For new cat owners, the litter box might seem like a true mystery. Luckily, it’s a very simple toileting system and doesn’t require much training – cats are naturally inclined to use their litter box. That said, they can also be picky about the type of box and litter you provide for them.
Here’s what you need to know about choosing the best litter box, how to litter train a cat, and how to change cat litter.
Choosing the Best Litter Box
Choosing a litter box might seem like a simple task, but cats can be very picky about their bathroom digs. Choosing the proper litter box for your cat will be part of luck – you can’t predict your pet’s preferences. Your cat will also have an opinion about the type of cat litter you use, so it might take some trial and error to find the perfect combo. Here’s what you need to consider when choosing the best litter box:
- Covered or uncovered
Once you’ve chosen the right litter box for you and Fluffy, you’ll need to decide where to position it in the house and what kind of cat litter to use, too.
What Size Litter Box Does Your Cat Need?
The size will be one of the most distinctive factors when choosing the best litter box for your kitty. If the box is too small or too big for your cat, litter box training will be harder.
Your cat needs to be able to get into the litter box and have room to move around and dig. You also want it to be big enough that they can avoid earlier bathroom deposits, so you don’t need to clean it every time they use it. If your cat can’t avoid the mess they made earlier, they aren’t going to use the litter box a second time.
A common rule is that the litter box should be big enough to have a length and width equal to your cat’s length from their nose to the end of their tail.
How High Should the Sides of the Litter Box Be?
You’ll need to consider the height of the box sides when choosing your cat’s bathroom environment, too. Most cats do fine with a box that’s about 6 or 7 inches deep. This provides enough room for a few inches of cat litter, and most cats won’t expel too much litter while they dig. If you have a cat who is an especially vigorous kicker or sprayer (male cats, especially, tend to stand upright rather than squat), you might need a deeper box with higher sides.
Remember that, unless your box has a special entryway (flap, top entry, etc.), your cat needs to be able to easily crawl over the sides of the box to access their bathroom. If you have a cat with mobility problems, such as a senior kitty, you might need a box with lower sides or a special entryway.
Choosing Between a Covered or Uncovered Litter Box
Many people choose a covered litter box because it traps in smells and litter messes more effectively and it’s also less of an eyesore, but some cats will not like an enclosed litter box, especially if the box isn’t big enough for them.
If you start with an enclosed box and then discover your cat doesn’t like it, you can always remove the lid and give it a try without the enclosure. Almost all covered litter boxes have removable lids for easy cleaning, so they can double as uncovered boxes.
How Your Cat Accesses the Litter Box
The entry into the litter box will matter to your cat. If you need a high-sided litter box for a particularly kicky feline, you’ll need to make sure the entryway is short enough to allow them to access it easily. Some enclosed litter boxes even provide top entry, which some cats prefer.
As cats age, they’ll likely develop mobility issues that will require a litter box with an easier entry – some older cats even require a low-entry litter box they can step directly into towards the end of their lifespan. Likewise, if your cat has to have a procedure of some kind that temporarily limits their mobility, it might make their current litter box hard to use. Keep an eye on your cat as they use the bathroom to make sure they aren’t having problems with getting into their box. If they are, it might be time for a change.
Where to Put the Litter Box
The best place for the litter box will be away from your cat’s eating and drinking space, and it will also offer some privacy. The litter box should also be located far away from noisy appliances (like washers and dryers) or things that produce heat, such as a loud air-conditioning unit or a water heater. Many cat owners advise having a litter box for each level of your house. It’s also generally recommended to have one more box than the number of cats you have in the house.
For your sake, choose an area of your house that’s easy to clean – getting cat litter out of carpet is no fun. Bathrooms and kitchen areas or pantries often make great places for the litter box. Just make sure a door isn’t going to close and block your cat’s access to the box.
Helpful tip: If you live in a small space and have a small linen or storage closet, try this tip! Remove the closet door, put up a rod and curtain, and place the litter box on the closet floor. The curtain allows your cat privacy and you’ll both have easy access to the box.
What Kind of Cat Litter Should I Use?
You might be surprised to discover the many different types of cat litter available on the market. There are clumping litters, biodegradable cat litter, clay litter, and more.
Clumping litters are the most popular because they clump together around your cat’s feces and urine, which reduces odor and makes scooping easier. Plus, cats often like them because clumping litters tend to be fine-grained and soft. Avoid scented litters, which most cats find off-putting. Once you find a litter your cat is willing to use, don’t change it unless necessary. Cats can be disturbed by sudden changes in their toileting environment and this could stress them out or even derail their litter training.
