Cats and the Optimal Litter Box Setup

A common problem that new cat owners report about their cats is an avoidance of the litter box. Cats are notoriously finicky and will let owners know they aren’t happy about their litter box by peeing or defecating outside of it.

Many litter box avoidance issues can be eliminated by making the use of a litter box a pleasant and safe experience for your cat.

Here are some tips for how and where to set up your litter box in order to avoid behavioral problems with your cat.

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Make sure you have enough litter boxes

The rule of thumb is to provide one litter box per cat plus one extra. So, if you have one cat, you should ideally have two litter boxes. With two cats, you should have three litter boxes and so on.

Offering enough litter boxes is important to avoid your cat feeling overcrowded. Cats don’t like to use litter boxes that already have another cat’s urine clumps or feces in them. Supplying enough litter boxes ensures that a clean enough box is available for your cat when nature calls.

Make sure your litter boxes are large enough

There are all sizes of litter boxes on the market. Make sure the litter boxes you get are large enough for your cat. Your cat should be able to easily enter the box and turn around without hitting the sides of the box.

A sign that the litter box is too small is your cat will scrape the walls and ground outside the box after they use it.

Make sure your cat likes the style of litter box

Some cats want a litter box that is open and will avoid litter boxes that have a hood. Other cats want the extra privacy and security that a hooded box provides. You may need to experiment with different styles to find the optimal litter box for your cat.

If you have a small cat or an older cat with joint issues, make sure the sides of the litter box at the point of entry isn’t too high. Your cat should be able to walk in to the box and shouldn’t have to jump into the box.

If you have a cat that loves to pee standing up, consider getting a high-backed litter box with a low entry opening in the front.

A picture of a white litter box on a light brown tiled floor.
A good litter box will have a low opening in the front for easy access. This litter box shown is great for high-peeing cats: Richell USA – PAW TRAX High Wall Cat Litter Box. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey

Don’t add too much litter

Litter should be layered into the box so that it’s about 1-2 inches deep. If you put too much in, your cat may not like it. Cats will naturally scrape the bottom of the box before they use it to create a hole in which to go to the bathroom. If the litter is too deep, your cat won’t be able to dig the hole as the litter will keep falling back into the hole.

Pick the right cat litter

If you have a sensitive cat, you make need to experiment with types of litter to find one that your cat likes. Try to avoid fragranced cat litter as your cat’s sense of smell is greater than what we can smell as humans and might irritate them.

Opt for fine-grain litter. Cats like cat litter that is more like sand than litter that is made up of larger pieces. The finer grain of these types of litter feels better for your cat’s paws.

The litter that my cats love is the unscented World’s Best Cat Litter. This litter clumps very well which makes cleaning litter boxes super easy. The litter is unscented so there are no fragrances that might irritate the cat’s nose.

Once you find a cat litter that your cat accepts, try not to switch. Cats are creatures of habit and once they become habituated with a type of cat litter, changes to that litter can cause them to start using the bathroom outside of the box. In fact, many cats tend to prefer the cat litter they were introduced to as kittens.

Avoid cat box liners

Liners may be touted as an easy way for you to clean the box, but they are a nuisance for most cats. Cats can get their claws stuck on the plastic as they scrape the litter.

Provide a safe space for the litter boxes

Make sure you place the litter boxes in areas of your home that are quiet. Avoid placing the litter boxes next to noisy appliances.

Cats don’t like to use litter boxes in high traffic areas. Using the litter box is a time of vulnerability for your cats so they need to feel safe when using a litter box.

Cats like litter boxes in spots that are quiet but not boxed in. Your cat likes to know there are escape routes while using their box. Your cat also likes to be able to see what’s around them while they are using the box.

You may need to experiment with different litter box placements to find spots where your cat is comfortable using the bathroom.

If possible, place litter boxes in different areas of your house so your cat has options. What may be an okay place to use the box one day, may not be acceptable on another day for your cat. I have watched my own cats carefully inspect each of their litter boxes before deciding on the best one to use.

If you have a timid cat that tends to hide away for most of the day, try placing a litter box near their hiding spot for quick access.

If you have multiple levels in your house, make sure you place a litter box on each story of your home.

Place litter boxes away from food and water

Just like you don’t want to eat your dinner in your bathroom, your cat doesn’t want to eat or drink near their litter box. Make sure the litter box is placed in a room separate from where you cat eats and drinks water.

Clean the litter boxes daily

For this same reason, you need to scoop out the litter boxes every day. Litter boxes should be scooped out at least once a day, sometimes twice a day if there is a lot of activity happening in those boxes.

Keep the space in front of the litter box clean

Make sure you sweep or vacuum daily as well. When your cats jumps out of the box, bits of kitty litter stuck to their paws also escape and can build up in front of the litter box. Your cat may not like the feeling of the cat litter as they walk to their box and may avoid it.

Change the kitty litter frequently

It’s also important to keep the litter boxes stocked with fresh kitty litter. Even frequently cleaning leaves behind tiny clumps of urine and feces. Over time, this builds up and some cats will avoid smelly, filthy litter boxes.

How often you need to change out the litter box depends on the type of kitty litter you are using. Clay litter typically needs to be switched out every few days.

Clumping litter that is scooped out every day should be switched out every 2-3 weeks.

Make sure you use a cleaner that is mild and doesn’t irritate your cat when clean the boxes. I like to place the litter boxes in the sun to fully dry. The sunlight helps to disinfect the boxes without the use of harsh chemicals.

Check with the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines for their specific recommendations.

Make sure your cat has no health issues

If you’re following all the recommended guidelines for optimal litter box setup and your cat is still refusing to use their litter boxes, make sure you have your cat evaluated for any health issues.

If your cat is healthy, litter box avoidance may be caused by stressful events like the introduction of a new animal, moving, or new people in the household.

If your cat does eliminate outside of the litter box, use an enzyme cleaner to remove all odors to discourage repeat use of that spot. Avoid the use of bleach. Bleach can interact with the ammonia in cat urine to produce harmful odors.

Explore Cats is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. 

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