The Scoop about Scooping

by Lindsey Pellino

It’s a fact of life for cat owners – dealing day to day with the lovely litter box. There’s not only the cleaning aspect, but the schlepping of heavy litter from the store, and vacuuming or sweeping up the pesky tracks of litter around the site of the box and beyond. What’s more, if you have more than one cat, you probably have more than one litter box. On one hand it’s convenient, in that you don’t have to accompany your cat outdoors in inclement weather or in the wee hours (pardon the pun), like you do a dog; on the other hand, you do have to make a conscious effort to keep the litter box area clean and neat for your own sanity and for your cat’s well-being. Thankfully, there are a lot of simple ways you can set up a litter box to make the dreaded task a lot easier.

Historically, cats, as desert-dwelling creatures, would relieve themselves out in the open sand. Doing so more secretively was risky, as they might get trapped by predators. They would simply bury their business and then go about their day. Modern day litter boxes sometimes include covers – some are even mechanized to sift the litter. We often fill them with scented litter on top of slippery ill-fitting plastic liners. Ironically, some of these bells and whistles can deter a cat from using the box – or at least make the experience less than optimal.

Keep it simple. Unscented clay, corn, or wheat litter best mimics sand. Keep the box in an “open” space that allows the cat multiple vantage points, so they don’t feel threatened. Putting it off in a corner with only one entrance/exit can make them feel, well, cornered, and therefore less comfortable. Forgo the plastic liner. It’s just a nuisance for the cat and does not feel at all natural to them. Resist boxes with robotic/mechanical actions – these only frighten or surprise your cat and may make them more reluctant to use their box.

Most importantly, keep the box nice and clean. If a box is messy, a cat won’t want to use it – and might protest by using a laundry basket or tub instead. Keep in mind that some cats, if they tend to “aim high” might need a high-sided pan; if the cat is more senior in years or has arthritis, a box with low sides will be easier and more comfortable for them to access. Luckily there are lots of options to choose from.

Each cat has a different threshold for what “messy” is – what looks acceptable to us might be unacceptable to them. Be sure to scoop the box at least once a day, if not more often, based on how frequently they go, and give the box a thorough cleaning every other week. If you are using non-clumping litter, it’s important to change the litter very frequently. Clumping litter should be completely replaced at least once a month to keep it fresh.

For homes with multiple cats, a good rule of thumb is the “plus one” rule. For each cat you have, you should have a litter box for them, plus one; so, if you have two cats, you should have three boxes. Three cats, four boxes, etc. This gives the cats options – they won’t have to fight for their territory if there are enough boxes to go around. They can use one of the “extra” boxes if the other is occupied or if something nefarious (the mailman, vacuum, etc.) is blocking their usual box.

By taking these few simple steps, you can tailor your cat’s litter box set-up to their specific needs, and make your home a happier, more harmonious place.