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The Lowdown on the Litterbox

Written by Ashley Palmer | May 24, 2011

Cats make great companions for many reasons, one of which is that they come with their own pre-trained method for waste disposal. Simply show new cats the litterbox, and generally, they’ll be good to go. Felines are naturally (and understandably) very picky about their hygiene, so here are three litterbox “do’s and don’ts” to help you keep your kitties happy:

1. Give your kitty some privacy!
Most cats like to do their business alone, so be sure to put your cat’s litterbox in a “low traffic” area of your home. This area should be clean and quiet and make your cats feel “safe” in order to avoid accidents. Also, there should be one litterbox per cat in each household.

2. Scoop, clean, and replace often.
Cats are very clean animals, and they don’t like using a dirty litterbox. Would you? Ideally, one should scoop the litter pan twice a day. Be sure to replace all the litter in the box weekly and also scrub the empty box with a mild soap. Replace litterboxes once a year, as plastic can retain odors.

3. Before you scold your cat for going outside the litterbox …
Ask yourself if this is the result of something else. Is the litterbox clean? Have you recently changed your brand of litter? Or could your cat be sick and trying to tell you something? Consult your veterinarian for advice immediately if your cat has diarrhea or is having “accidents” outside the litterbox.

Remember that not every litterbox—and not every litter—will work for every cat. As I’m sure you know, cats are individuals who have their own tastes, preferences, and personalities. Of course, this is what makes them so wonderful, but at times, their stubbornness can be both adorable and annoying at the same time! How do they do that?!

Above all, be patient with your cats. They depend on you, and while you may be busy or have other places to be or people to see, they have only you. Give them the love and care that they not only need but also deserve.

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  • Barb says:

    I’ve seen youtube videos and articles that prove it is possible to train a cat to use a toilet. I’ve just started the process of toilet training my two cats (the first step is to move the litter box next to the toilet, if it wasn’t already there, and then gradually raise the litter box up to toilet height over a few days. Then you find a metal bowl that fits into your toilet and put litter in there. Then you put less and less litter in the bowl, and then put more and more water in the bowl. Then take away the bowl…voila.) Obviously I will quit this training attempt if my cats demonstrate that they don’t like the change, but I’m hopeful that toilet training will work so that they will have a clean place to go potty every single time, and also to alleviate the environmental impact of the litter. (I love my cats so much that I don’t mind cleaning up after them, honest!)

    Has anyone else tried toilet training their cat?

  • pussycatfriends says:

    Keep up the good work defending animals.

  • Scattycat says:

    this sounds weird but was a good tip on litter. If you live near a funeral home that makes its own coffins see if you can grab hold of the leftovers from them after they have used the plane on them in the final smoothing of the wood.they throw it out anyway but hey if you can get it its free light to carry and my cat loves it.

  • Keith says:

    The lowdown on the litterbox haha, purrfect 🙂

  • katie says:

    I use Swheat littler, it’s made from wheat and it’s flushable! I’ve tried other non clay and they were all very dusty and got everywhere this doesn’t, it’s great!

  • Beth H says:

    If you have any hydrangeas in your yard, put the cat urine clumps at the base so it seeps on the roots, and next year you will have beautiful ink blue blooms.

  • lori says:


  • Consuelo says:

    I have found the cheapest and best cat box litter.I use wood pellets for wood pellet stoves. there is no urine smell and what were once pellets turn to sawdust. I pay about $4 for about 40lbs. once you clean the feces out of the box you can dump the sawdust in your yard but not around fruits and vegetables. so my cats love it and so do I esp. because there is no odor.give it try. I get my pellets at home depot and/or that expensive stuff on the market that is similar is ok if you have money. try it you will be amazed and so will your cats and family.

  • dawn says:

    i now use The Breeze system by Tidycat. it consists of a sieve type pan in which you pour a bag of pellets. (fashioned out of wood somehow). you use a pee pad in a tray beneath the pellets. the urine flows through the pellets into the pad. the solids stay and get covered up. then you just scoop. no litter dust, no tracking-a few pellets around but easiy picked up. i love this system! if you decide to look into this. go to the tidycat/breeze website, there might be coupons for the pans.

