the litterbox unless I happen to pick her up and sit her in it as just the right time. I keep two litterboxes; keep them clean and have tried putting them in various locations. I want to keep Winston but cannot continue with this problem. HELP.
My cats don't mind sharing... well except for one. He goes outside and does his business and then comes back in. It works well for us so far. :)
Interesting and thorough information covering all the basics I think. It's good to emphasize getting advice for problems. I had a female cat that would spray urine in her litter box and from the age for about 4 increasingly failed to poo in it. No matter what litter I used, box offered or giving her second tray the behaviour continued. It was so annoying, and tempting to punish her but I knew there must be some major reason in her head for her to start doing this. It took me years of seeking advice and information before a change in vet gave me accurate health information for one of my cats - turned out she had chronic bladder inflammation and not just the acute cystitis my previous vet had diagnosed. I then read an article about cats refusing to use litter if associated with pain. I discussed it with the vet and they agreed it was almost certainly down to the severe pain she had when urinating. I was just lucky she used it for the painful urine as that would have been much harder to clear up! I was so in awe of her once I learned how much pain she had to be in all the time, she was an incredibly loving and gentle soul.
Our situation for our 2 male cats when we moved to a new home 4 1/2 years ago was easily solved. Before we moved, we had one box (hooded) in our laundry room and one in the dining room that was rarely ever used. The laundry room in our new house was very small but the door leading out to the garage from the laundry room presented a great solution. My husband installed a kitty/dog door in the door leading into our garage and both boxes are in there. We only open the big garage door if I'm taking my car out. They've learned that when they hear the garage door opening,  they rush back inside.
I use Catsan cat litter, which is expensive in my opinion, but lasts longer than the cheap generic stuff, is waaaaaaaay lighter on my back and much easier to empty out and clean from the tray (only downfall is it comes out on their paws and gets everrrrrrrywhere, I have a dustbuster handy for such occasions, lol).  I remove any poo from the box at the time it's dropped off there, and on cleaning day I scrub the boxes out once a week with dish soap (I was told a dot of dish soap is the safest, never to use detergent or bleach as the smell can make the cat reluctant to go inside).   I also use a high powered hose gun on the bottom part of the tray in the garden to really get all the grain and dirt out of it.
I don't bother with liners, I did try liners to try and preserve the bottom of the tray and make it easier to clean but Sabbath just started tearing the liners out like it was a game (either that or he didn't like it).   I have two cat litter trays (one for each cat) but for some reason they seem to prefer the one that's in my room.  Yes, I have a litter box in my bedroom, and nope, there isn't any smell.
I've never had any probs so far with cats going anywhere else in the house except a litter box and the only smell is the immediate poo smell (which gets removed pronto, lol).
My cat particularly likes the Blue Buffalo Quick Clumping Cat Litter. Never switching to anything else.
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