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How to Choose the Right Litter Box for Your Cat

Updated on January 26, 2011

Even if you ultimately intend your kitten to go outside and use the yard as its toilet, you will need to keep it in until it has had its vaccinations, or to at least bond it to your home (if it is fully vaccinated already). Whatever the reason, you will need a litter box either permanently or for a few months at least. There will also be other times when the cat is ill or when you want to keep it indoors and you will need a litter box on hand, so it is worth getting one that will be large enough and durable enough to use when the cat is older. Litter boxes come in a wide range of sizes and styles, from the large, simple open tray type to the sophisticated one that sifts and removes waste. In the changeover from the previous owner to your home, you may want to use something that the kitten is familiar with - even if only in choosing an open type or one with a lid -so that the kitten recognizes it and knows what to do. Later on you may want to change this if you find something you or your cat prefer. It is helpful to use a box with high sides so that the kitten does not scrape the litter all over the floor, but make sure it is not too high to actually climb into. It should be big enough for your kitten to turn around in as it scratches at the litter.

When choosing which type of litter to use, again, try to begin at least with something the kitten is familiar with. Thereafter you can gradually change to another litter or soil from the yard if you want your kitten to start using the yard (but wait until all vaccinations are complete before doing this). There are many and various types of litter, from the traditional fuller's earth clay-based form to wood-and paper-based pellets to more organic types and fine-grain sandy litters. What you choose may depend on its weight (if you have to carry it home from the shop) or its texture (if it tracks around the house on the kitten's feet because it is fine). If you have a long-haired kitten, this may influence your choice, as some litter may stick to the kitten's coat around its tail and back legs.

Some litters come with built-in deodorizing chemicals, air fresheners, or perfumes to help cover up or reduce smells coming from the box. These odors can be quite strong to the human sense of smell, let alone that of cats, some of which may not like the strength of the scent. It is much better to clean the box more frequently than to try and mask the smell. Likewise, some cats do not like standing on pellets while others are quite happy to use them. See how your kitten reacts. Cats usually prefer the finer-grained sand-like litters, but these do tend to stick to their feet a bit. Put a dirt-collecting mat under the box to catch the fine grains before they get walked around the house.

Using newspaper in the litter box may be a cheap option, but it is not particularly absorbent - the kitten cannot dig in it the same way, and the ink may come off on the kitten's feet. The kitten may also come to associate newspaper with its toilet and use paper that is lying around the house after being read (or even before!).

When you first bring your kitten home you will want to confine it to a room or even use a special pen or dog crate when you are out. You will want to position the box where the kitten can find it easily, but in a quiet position, not out in the open, where the kitten can feel safe. Depending on the space you have available, do not place it too near its bed or food, as kittens are taught by their mothers to move away from the nest area to go to the bathroom.

If you have a dog or a toddler in the house, make sure it cannot get to the litter box - either to eat or play with the contents, or to grab or annoy the kitten as it uses the box, which may deter the cat from using it in the first place. If you have another cat, do not assume the kitten is going to use the same litter box. Indeed, until the kitten has had its full vaccination course, this is not a good idea. If you follow the suggestions for introductions, the kitten and resident cat will not meet up initially anyway, so a separate box is the best idea. The kitten must be able to get to the box 24 hours a day.

Think about how you are going to disinfect the litter box so that you have the correct products in the house. You will need to empty it daily and wash it with hot water and soap. It is the disinfectant you need to be careful with. Disinfectants are made to be lethal to some viruses, bacteria, or fungi, and they can be dangerous to other organisms, depending on how they work. Some common disinfectants can be very dangerous for cats. Cleaning products that contain phenols can be toxic to cats; a rough rule of thumb is to avoid disinfectants that turn cloudy when you put them in water. Cats are also very sensitive to cresols and chloroxylenols found in other disinfectants. Other chemicals to steer clear of include hexachlorophone, iodine, and iodophos. If you are worried, check the disinfectant container for details or ask your veterinarian. Disinfectants that are made for use in kennels and catteries or veterinary clinics are safe for cats. However, a good standby is bleach, diluted as suggested on the product. Rinse out the litter box after disinfection. Whatever disinfectant you choose for the litter box, do not be tempted to use a higher strength or dilute it less than is recommended on the label because you think this will kill more bugs - making the disinfectant more concentrated can increase the danger of a low-toxicity product.


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