Tailoring the Ultimate Litter Box Set-Up for Finicky Felines.
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Getting the right litter box setup is hard and chances are if you've landed on this post, you might be looking to improve your litter box situation. Cats have high standards and if their bathroom setup is not ideal, they'll probably let you know.
With three resident cats and a revolving door of foster cats, its imperative that we have a good litter box setup. Based on many years of living in an apartment with limited space, we've had to get creative. I hope you and your cat(s) find these tips helpful.
Take your cat to the vet!
Cats tend to go outside the litter box for one of two reasons; medical or behavioral issue. Ruling out a medical issue is a must. For example, straining in the litter box can result in an emergency if not addressed quickly.
If a cat is suddenly pooping or peeing outside the litter box, they're trying to tell you something. Make a vet appointment. An inconvenience to you might actually be very painful for your cat. Your vet will likely want to run some tests (and hopefully ask tons of questions). Some common tests may include a urinalysis, bloodwork and a fecal sample.
Whether you're treating for a medical issue and still noticing litter box aversion, or you've determined it's behavioral, it's time to get serious about your setup.
Consider behavioral causes
There are a number of reasons a cat may be eliminating outside the box.
Location: They might not like the location even if it seems perfectly acceptable to us.
Litter: The litter might smell funny, feel weird or be triggering to them because of an unpleasant event. The event could have been an unpleasant poop or getting scared by a loud sound when in the box.
Cleanliness: It might look clean but... dump it out and you're sure to find some pee clumps stuck to the side. What we can't see, they can smell. Inspect your box and make sure to understand their habits. Do they pee against the inside of the box? If so, pull the litter away from the side carefully, scoop up any crumbs. Wipe the insides of the box, let dry and shift litter back to it's original position.
Once a cat chooses an inappropriate location, they might continue going there, forming a habit! This is why eliminating the targets is key. Make their litter box situation as inviting as possible.
Change can be hard on a cat, even if they aren't showing any signs of stress. Have you recently moved? Brought home a new baby, a new pet? Did you welcome a loud appliance, invite over rowdy toddlers or start band practice? Is there a new cat coming up to the back window, have your work hours changed? Sometimes it's subtle, like bringing home a new basket from Target that your cat thought would make a nice litter box.
Bottom line is, let's make their litter box setup so amazing they won't want to go anywhere else.
Remove the targets
Once a cat has urinated in a specific spot chances are they'll do it again and again. Rugs, bags, laundry piles. It's time to get this stuff up and off the floor, closed off or washed. Make any and all target areas inaccessible as much as possible.
Sometimes we have to make lifestyle changes for our cats. If your cat is peeing in the sink or bathtub (and you've ruled out a medical issue), close the bathroom door. Often times that's all it takes to redirect them to the litter box. Clean affected areas, preferably with an enzyme cleaner.
Clean affected areas
Eliminating cat urine smell is not an easy task and may require a few washes. I prefer to use a store bought enzyme cleaner first and then a homemade solution to deodorize, if necessary. It's important to use an enzyme cleaner as these eat the residue without affecting the surrounding fibers. If cat urine on laundry is an issue, make sure to pre-treat with an enzyme cleaner before adding your regular detergent to the wash.
Angry Orange Enzyme Cleaner is effective and smells like oranges. A little goes a long way! If you don't like oranges, this cleaner is not for you, but I love it!
I have yet to try Bubba's Stain and Odor Terminator but the reviews are great, fragrance is minty, which sounds nice and fresh! I definitely want to try this one.
If there is a smell lingering in the litter box, even if you can't smell it, try an unscented enzyme cleaner like this Whisker Cleaner Spray. I have been searching for an unscented quality cleaner to use inside our boxes and THIS IS IT! Wipe the inside walls, cracks, crevices. Pull the litter away from the edge and give it a good clean! Give your litter box a deep clean outside or in the bathtub every so often.
These Whisker Cleaner Wipes use the same formula as the enzyme spray but in an easy wipe form. They're nice and thick. I'm able to wipe the inside of 1-2 boxes with just one wipe.