How to Litter Train a Cat
Cats have an instinct to bury their waste, which is why litter boxes are such a popular and effective toileting system. There isn’t much science for how to litter box train a cat – it’s mostly a matter of finding a box and a type of litter your cat is willing to use. Here are the simple steps for litter box training:
- Start when the cat is young
- Leave some bathroom deposits in the box while training
- Place your cat in the box after long naps, play, or eating
- If they’re resistant, try positioning the box in a new place or changing the litter
Start Litter Box Training ASAP
You should ideally have the litter box set up as soon as you bring your kitten or cat home so you can start immediately. It’s never too early to start little box training for a cat or kitten. If you’re wondering how to litter train an older cat, the steps will be the same, it might just take more time.
Set Up the Litter Box Correctly
Your cat’s box should have about 2-4 inches of cat litter in it, depending on the type of litter you use. Some cats will prefer to be able to find the bottom of their box, so less litter is ideal. Clumping litters usually need to be 3-4 inches deep so that they can make clumping magic happen, while non-clumping litters only need to be 2-3 inches deep.
Don’t Clean Completely While Litter Box Training
Leave a little bit of urine or feces in the litter box while you’re training your cat to use it. The smell will indicate to the cat that this is where they should go.
Put Your Cat in the Litter Box Regularly
As soon as you bring your new cat or kitten home, show them where the litter box is located. Once they are calm and used to the space and are okay with being handled, simply set them in the litter box once. Even though they will most likely just step out, from time to time, move your cat back into the litter box whenever you think they might need to use the bathroom. This could be after a nap, after playtime, or after a meal. By allowing your cat to use the litter box when you think they might need to go, they will develop the habit quickly.
Try New Placement and Litters
If your cat is resistant to using the litter box, it could be that they don’t like the position of the box, the type of box you’ve chosen, or the type of litter you’re using. Change these factors out one at a time to see if your cat becomes more willing to use the box.
If you’re wondering how to litter train an outdoor cat you’ve brought inside, you might want to put some rocks or even a little soil in their litter box at first to make them more comfortable. Every cat is different and will have unique litter box preferences, so this process takes some trial and error.
How to Change Cat Litter
Once your cat has adjusted to using the litter box, you’ll need to maintain its cleanliness. A cat won’t use a dirty litter box, so it’s important that you clean it daily and also deep-clean it with some regularity. Here are our tips for how to change cat litter.
Daily Cleaning Is Important
Most cats will want their litter box cleaned daily. This is a simple task, where you just use a slotted scoop (often sold with the litter box) to remove the clumps where they have used the bathroom. Plus, consistently cleaning the litter box will reduce odors and keep things nice and tidy in your home.
Litter Clumps Go in the Trash – Not the Toilet!
Most people remove the litter box clumps and put them in a plastic bag which then goes into their outdoor trash. Never try to flush away the litter box waste. While your plumbing can handle your kitty’s waste, it can’t handle the litter. Always throw away cat litter. You might even consider a dedicated cat litter disposal system, especially if you have more than one cat in the house.
When to Add Fresh Litter
Once your cat’s litter starts getting down to 2 inches deep, it’s time to add fresh litter. This usually needs to happen once a week or so. Clay litter will have to be replaced more often – about twice a week. How often you change out the litter completely will depend on your cat’s habits and the litter box setup.
Monthly Deep Cleaning
Your cat’s litter box will also need to be emptied and deep-cleaned once a month. To do this, empty all of the litter into the trash and wash the basin with mild soap and water. Do not use ammonia or other harsh cleaning products like bleach, as your cat will likely be offended by the smells and they can also make your cat ill. Once it’s spotless and completely dry, refill the box with fresh litter.
Bonus Tip: Line the Box with Baking Soda
While you shouldn’t use scented litter or air fresheners since they might confuse your cat (or even worse, make them ill), many cat owners have had success with lining the bottom of the litter box with a dusting of baking soda. Baking soda is a natural odor absorbent and might help reduce litter box smells.
Contact Your Veterinarian if Your Cat’s Bathroom Habits Change
Once you’ve found the best litter box for your cat, dealt with litter box training, and learned how to change cat litter, your cat shouldn’t have any trouble consistently and properly using their litter box. If their habits change suddenly, however (especially when you haven’t changed their box location, litter, or environment), it can sometimes be a sign of an illness or another more serious issue. Contact your veterinarian if your litter box-trained cat starts showing hesitation or discomfort with their box.