The most common cat behavior problem reported to pet behaviorists is cats not using their litter boxes consistently. To prevent this common but very serious problem, it’s good to review from time to time what makes a good cat litter box. Use this check sheet to evaluate your cat’s litter box(es) to see if you are meeting all your cat’s needs.
- Do you clean out your box often enough? This is the biggest reason cats find other places to do their business. Feces and litter clumps should be removed from the box at least once a day. All litter should be removed, the box cleaned with a mild dish soap and water at least every two weeks, and fresh litter put in the box. Cats can be very finicky about the cleanliness of their boxes. The cleaner you keep it, the better they like it.
- Do you have enough litter boxes? You need at least as many litter box as you have cats and some experts believe cats plus one is the right number. One cat – two boxes, 5 cats – 6 boxes. Cats need the opportunity to find a reasonably clean box at all time. Spread out the boxes around the house, particularly if you have a multi-level house. Don’t make your cat climb three flights of stairs to get to the litter box. Older cats or small kittens find this particularly difficult.
- Do you have the right litter for your cat? Most cats prefer a very fine-grained scoop-able litter. But some cats may prefer a different kind of litter. If your cat doesn’t scratch in her litter box at all, or very little, she may not like her litter. Do an experiment to see. Provide her regular litter in one box and a different kind of litter in a second box for two weeks, and see which she uses more. Try the experiment with two or three different litters to see if she has a strong preference for one over the others.
- Do you have the right litter box for your cat? Your cat needs a box that is big enough to easily turn around in. Big cat? Get a bigger box. Think outside the box for what might work. If you can’t find an oversized litterbox, an under-bed type storage box with low sides can work very well for a larger cat.
- Does your box have a cover? Most cats don’t like a cover on their boxes, particularly if it restricts their movement in the box. A covered box also makes it easier for another family cat to ambush another when she exits the litterbox. A few cats actually like the cover. Experiment with the cover on or off on one box while leaving a second box as it has been to see what your cat prefers.
- Location, location, location – Is the box in an easily accessible area, but one that affords a little privacy? The middle of the living room may not be private enough, but the farthest, darkest part of the basement may be too difficult to get to. Make it easy for your cat to find a box no matter where she is in the house.
The key to keeping your cat happy with her litter box is to provide her with what she needs. The best way to find out what she needs is to monitor the box and her behavior around it. And finally, at the first signs of trouble (occasionally “missing” the box, going elsewhere to eliminate), contact your veterinarian. Don’t wait till the non-use of the box becomes consistent and more difficult to change.