There's a reason this Bissell Little Green Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner has over 60,000 ratings on Amazon. It's easy and works great! Plus, the price is fair. We've had it for a few years and it's going strong. It wraps up nicely and is perfect for small messes like urine and vomit stains. Ewe. Using a pet cleaning solution like this Bissell Pet Machine Formula can help. Hot tip, I sometimes like to use an enzyme cleaner first with a rag. Not sure that it's recommended with these machines but I'm a rule breaker and won't let a pet mess control me!
Homemade solution that works:
1/4 cup 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1 tsp dish soap, mix with water, add baking soda. Note: baking soda won't dissolve so it can't be used in a sprayer. You can mix hydrogen peroxide, water and soap in a sprayer and then sprinkle on baking soda. Try in a small area first, avoiding precious fabrics as peroxide can bleach. 3% is typically a safe level to avoid bleaching but there's always a possibility. Works great on wood floors, walls and carpet.
If you need this solution often, you may want to invest in some reusable sprayer bottles. We have both the blue and brown glass bottles for homemade surface cleaners like vinegar/water and they've lasted us for years.
Add litter boxes
Let's start with the general rule. You might have heard this before. One litter box per cat plus one more. This might sound like a lot but it really does help!
1 cat = 2 litter boxes
2 cats = 3 litter boxes
3 cats = 4 litter boxes
Of course if you have a big house with multiple stories you may need to add accordingly.
Keep the area clean
It's easier said than done and also easy to forget about until you notice your cat peeing in an inappropriate location. Between fully cleaning litter boxes (hose outside or bathtub inside), wiping the insides of litter boxes makes a world of difference!
Scoop the litter box daily... or even twice a day.
A quick wipe with a paper towel and water can help freshen the insides of the box. Vacuum or sweep litter that escapes the box and shake out mats. Once every 2-4 weeks, dump all the litter and do a complete clean. How often you do this will likely depend on the amount of cats and boxes you have.
After washing, let the boxes dry and refill with 3-4 inches of litter. Having a deeper litter box helps prevent urine from seeping to the bottom, keeping it fresher longer.
Litter boxes should be in quiet comfortable areas. Some cats enjoy their litter boxes in the main area, near (but not too close) to where they hang out. I'f they're peeing on a rug in the living room, put a box there and add an attractant litter. Avoid loud areas. A laundry room might be nice for some cats and scary for others. Same goes for radiators, the furnace or any other places that suddenly make noise. Areas with foot traffic, opening and closing doors might be too stressful for a cat to relax in their litter box.
Litter box types
In my experience most covered litter boxes are disastrous. There are too many grooves for urine and litter to get stuck. If it's working for you, great. That's all that matters! Think of a covered litter box with a small opening or a door as a port-o-potty. Even in the best of circumstances... ewe! Everyone knows that person, or maybe you are that person who will pee in the woods next to the port-o-potty if the option is available. Cats... they're just like us.
Set out multiple litter box types but remember, always provide more than one at the same time. Some cats like to pee in one and poop in another. This goes without saying but cleaning the litter box daily is a must. If you don't currently have the Litter Genie Waste Disposal System, you need one! We find ourselves scooping as we pass by, meaning the boxes are often scooped more than once a day.
If you prefer a more closed situation, let me introduce you to The IRIS Large Top Entry Litter Box. The opening is large and the inside surface is perfectly smooth, making it easy to clean. It's perfect for high pee-ers, corner pee-ers and cats who play in the litter. It also minimizes tracking. I would love to see a front entry version of this box because it would absolutely crush the competition.
Many cats prefer open litter boxes. If this is the case, make sure it is large enough as cats like space to move around.
This Frisco Litter Box is spacious and offers 10 inch sides making it a little higher than your average low sided box. It's lower front makes it easy to get in and out of while still holding in some of the litter that might get kicked out.
A bin from the hardware store works great but often times they hold a lot of litter making it hard to lift when cleaning. Many hardware bins also have grooves so if your cat is a wall pee-er, this may not be the best choice. Consider your options and try them out! You'll soon learn what your cat gravitates towards.