  • Rachel says:

    Good article! However, the needs of the cat should always determine the location of the litter box, size of the box, and type of litter used. I tried Feline Pine, and my male cat ended up with a urinary block because he was so unhappy with it. I switched them back to the clay litter which all three of my cats prefer. Every cat wants a clean, private litter box, but different cats have different wants and needs when it comes to where they do their business.

  • Angelabb55 says:

    If you haven’t tried “The World’s Best Cat Litter” you must. I was skeptical because of the price, but that is the best thing out there. I’ll have my weak moment and try another natural litter, but always end up going back to this stuff. It’s fab and I have 4 kitties that would agree with that!

  • Meg says:

    I wanted to stop using clumping clay shortly after I adopter a shelter field stray. Obviously she had spent a good part of her life very hungry, because when I tried her on corn litter, she ate it! Now my cats are on Litter Pearls and they are very happy with it. (I transitioned them gradually.)

    I clean their box any time I see solids in it; I think twice a day is not frequent enough. =^..^=

  • Summer says:

    Beware clumping clay litter. Google it. It has been implicated in the deaths of cats especially kittens as they inhale it and it clumps inside them clogging up their intestines and killing them. Our vegan cats use recycled newspaper pellet litter. Works fine and it’s safe.

  • sheezgodit says:

    The best kitty litter is feline Pine. Some cats do not like bentonite clay and silica products and are allergic to it not to mention the perfumes they use to camouflage the smell of urine and feces. The feline Pine I like to use is the clumping kind that is
    natural pine like sawdust that does not have the clay powder that kitties have so inhale and ir is naturally a nice smell of fresh pine. The litter leaves no odor and it is biodegradable and can be recycled or flushed in the toilet. it is safer, healtier and naturally disinfects and eliminates odors. besides, your pets will love it and is light weight and inexpensive. Lokk it up on the website. it is:

  • Jill says:

    Does your cat have a kidney infection?
    Does your cat have a kidney stone?
    Is your cat constipated and just can’t tell you?
    Does your cat have the very common UTI and you’re leaving all of these and the above possibilities untreated????

  • Ashley-P says:

    Hey Rachel – I assure you that my cat Bo (pictured here), is happy with his “tiny” litterbox. He actually prefers to use one that is even smaller (we have multipe boxes, bc I have 2 cats)! Like I said, not every cat is the same, and what works my cat may be different for other cats. 🙂

  • photogirl says:

    @mnbam23 I have known many cats who were afraid of self-cleaning littler boxes. The sound they make was frightening to them and the cats started going next to the box instead of in it. Where does your cat have accidents and do you have only one pet? Having your cat spade or neutered can also help especially if you have a male cat.

  • crazy cat lady says:

    for mnbam23: how far away from the box? Some cats think because their feet are in the box that they go in the box and that’s not always the case. Get one of those boxes with tall sides but leave the lid off – it looks like a storage tote. There’s no way if your cat is in the box it can go outside of it. It may go down the side of the box but it’ll be inside. Cats generally don’t care for covered litterboxes and the urine can still seep through the opening between the bottom and the top. Make sure the litter is deep too. If your cat is declawed it may hurt to dig. If so, try The World’s Best Cat Litter as it is very lightweight. (never declaw!) If your cat is a messy coverer he may actually be throwing his #2 out of the box. Don’t use scented litter – yuk to cats. Lastly get the smell of urine and feces out of everywhere else in your home. Enzyme cleaners do the trick but it does take time. A black light will show where it is. That can confuse a cat to thinking that’s an okay place to go. Provide more than just 1 litterbox – same location is okay. See which your cat gravitates to. Even if it is just temporary to have all these boxes every which place. It’s better than cleaning it up off the floor. Good Luck!

  • Karalynn says:

    I love #3 and I think every pet owner should hear it! My dad got frustrated that my kitties went on other things but all it took was cleaning the litter boxes an extra time each day… a small price to pay!

