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What Not To Down Size When You Down Size


In our later years, many of us begin simplifying our lives; getting rid of things we don’t use or need any more and scaling back our possessions including smaller houses, smaller cars, maybe even smaller pets.  Downsizing can make things easier for us in many ways, but there are certain items that it is better not to reduce in size. One of those, new research tells us, is your cat’s litter box. There is a temptation to go to a smaller litter box when we move to a smaller home, but don’t do it!

In a recently published study, family indoor-only cats were given a choice to use either a litter box that was just a little above the average size (22 in X15 in) or one that was about twice the average size (34 in X 15 in). Over a 28 day test period, the cats used the larger box much more frequently than the smaller box, demonstrating a strong preference for the larger one.  Based on our clinical experience with cats who have problems not using the litter box, we have long suspected that bigger was better.  For some cats that are not using the box, providing a larger box can get them to start using it again.

So what does this new research mean for you as a cat owner?  First, don’t down-size the box.  Going smaller could cause your cat to start relieving herself in places other than the litter box.  While the research didn’t specifically address the reason cats like larger boxes, we all know that cats go through a behavioral ritual prior to relieving themselves.  Most will turn around several times, scratch, and sniff the litter.  If the box is too small to accommodate these movements, or make it difficult for your cat to get into the elimination posture, she may decide she’d rather go where she doesn’t feel restricted.

Second, consider doing your own research.  Provide a box larger than the one you have now and set it up in the same area as your regular box. Keep your regular box. Use the same litter and cleaning schedule, and leave both out for a month. Count the number of soiled litter clumps you remove every day.  If you see no difference in use between the boxes, or more use of the regular box, then keep the regular box and get rid of the large one.  If your cat uses the larger one more often, then consider keeping the larger one and getting rid of the smaller one. Doing so may prevent a litter box problem from developing!

If you choose to try a bigger box, be aware commercially manufactured litter boxes aren’t made in the sizes of the ones in the study.  Instead, the researchers used under-the-bed plastic storage boxes. Look for those in stores that sell housewares or containers of all types.

Also, when you do your preference test, swap the locations of your regular and super-sized boxes after two weeks.  The researchers found that some cats had a strong preference for the location of the litter box that overwhelmed the size preference. In other words, they used whatever box was in their preferred location.  Swapping the locations of the boxes can reveal that pattern to you, if it exists.

Finally, to prevent future problems, scoop out the box at least daily because we know cats love clean boxes.  And use a fine-grained kitty litter as previous research has revealed that’s what most cats prefer.

Discovering what your cat’s preferences are for litterbox size and location can help you meet her needs, which will keep her - and you - happy and prevent problems.

The content of this article and the opinions expressed are solely those of Animal Behavior Associates, Inc and/or the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of AARP or any of its affiliates.

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