The issue of cat litter seems like it should be a fairly straightforward thing, right? I mean, it’s essentially just kitty toilet “paper.” Humans use can choose ultrasoft, scented, flower-printed paper or just make do with the rough, unbleached paper, so why should a cat care what he uses in the the “bathroom?”
Whether or not it’s logical to us, cats do have preferences when it comes to litter. In fact, problems with the litter can be enough to send your cat looking for a litter box alternative he considers better, like the floor behind the sofa or in a corner of the kitchen. So, if you expect your cat to use the litter box, you’ll need to get the litter right.
There’s a Reason There are So Many Types of Cat Litter
Stop by any large pet store and you’ll probably find at least half a dozen types of cat litter available. The most common are gravel-type litters made of natural clay (non-clumping) or betonite clay (clumping). You can also find pellet-type litters made of corn, pine or recycled newspaper. Most cats prefer gravel-type litter, so if you’ve been using pellets and your cat’s been avoiding the litter box, try switching to gravel.
Conversely, some cats prefer pellets because they’re softer on the feet. If it turns out your cat likes pellet-type litter, I have a money-saving tip for you in Cat Urine Problems Eliminated. All litters have their pros and cons and the choice really depends on what your cat will use, not what the commercials say. The only thing I’d add is to avoid using clumping litter with kittens younger than 6 months of age. Kittens tend to ingest litter when they clean their paws and clumping litter may cause intestinal blockages. It’s not common, but why take the risk?
Litter Depth: Finding a Happy Medium
The amount of litter you put in the box is another factor you’ll need to experiment with because different cats prefer different depths. We humans who have to clean the litter box prefer deeper litter because it’s easier to scoop. This is particularly true with clumping litter. To make sure the clumps are easily scoopable and don’t stick to the bottom of the litter box, you may need 3 or 4 inches of litter.
The problem with that depth is that many cats dislike walking in deep litter and won’t use a box with 3 inches of litter in it. If you’ve been adding a lot of litter to the box, try cutting back to just 1 inch. Although this shallow depth may make it harder to clean the box, it’s worth the trouble if it gets your cat to stop using the carpet or linoleum, which is much harder to clean than any litter box.
Note, too, that if your cat is choosing slick surfaces like linoleum floors or the bathroom sink, it’s a good sign there’s too much litter in the box. Some cats prefer just a handful of litter. Yes, that makes the box hard to clean, but again, it’s still better than cat pee in the sink.
Cats Appreciate Cleanliness, Too
With their frequent “tongue bathing,” cats have earned a reputation for cleanliness. Given a choice, a cat would never walk around in his own feces. Although kitties do tend to stick to one area for bathroom purposes, outdoors they’re able to bury their leavings deeply enough that they don’t have to walk through them. And once a spot gets too dirty, they just move on to a cleaner one.
So, if you expect your cat to use the litter box, the box has got to be clean. This means litter box scooping is a daily task. This is not something you can let go for a week or even three or four days. Daily litter box scooping is just one of the responsibilities of having a cat.
Covered boxes, baking soda, and deodorizers may hold down the smell, but they don’t remove the source of the odor. Your cat still has to walk through that poo and pee to use the box and many cats just won’t do it. They’ll look for a clean spot on the floor instead. For this reason, scoop every time the box contains three soilings. Be aware, too, that there are a few picky kitties out there who won’t enter a box with any soiling, so you’ll have to scoop after every bathroom visit (kitty’s, not yours. :-))
If you have several cats in the house, a single litter box can get pretty full in just one afternoon. To make it easier to keep the boxes clean, put out a litter box for each cat. Even if the boxes are side by side, the additional clean space gives your cats a choice besides the carpet.
On the flip side, avoid to over-sanitizing the litter box with strong smelling cleaners like undiluted bleach or citrus cleaners. The smell can keep the cat away from the box. The litter box should smell slightly of cat pee because it’s this scent that tells the cat where the correct bathroom area is.
Putting it All Together
Of course, litter and the litter box overall is just one factor in stopping your cat from peeing in the house. Health and the cat’s environment also come into play. You can solve your cat’s urination problems and get your home completely free of cat urine odors, but the solutions may not always be obvious. Instead of wasting time learning by trial and error, read the book Cat Urine Problems Eliminated to discover proven-effective ways to retrain your cat and regain your home.
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