  • Mina Jade says:

    Great advices! However, I did know these tricks already. I use sand as cat litter (I buy it in a store for building materials), and change it in the morning and in the evening. My three cats (each have one litter box) do love it.

  • Kitcatsmom says:

    @mnbam23: If your cat’s accidents are happening in the same place then you need to find an enzyme removal cleanser. After cleaning the spot, if your not scooping at LEAST once a day, the cat may indeed begin to look for cleaner pastures to use. I have a friend that scoops once every other day but her cat is cool with it; mine won’t tolerate it. Lastly, don’t forget to dump all the old, soiled, used litter once a month. Scooped or not there is a lot of unscooped waste in there. Also, self cleaning litter boxes can be intimidating to some cats; are her accidents daily? Lastly; do not move a cats litter box after they’ve gotten comfortable. That’s all the stuff I learned from my cat. Good luck!

  • monica says:

    Sometimes it does not depend on the box it may just be the litter you are using. spending a little bit extra goes the distance in making your cat happy when using the potty. I recommend using Fresh Step brand.

  • nadia says:

    Make going to the bathroom FUN for your cats. I trained one of my girls to use the human toilet by always giving positive feedback: a treat after each use! Never any negativity, although she never made a mistake. My other girl, on the other hand, refused the toilet. She tried for a while, but just preferred the floor. Same with her: always just giving positive reinforcement and ignoring the mistakes, I at least got her back to using a litter box, rather than the floor. Now, she prefers no litter: just an empty box, guess it feels like the floor??? I still give them both a treat after each use. They now announce before and after each time they have to `go`. Very cute!! Good luck and patience!!

  • Christy says:

    Mnbam23: our cat had the same problem for months after we got her. The problem was finally solved for good when we found a litter called Cat Attract. It is the only litter she likes, but fortunately it works.

  • Carol says:

    I agree with mnbam23, i have two kitties, one of which is fine with the litter box, the other i got about 4 months ago, will pee in the little but wont poo in the litter, and if i dont get to his poo before he needs to pee then he might wee on the floor too…… what should i do…. help!!!!! I have tried two seperate trays but my other cat just goes in both and the new kitty still goes on the floor. 🙁

  • cindy says:

    i mean… even though your cat isn’t showing any outward signs, there may be a sensitivity/allergy somewhere in the body to the clay litter (even the ones that say 99% dust free are not dust free– if you notice yourself inhaling the dust, it is much more potent to them! they have smaller lungs and a keener sense of smell). Try a different style altogether.

  • cindy says:

    mnbam, try a dust free litter. My cat would not stop sneezing when i brought her home from the shelter. I decided to make everything in the house as hypo-allergenic as possible and started using a litter called Yesterday’s News. It is recylced newpaper made into pellets. She stopped sneezing and now all three cats love it. Your cat may just be sensitive to the smell. Since they do dig and it kicks up whatever is in there. I also like Kitty’s Crumble. It’s kind of like mulch. The cats really like it too… it’s like going outside. Only downside to the Crumble was that you can smell the ammonia after a few days and i ended up changing the litter more often than i wanted to.
    I also have one long haired guy who would get dust all over him, now he’s cleaner. He also likes to poop with his butt higher than others, so he would go over board if i didn’t have a box with high sides. But even when he accidentally went overboard, he would realize his mistake and shovel litter overboard too to cover it up. What a good boy 😉

  • ml says:

    check if your litter box is in a corner or has one side next to a wall or has things around…when peeing they do stand with their front paws on the edge of the box so they have half of their body outside…sometimes when the box is sorrounded by stuff they find it really uncomfortable to find a position to pee and they end up peeing outside the box…

  • charlene says:

    mnbam23: if you catch her going outside the box, pick her up (even if she’s still going) and put her in the litterbox. You could also try using the repellent for floors everywhere except in the box. It may take her a bit to “get used to the idea,” but she’ll eventually get it. Have patience and good luck!

