Litterbox Heaven

You don’t want your cat thinking outside the box…

Let’s talk toilets. Whether you call it the “loo”, the “lady’s room” or the litter box, most of us like that special place to be private, safe, clean and easily accessible. Be warned – your cats feel the same way.

House-soiling is the number one behaviour problem in cats and often leads to euthanasia if it can’t be resolved. A visit to the veterinarian is the first step in managing litterbox problems because there may be a medical reason for the messes. But if illness is ruled out, why would a cat stop using the loo?

I was recently at a talk on urinary problems in cats that featured a slideshow of wacky litterpans. There were pictures of covered litterpans stacked like condos for multiple users, boxes shaped like spaceships with tiny, hard to reach entrances and one situated right next to the washing machine. Imagine the blur of kitty-in-motion as the spin-cycle interrupts her midday bathroom break. Do you think she’ll be using that box often?

Other litterpan faux “paws” include boxes half the size of their intended users. Most litterboxes sold today are too small to be used comfortably by most housecats. They should be at least one and a half times the length of the cat. Whether or not that includes the tail is open for debate, but if you’ve got room, go big.

Some feline experts recommend not buying litterpans at all, instead go for those plastic bins designed to fit under beds. Not only are the bins large, they have low sides, a must for older kitties who may have arthritis. Doesn’t granny prefer the handicapped stall with lots of room and a seat the right height?

Another common error we cat keepers make is not providing enough boxes. The oft-quoted rule-of-thumb is one box per cat in the household, plus one extra. They should be situated throughout the house, so there’s always one fairly nearby.

Litter type is important and some cats have distinct preferences, so you may want to put out an assortment. Unscented clumping litter got the most, um, votes from kitties in one study. Regardless of litter type, scooping should be done at least once daily. Clay litter should be changed completely once to twice a week. Boxes with the clumping variety need dumping monthly. The boxes should be cleaned with water and an unscented detergent.

The perfect kitty loo would be a spacious, low-profile, uncovered, clumping litter-filled box, away from food and water bowls, in a quiet area that allowed easy access and escape if a disliked housemate came prowling. And there would be at least one other like it on the next level of the house.

One last word – if you don’t want your cat to associate using the litter with badness, never corner her there to give pills or capture her for a vet visit. Apparently there are litter boxes designed for just that purpose, with lids, locking doors and handles on top for transport. I’d never use that loo again myself.

For more litterbox issues and answers, visit Veterinary Partner.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton, Ontario
November 2012