My human was reading a magazine article recently on litter box issues, and how it is one of the main reasons cats get turned into shelters. It is also one of the main reasons cats get euthanized, because who wants to adopt a cat that doesn’t use the litter box? But behind these plain facts is something more complex and utterly tragic: many (maybe most of) these cats are being killed for something that is not their fault at all, but their humans’. Litter box avoidance is usually a human issue, not a cat issue. It is the humans who failed the cat, not the other way around. And cats pay with their lives.
Because of the scope of this topic, Human Litter Box Training is going to be an ongoing feature. I don’t know how often I’ll blog about it, or for how long. I’m not a veterinarian or a professional cat behaviorist (just a professional human behaviorist for cats), so I can’t help humans solve specific problems they are having with getting their litter box habits right. But I hope these blog posts help humans look into their own litter box behavior and see how they can make things better for their cats. Each situation is different and needs to be looked at individually — usually by the individuals involved, not by someone on the outside who has never met the humans, the cats or seen the inside of their homes. If your cat is having litter box issues, have him looked over by a vet to determine whether the problem is medical or behavioral, and if the problem is behavioral, get the number of a cat behaviorist in your area.
I’ll begin this series with an overview of litter box problems, and what in general humans might be doing wrong. The different parts of a litter box are the following:
- The location of the litter box
- The litter box itself
- The litter
- Accessories, such as scoops, litter disposal systems, etc.
The majority of cats will be fine with any satisfactory set up a human may put together for their litter box. In fact, we can be quite forgiving — but we do have our limits. Let’s look at these different elements and see how these areas could perhaps be improved.
Litter Box Location
Convenience, privacy and quiet are the keys here. When we cats are in the litter box, we are at our most vulnerable, and if we feel a location is dangerous, we won’t want to go there. A litter box should be in an area that is easy for the cat to get to and in a different room from where his food and water is (would you humans want to have dinner in your bathroom? Didn’t think so). It should be somewhere peaceful. Avoid turn offs like putting the litter box next to your washer and dryer — the sudden noises and movements that machines make are scary and off-putting. Are there other cats in the house? Make sure the litter box is in an area that is open enough for the cat to be able to escape any unwanted feline attention. There are few things scarier for a house cat than to be cornered in a litter box by someone in a hostile mood — or worse, to have a hostile cat blocking his way to the litter box.
The Litter Box
There are loads of litter boxes, and I have to say, most of them are built with human, not feline, comfort in mind. That’s okay for most cats and they’ll deal, but with a little bit of thought, you humans could make sure the litter box is as kitty friendly as it is human friendly. Are you concerned about us cats scattering litter or spraying the wall? (Some cats pee in more of a standing up position than squatting — that can be caused by arthritis, or sometimes it’s a guy cat thing.) Then get a litter box that has high sides. Please don’t bring home a covered litter box. Many of us will use them regardless, but we really don’t like them. How would you like to have a smelly outhouse as your bathroom all the time? That’s what it’s like for us cats inside of a covered litter box — and our noses are 15 times stronger than yours! What about those fancy, automated litter boxes? Look, we cats just want to get in the box, do our business and get out. All those moving, mechanical parts are a distraction at best, downright foreign and scary at worst.
The Litter Itself
Whatever your cat likes best is the right litter to use. Period. Corn, clay, ground walnut shells, diamond dust, whatever (okay, I am kidding about the diamond dust. Maybe). The important thing is to keep it scooped and relatively clean. You don’t have to change the whole box of litter every day, or even every week (unless your cat has a medical problem that causes him to create a mess of the litter box). Just get the lumps out promptly, have a regular litter changing schedule, and most cats will be satisfied. What about those absorbing crystals? Would you like to walk on them in bare feet? Cats generally don’t, either. What if you have a cat that has been declawed? You need to make sure the litter does not hurt his damaged toes. And please, please, please, no perfumed litter! It’s offensive. I’m surprised it doesn’t bother human noses.
Honestly, these are for you humans. We cats don’t care about them. But if they make it easier for you to keep our litter boxes clean and useable, then they are fine by us. Lots of humans swear by the Litter Genie for storing waste in a convenient and odor-free manner, and there are other containers like it too. Did you know that some litter scoops are better than others? It’s true. These items make the litter box area more efficient. Other things, such as litter box liners — not so much. Litter box liners are useless. They tear and pool urine and make things smellier and messier than they need to be. A proper litter box does not need them. I’ll dig further into accessories in a future post.
So here you have the litter box basics! Any specifics you kitties would like me to address? Any suggestions on how to properly litter box train humans? Let me know!