    As far as the difference in litters, clay based litter has been proven to have a direct link to cancer and respiratory problems in pets and owners (think about how much dust you breathe in when cleaning the box). The corn and wheat litters are good, but I’ve had best results (working with cats in a shelter and at home) with both yesterday’s news (recycled newspaper pellets) and Feline Pine Pellets (basically untreated sawdust that is safe if flushed!). Both are cheap, last longer than clay based, smell better, and much easier to clean.

  • DX says:

    I wish this was a ‘only’ cat world ^^

  • DX says:

    I wish this was a ‘only’ cat world ^^

  • Carol says:

    The accidents outside the litterbox usually signal problems with bladder or kidneys. If the kitty feels pain, it will look for a “painfree” place to pee. One of the vets suggested that my kitty was just evil and did it on purpose, later it turned out that she had serious problems with baldder and simply felt pain, that’s why she peed on the cushions and quilts. There are no evil kittys!! Strange peeing habits indicate illnesses.

  • kbecker218 says:

    For some of you that you cat may be having accident’s check the size of the litter box I had to get a bigger box you can get a really big little box from pinch a penny pools if you live in the st Pete Florida area .

  • rachel says:

    this photo is terrible – that box is WAY too small. most boxes available are too small for large or multiple cats – i use a large storage container and it gives them enough room to be comfortable. it also contains messes because everything stays in the box.

  • Kim says:

    I bought some nice litter boxes that look like domes, they have little steps, and then the area for the litter. They cost me about 35-40 dollars and the cats have lots of privacy and make very little mess. All three of them seem to enjoy these litter boxes. The only time I have problems with accidents is when I forget to clean the box, and even then they go right next to the box to let me know it needs to be cleaned.

  • Becky says:

    To mnbam23 – If you have ruled out medical problems like a UTI then it is behavioral. Sometimes things can through off your cat like cats hanging around outside or something new in the house (like new people or baby or animals, new furniture, anything that could have been moved, etc.) Try to figure out what could be different. I have found that soaking Nature’s Miracle into the rug is a great cleaning tool. I also recommend the book Twisted Whiskers which covers a lot of cat behavior problems.

  • yasmine says:

    one of mine also insists on doing his business beside the litter box,i’v tried everything with him,used several kinds of litter,changed the box but no result.any advices?

  • diane says:

    Anyone have any suggestions for getting rid of the ammonia in a carpet that was under the Litterbox, without replacing the carpet of course…

  • Scott M Sykes says:

    I would also add to that article in saying that insure that the size of the litter box be “accommodating” to the size and number of cats that you have. I realized that my orange tabby Oliver had great difficulty with the 18 x 14 box and went to a 23 x 26 for his particular need to dig his “cat holes” prior to doing his business.

  • kirstie says:

    I have two cats, one I rescued from a disgusting filth hole of a house where he was being neglected. The litter tray was literally over flowing and there was faeces ALL over the house. Ten years later and he still refuses to use a litter tray. He is allowed outside so this is not too bad, but he recently had to have an operation and I needed to keep him inside for a few days. He didnt go for four day and eventually used the TV cables / wires to empty himself on. I have tried different kinds of litter – even putting mud and earth in it! Does anyone have any advice what I can do? He will not set foot in a litter tray – the only time he has ever scratched me was when I tried to lift him in to one!

  • Ashley-P says:

    If your cat frequently “misses” the litterbox, you should try finding a deeper box. Some cats like to dig really deep, and others like to scoot up right next to the wall. If the wall isn’t very high, kitty can miss and make a mess on your floor.

  • Patricia Brown says:

    Very good advice. I suggest using enviromentally friendly
    and also healthier for humans and pets, the corn or wheat derived litter. I have used both & they are cleaner, cheaper (in long run) and produce less dust and tracking. They are made from waste from the processing of corn & wheat.

  • mnbam23 says:

    These are great tips! I do have one question though…my cat continuously has “accidents” outside the litter box. We’ve tried everything! We’ve tried different litter box styles (with lid and without) and also different litter and locations in the house. But it just doesn’t seem to make a difference. We even bought a self-cleaning litter box! We’ve also taken her to the vet and there is no reason for it. Could it just be a personal behavioral problem? Any advice??

  • paula says:

    Beautiful! I have 2 cats, and I love them!