Litter Box Tips and Tricks: Setting Up Your Cat for Success

Mon, 09/12/2022 - 17:15
Cat stepping out of an uncovered litter box onto a mat

To start new cats off right with good litter box habits and make their introduction to your home as successful as possible, you will want to limit the amount of stress they are feeling as much as you can when you bring them home. At first, it’s best to have them stay in a small room (e.g., a guest room, an office or even a bathroom) so they can get their bearings and get used to the smells and sounds of their new environment. A cat who is stressed may be less likely to display good litter box habits.

Signs of stress include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Hiding
  • Decreased grooming
  • Lack of interest in attention
  • More quiet than normal

If the cat is hiding, don’t force him to come out; just let him venture out when he’s ready. Be sure to equip the cat’s room with food, water, toys, scratching posts and a litter box. You will also want to provide some cardboard boxes or something that the cat can hide in. Keep in mind that some cats are tree dwellers (they prefer high places to perch) and others are ground dwellers (they prefer low-to-the-ground places). Provide both high and low hiding places.

Allow your new cat the time to get used to his new home on his terms. He’ll let you know when he’s ready to investigate the rest of the house. If the cat starts showing any of the signs of stress mentioned above, bring him back to his “safe room” and let him decompress.

You don’t need to show the cat where the litter box is. He will find it on his own and most likely use it when you are not in the room, when it’s quiet or when you’re sleeping. Here are some litter box tips and tricks:

  • Place the litter box as far as possible from the cat’s food and water, but not in a high-traffic area.
  • Cats prefer a quiet spot to go to the bathroom. However, don’t hide the litter box in a corner where the cat can't see someone coming. Cats may feel trapped if they don’t see an avenue of escape.
  • The litter box should be large enough so the cat can comfortably turn around without touching the sides of the box.
  • If you have a kitten, a cat with special needs or a senior cat, make sure the cat can get in and out of the box with ease. You may need to get a box with low sides; another option is to roll a towel up and place it in front of the box so the cat has a step to get inside.
  • For kittens under 16 weeks old, it is safest to use non-clumping litter.
  • Do not use litter box liners. Cats often get their claws stuck in the liner, tearing a hole in the liner, which causes issues with the cat’s use of the box and clean-up problems when removing the liner.
  • Use an uncovered litter box, preferably containing unscented litter. Covered boxes trap the smell, making the odor much more intense for cats when they try to use the box. Also, cats’ sense of smell is many times stronger than ours, so even a bit of scent can be overpowering for them and cause litter box avoidance.
  • If possible, use the same type of litter that the cat has been used to. If you are planning on changing to another kind of litter, add a box containing the litter you would like to start using and see if the cat uses it. If she does, gradually add some of the new litter to the original box until you’ve completely replaced the old litter with the new.
  • Fill the box with enough litter so the cat can dig and cover it up after eliminating. We recommend a depth of around three inches, adding more litter to the box daily after scooping.
  • Scoop the box at least once a day. Cats prefer to go into a box that is clean and does not smell.
  • At least every two weeks, completely dump the litter and clean the box using a mild soap. Cats don’t like harsh chemical smells, and plastic litter boxes will retain those harsh smells. Remember, cats’ noses are much more sensitive than ours are.
  • In the rest of the house, place enough litter boxes for each cat plus one, plus one per level. For example, if you have four cats and you have a two-story house, you will need seven boxes (4 + 1 + 2). You want to make sure they can get to a litter box any time it’s needed.
  • Keeping the boxes clean will eliminate many litter box problems down the road. We don’t enjoy stepping into a dirty bathroom and neither do cats.

If your new cat does start eliminating outside the litter box, a trip to the vet is the first step toward correcting the behavior. A sick cat may stop using the box, especially if she has a urinary tract or bladder infection. Once she’s treated, the cat will usually return to her previous good habits, especially if you have provided her with a safe space and you’ve followed the guidelines given above. By implementing these simple steps, you can help your new cat start off on the right foot, which includes having good litter box habits.