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Cats and the Unavoidable Litter Box    

By Dr. Al Townshend

An estimated 95 million live in US households, and another 8 million reside in Canadian homes. Approximately 68% of US and 38% of Canadian households have at least one cat.
The vast majority of cats are kept inside or spend a significant amount of their time in the home. Statistics suggest that in the US, the average home has more than two cats.

Where do all of these kitties go to the bathroom and who is responsible for the cleanup?

The famous actress, Meryl Streep, summed it up, “The interesting thing about being a mother is that everyone wants pets, but no one but me cleans the kitty litter.”
Pets need a safe place to go to the bathroom, and if they spend the majority of time inside, there needs to be several litter boxes, out of the way, in quiet locations.

Guardians who maintain the litter box must consider the needs and preferences of their cat to make their job as easy as possible.

Cats have always been known to be “finicky” about their food.
They can be as finicky about their litter box and litter as they are about what they eat. Keep in mind that no one litter box or litter works for all cats.
Your first choices may not be the best so be prepared for some trial and error.

If your kitty readily accepts the accommodations and location, you have chosen and regularly uses the facility, and you have made the right choices.
If you notice a reluctance or hesitation, there may be a problem that requires a different litter or box.

The Litter Box

  • The box should be large enough for a cat to stand and quickly turn around.
  • The sides of the box can vary but 5-7 inches high works for most cats. Young kittens will need lower sides initially. If the cat tends to spray when urinating or kicks litter out of the box, the sides may need to be higher.
  • Many cats prefer a covered litter box. They are more secure and can help keep litter in the box as well as assure the urine is confined to the box. Make sure that a covered litter box has one opening large enough to enter easily.
  • Self-cleaning litter boxes sound like a great idea, but they may not be the best choice. The noise and sudden action may scare the kitty and discourage them from using the box. They usually require specific types of litter that may not be the most preferred. Cleaning the box is an opportunity to spot changes in the poop or pee that may suggest a health issue.
  • The number of litter boxes is essential too. Remember that the average cat household has more than two cats. The general recommendation is to have one more litter box than the number of cats in the home. Finicky cats always prefer options, so even in the one cat family, more than one possibility is best.
  • Quiet, out of the way locations for the litter boxes provide a secure location place to go to the bathroom. Make sure it is also easy for the Guardian to access and cleaning supplies are at hand.

The Litter
There are many different types of cat litter and an infinite number of brands within each type of litter. Guardians must keep in mind these two fundamental concerns when selecting the proper litter:

  1. Cats will inhale what is in their litter box. Cats like to bury their poop and pee, and in doing so, they stir up the litter. Dusty, small particle or chemically treated litter can be inhaled and create health issues.
  2. Cats will ingest what is in their litter box while cleaning themselves. Most cats are constant groomers and can ingest litter while cleaning themselves.

Clumping Litter

  • Most are made of bentonite, a form of clay that can absorb moisture and swell to many times its original size.
  • That can make it easy to remove and at the same time, conserve the amount of litter removed each time the box is cleaned.
  • Bentonite can be dusty, and some contain odor-reducing chemicals, all of which have the potential to be inhaled and licked off the feet.
  • It forms a hard, non-biodegradable substance that is not designed to be flushed.

Non-Clumping Litter

The majority are made from natural, biodegradable material that has been formed into pellets or granules. The exception is silica-gel.

  • Silica-Gel litter is sometimes referred to as crystal litter. It is a form of granular sodium silicate which can absorb moisture. It does not clump so often Guardians are not aware the litter has been used up until there is a large puddle in the bottom of the litter box. Silica can be a dangerous substance if ingested or inhaled in large amounts or over a long time.

There are two forms of natural, non-clumping cat litter, Pellets and Granules.

  • Pellets consist of biodegradable wood or recycled newspaper. They are compressed and can absorb moisture easily. Pellet forms are relatively dust-free and are large enough not to be picked up between the footpads, so they are unlikely to be consumed while grooming.
    These are environmentally friendly litters; however, not every cat likes the feel of the litter on their feet.
  • Granules consist of a large variety of natural materials. Non-clumping clay, wheat, corn, barley, and pine are all used. They are environmentally friendly, biodegradable, and renewable resources
    They are relatively long-lasting and easy to dispose of and can even be flushed.
    Wheat and corn liter are easily tracked out of the litter box and have the potential of being eaten during grooming. As many are aware, wheat and corn are not recommended for consumption.

Keep in mind that there may be some trial and error involved in finding the most appropriate litter box and litter for your cats.

If the cat does not like the litter, switching quickly is okay. However, if the cat is using the litter but is hesitant, a slower transition is best. The same is true if the cat likes the current litter, but the Guardian wants to try a different litter or box.

Finding the right fit in the home is essential for both the health and happiness of our feline friends.


Additional Resources:

How to Choose the Best Litter Boxes for Your Cats and Why You Need To
Choose a Cat Litter
How to Buy Cat Litter

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