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Cat Litter Boxes 101: 5 Issues and Solutions

Updated on September 8, 2014

I have been a cat owner for a little over ten years now. I currently own three felines, ranging in ages 1 to 12 years. I love my cats, but I don't particularly love the waste management part that goes along with being a "cat lady." Luckily, after years of research and advice from other cat owners, I have evolved my "litter box ways." The following are issues I have come across and solutions I have started implementing.

Issue #1: Where do I put my litter boxes?

I initially started off with one cat, Theo. Six months later I adopted two more cats, figuring they would be great companions for my one cat. My litter boxes were placed in the same area, at the time, under the bathroom counter. That's when the "peeing incidents" with Theo began. He was urinating outside of the litter boxes, in the corner of the room or on the outside wall of a litter box.

I only realized later, when I addressed this concern to my local vet, that this action was due to one of three factors: the cat had a medical issue, was marking his territory, or did not like some aspect of the litter box (i.e., location, type of box, or type of litter.) Dr. Karen Becker, a veterinarian featured on, touches on these factors in the adjoining video clip. Theo was not suffering from a medical condition, but rather a territorial one.

Solution: Place the boxes in areas that are convenient for the cats as opposed to you.

I began placing my litter boxes in separate locations, mainly the bathroom, laundry room, or a hall closet. The separating of the boxes seemed to decrease and eventually stop this inappropriate action. My cats have been living with each other for several years now and have grown accustom to one another so I am now able to place litter boxes next to each other.

The Humane Society emphasizes that litter boxes should be placed in out-of-the-way private spaces with minimal noise in an attempt to decrease feline anxiety. For sanitation reasons, they also recommend keeping the litter boxes away from food and water bowls. If the boxes are placed in an area like a closet, keep the door propped open or add a cat door.

Issue #2: How many boxes do I need?

In an effort to cut down on cleaning time, I typically had two litter boxes, despite the number of cats. This actually increased my cleaning time. Not only did I have to clean the boxes several times a day but the boxes were extremely messy.

Solution: The number of litter boxes should equal your cats, plus one.

The Humane Society points out that the number of litter boxes you own should be equal to the number of cats you own, plus one more. Some cats don't particularly like going in the same litter box after another cat has just gone. The increased number in litter boxes allows a cat to have a higher probability of using a box that has not been used and/or has little waste.


Issue #3: What kind of litter box should I buy?

I think I have purchased almost every type of cat box available on the market. There are boxes of all sizes and shapes with short and high walls, hoods, lids, cat doors, and built-in sifting parts. The more popular boxes are automatic. makes a good point. They mention that, contrary to popular belief, automatic litter boxes are not completely self cleaning. They do require regular cleaning and maintenance to prevent health issue or equipment breakdown. This was something I failed to maintain, and my $100 machine broke within a month. What a waste of money!

Solution: Cats need space with tall boundaries.

Dr. Karen Becker explains that many cats prefer large cat boxes due to their open-range nature. Boxes with tall sides help prevent messes. Of course, tall, deep boxes are probably not the most advantageous for baby kittens.

In general, there is no preferred litter box. Cats, just like people, are different in their preferences. Automatic boxes can be noisy and scare cats away. In that case, it is always a good idea to keep a regular box nearby until the feline gets use to going in the automatic one. Litter boxes with hoods provide privacy and a certain degree of odor control, but other cats may feel too confined in the closed space.

Issue #4: What type of litter is most beneficial?

Choosing the right quality of litter for both my cats and me is still a struggle. By experimenting with different litter brands, however, I have been able to create a sort of mental list of qualities in cat litter. I've had good results using litter with clumping action, smaller, finer texture, and dust-free quality.

I really haven't found a litter brand with long lasting odor control (odor eliminators like baking soda). No amount of litter can be poured over the waste to stop that residual smell. Even the "scented" litter brands do very little masking odor; they add a nice scent to accompany the foul one.

Solution: Smell and type of litter are big factors with cats.

There are two properties of litter that determine a cat's use of the product, explains Dr. Karen Becker. These two aspects are litter smell and texture of material. She explains that scented litter can act as a deterrent to many cats. Fragrance-free litter helps create a more natural environment. In the same way, she mentions, litter that has fine particles closer to the consistency of sand is preferred over bulkier clay-based or compacted, recycled newspaper pellets.

Regarding the best form of odor eliminators: dispose of the source of odor when it happens or as soon as possible. This has always been a tried-and-true method for me, personally. Surprisingly, products like baking soda can be another deterrent to cats. Litter box problems can begin.

What is your biggest issue with cat litter boxes?

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Issue #5: What are some effective and quick cleaning regimens?

Cleaning the litter box was never a happy part of my day. Scooping waste and breathing in the unwelcoming smells and ever present litter dust was often left for the next day. I would dump the litter and wash the box once a month or later. That was usually the only day that my litter boxes were at their cleanest. Pretty gross, I think, when I look back on those days.

Solution: Keep cleaning consistent and methodical.

Simply scooping out the waste each day or (like me in earlier years) every other day does not constitute a clean litter box. I was taken aback after watching a cat box cleaning tutorial. The cat owner gives step-by-step instructions on how to effectively clear waste and carefully disinfect all parts of the litter box. The method is simple: tilt litter box to one side causing the litter to shift in the box, wipe down the sides of the box, sift through the litter with the scoop collecting waste, and dispose in a bag. Turn the litter box to the oppose side and repeat steps starting with the tilting movement.

Keeping at least four inches of litter in the box prevents waste from sticking to the bottom of the box. This cat owner uses environmental-friendly wipes to clean the inside side walls and rim. A spray bottle with a mixture of water and anti-bacterial dish soap solution and paper towels serves as a cheaper substitute.

Cleaning once or twice a day is sufficient, provided you have the recommended number of litter boxes. Litter should be completely thrown out a least once a month. Using anti-bacterial dish soap as opposed to bleach, ammonia, or vinegar is recommended. Again, the chemicals can act as an irritant for some cats.

This consistent cleaning method, I have learned, has actually made "litter box waste disposal time" actually rewarding for me. The litter box walls stay clean, the space has minimal, if any, bad odors, and the cats appear to clean up after themselves more thoroughly instead of racing out as soon as they have gone.


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