I haven't used this box but the benefits are clear. Small spaces exist and sometimes you just need a litter box that fits. I searched for a flexible box years ago when I was struggling to create an effective litter box setup. Litter Genie came out with a great design that's perfect to squeeze into a tight spot. If your cat has been peeing in a weird location this might be the perfect extra box to move around.
We have both the Litter-Robot 3 and 4. Cons are, it's expensive and to be honest, your cat doesn't really care. They just want a clean box they enjoy going to the bathroom in.
Pros are that it cycles out the waste every time a cat goes in it. Perfect if you have multiple cats, if your cat doesn't cover their poop or if you just dislike scooping. In some cases I think this can almost act as two litter boxes because it gets rid of waste so quickly. That being said, all cats are different and I still think each cat should have more than one box to choose from. Litter-Robot has an empty button that dumps all the litter into a bag. It uses less litter than your average litter box making it easy (and lighter) to remove. You're left with an empty globe ready to wipe out. You can save $25 on a Litter-Robot here. Yes, I love our Litter-Robots because it makes my life easier, but seriously, you don't need one. There are options!
Way back when, clay clumping litter was pretty much the gold standard for cat litter. If you're trying to find a sustainable non-clay option, read on! One thing to note, scented litters bother some cats. If you're currently using a scented litter, try an unscented version.
The first time we tried Naturally Fresh Herbal Attraction the cats were like moths to a flame. I was curious if this litter would bring them to a particular litter box and it did! Made from walnut shells, lightweight and clumping, this litter is a great one to try if your cat is avoiding the litter box.
Once you're ready to transition back to a non-attraction litter, Naturally Fresh's regular walnut litter is a great alternative to clay.
For many years we used Dr. Elsey's clay litter. It wasn't until my vet mentioned that clay wasn't great for their lungs that I started searching for something new. Not to mention, it's not great for our environment. That being said, I still like this litter because it's reliable. It's often what I offer to our new fosters if they're used to clay... until they get comfortable. It has it's place but I do try to do better as much as I can!
For years during potentially stressful times like bringing in a new foster cat, traveling or moving, we'd use Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract litter. If there is a behavioral issue and your cat is eliminating outside the box, consider this litter to help bring your cat back to the litter box.
World's Best cat litter has been in our rotation for a few years. We did need to mix clay at first during the transition but our cats took to it pretty quickly. It has a similar texture but is more sustainable and lighter weight than clay.
World's Best Picky Cat litter contains a cat attractant and it does the job well. Definitely one to try if you need to lure your cats back to the litter box.
Hydration has always been something we've taken really seriously with our cats. My kibble fed cat growing up developed a blockage in his bladder and I'll never forget how scared my family and I were. The veterinarian kept stressing how important it was that we switch to wet food. It was hard to transition but after many cans, brands and flavors, Buster was switched. Never again will I knowingly put my cats at risk. Blockages and bladder issues can happen regardless, but proper hydration is a a huge key to prevention. A healthy bladder leads to healthy litter box habits!
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat to survive. They have a low thirst drive much like their desert-dwelling ancestors. Their bodies ideally receive most of their moisture through food.
Cats eating a dry kibble diet live in a constant state of mild dehydration. This can affect bladder health and contribute to constipation. Dry food is around 10% moisture while a mouse (or canned or raw food) is around 70%.
Good news, it's easy to recreate moisture within a house cat's food by giving them canned, gently cooked or raw food. We feed our cat's raw food from Darwin's simply because it's species appropriate for cats. Their intro offer is $14.95 for 10 lbs of food. Use code: CHICAGO for a free gift. Check out our favorite wet foods in our cat's Favorites! Introducing a water fountain can be a great addition as well as adding a cat-safe bone broth to meals.
Bottom line is, listen to your cat(s). If something isn't working, don't be afraid to try something new or get a second opinion from a vet. One time we moved a litter box next to a glass door and it became the most popular box for awhile. Location often matters so don't be afraid to make small changes.
Did we go over everything? I think so? If not, what did I miss? Would love to know what worked for your cat's litter box setup! Good luck! You've got this!