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Litter box etiquette: What your cat wants you to know

Approx. 5 minutes read

Cat care 101 comprises the basics of care for your new adopted cat: a bed, blankets, a scratching post, some toys, cat food and treats (along with fresh water), a collar and bell, and… dun-dun-duuuuun…. the litter box. But not just any litter box and not just any litter and not positioned just anywhere in the house. Yes, cats are fussy, finicky creatures that are hard to please, but we love them anyway. And this is what they want you to know about litter box etiquette.

1. What kind of litter box do cats prefer?

Before we moved in with humans, the world was our litter box! So we like a large, flat space in which to pee and poop. This means we can choose the best spot and be comfortable while squatting in the most dignified manner, while still looking out for predators and other surprises. Put a big cat in a small litter box and watch the chaos unfurl. So yes, size matters, as does comfort.

Quite honestly, most of us don’t like a covered toilet – just like you humans don’t enjoy a small, unventilated porta-potty. So before you go out and choose a sophisticated covered cat toilet to match your fancy décor, rather test the concept with us first (put the litter tray in a large box with a hole cut in the side) to see if it gels. Despite what you may think, we cats are fairly simple in our request: a large, flat, uncovered toilet is just fine. Au naturel, like.

2. How many litter boxes do cats need?

The rule of paw in this regard is to have a litter box per number of cats you have… plus one. So if there’s just one of us living with you, have two litter boxes available. Three cats = four litter boxes. Similarly, if you have an upstairs and a downstairs, have a litter box on each storey, especially if your cat friend is getting old and has pain in the joints.

3. Where should a cat litter box be placed?

Okay, granted, this is where we get a bit fussy. We don’t want to ‘go’ in public, but we also don’t want to be away from the action. Don’t put the litter box in an obscure dark corner in the laundry room… it’s a little too private, but it’s noisy and scary if the washing machine is on. We want to see while we pee – in case there’s a threat that we need to escape from pronto.

In short, put the litter box in a spot that’s clean, quiet and adequately lit. Putting it in your bathroom is both a good and a bad idea, because it’s easy to clean up, but what if you’re busy in there and we need to go? Rather pick a spot that will always be available to us.

Also, don’t put our litter box close to our bed or food bowls. You don’t sleep in your bathtub and eat breakfast next to the toilet, so don’t expect us to do that.

4. Which cat litter is best for cats?

We know there are many different types of cat litter on the market because you’ve tried many of them on us. Sorry in advance if we’re picky about this too. We know you like the cat litter that absorbs all the moisture and smells, and even that stinky stuff that masks our poopy scents, but remember it’s OUR preference that determines whether we use the litter tray or not. We like fine-grained litter that’s dust-free and easy to dig around in.

We prefer unscented litter because nature doesn’t make lavender-scented soil (and our noses are really sensitive). We’ll let you in on a secret, though: a thin layer of bicarb at the bottom of the litter box will absorb our delightful aromas until such time as the litter is changed.

Another rule of paw: whichever type of litter we prefer, stick with it. Please don’t change it up. We’re fussy enough as it is, so when you find something we like, keep on pouring that in our litter box. And no deeper than 5cm, please: we’re not archaeologists. 

5. How often should you scoop a litter box?

We see you flushing your toilet after each time you go, so please afford us the courtesy of the daily scoop. We like a clean litter box as much as you like a clean toilet. Scoop at least once a day if we’re indoor/outdoor cats, but preferably twice a day if we’re the luxuriating indoor-only type of feline.

Empty our old litter entirely and clean the litter box with warm water and mild soap at least once a week. Please and thank you.

6. What to do if your cat refuses to use the litter box?

  • Yes, we’re fussy, but only to a point. If you’ve put out a large, flat litter box in an appropriate place, with a shallow amount of our favourite litter, but we’re refusing to go in it and are depositing our presents anywhere else in your home, maybe it’s time to call the vet. Kidney problems and other illnesses can render us litter-box-challenged, in which case we’ll need professional help.
  • If we have cat siblings who are territorial and nasty (especially when you’re not looking), they may try to ambush us while we’re using the litter box, in which case we’ll shy away from it. Be aware of our cat politics and position our respective litter boxes in a way that can mitigate our bickering.
  • Maybe we don’t like the position of the litter box.
  • Maybe we don’t like the litter box itself (maybe we’re the fussy type that actually likes a closed litter box instead of an open one, or vice versa. We might even be fussy enough to want to go in a partially closed litter box…). And maybe we don’t like the litter. Sorry, but a little trial-and-error could go a long way.
  • Maybe we want the litter box cleaned a little more often. Please help us out here.
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