Litterbox Locations: Hide or Take Pride?

By Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi

Pay no attention to the cat behind the curtain...

Pay no attention to the cat behind the curtain…

As a consultant that troubleshoots litterbox avoidance problems in your home, I often see well-intentioned cat guardians making choices for their cats that are based solely on their own preferences and not so much in the best interest of their finicky friends. It seems some folks just don’t want to live with certain cat accommodations creeping into their personal space. Some guardians even find out the hard way that their decision to tuck litterboxes away in backrooms, garages, under stairs, in cabinets or hidden in a designer – “camouflaged” litterbox set up, may ultimately back fire from the back end of their cat. I totally get it. It’s not your bag to see or clean litterboxes, but isn’t it ironic that the very thing you are trying to hide is now happening on your living room couch?

Maybe kitty would rather be with you?

Maybe kitty would rather be with you?

It might be time to make some territorial compromises to restore the balance. Some cats just prefer to eliminate in places with more “social value”. Yup, you guessed it. I’m talking about your living room, bedroom and basically anywhere you like to hang out. Bummer… yea, I know, but we can make this work for both of you. This is going to require a trip to your “Discomfort Zone”. You know this place. It’s where you have drawn the line between your stuff and the cat’s stuff. Let’s blur that line a little, shall we?

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So what DO cats want when it comes to litterbox options? Here are some litterbox basics that will help your cat pee with glee!

The boxes are ideal. Large, easy to enter and plenty of vantage points!

The boxes are ideal. Large, easy to enter and plenty of vantage points!

  1. How Many Boxes?

Cats need to have options when they choose territories to eliminate in. You should have one box per cat in your home, plus one extra to break the tie. Give each cat at least two places to choose from. Avoid placing boxes next to each other if you can and spread the territory out to avoid conflicts between cats competing for resources.

This box is TOO SMALL!

This box is TOO SMALL!

  1. Size Matters

Cats prefer a box that they can enter, pivot around a few times and make a choice. Ideally, the litterbox should be the length of your cat’s body plus ½ more space. This gives the cat ample space to move, choose a place to do their business and then depart when the dirty deeds are done. If your cat’s whole body fills the box like fresh baked bread, rising in a baking pan, it may be time to upgrade to a larger box.

This is a litterbox constructed by one of clients, designed to eliminate tracking of litter.....Holy cow.

This is a litterbox constructed by one of clients, designed to eliminate tracking of litter…..Holy cow. A little overkill.

  1. Covered or Uncovered

Most cats prefer an open box to eliminate in, but guardians often opt for covered boxes to manage the smell and mess associated with litterbox usage. This can limit a cat’s line of sight, restrict their headroom and movement inside the box and make entering and exiting a reason to panic or leave abruptly. Not to mention, they are hot boxed in a smelly place. Not cool. An uncovered box or large storage bin with high sides will keep the mess contained just as well.

When using covered boxes, always make sure the entry/exit door faces outward (not facing a wall or barrier) and choose a box with max headroom. Avoid door flaps that have to be pushed with the cat’s head and body. Keep it simple.

An IKEA hacked bench that works nicely as an open air litterbox cabinet.

An IKEA hacked bench that works nicely as an open air litterbox cabinet.

  1. Litter Lessons

Making the right litter choice is a crucial part of keeping your cat’s dirtiest decisions inside the box. A quick clumping, flushable and super-soft litter like World’s Best Cat litter is ideal for fast and efficient removal of urine clumps, allowing the litter box to be a comfortable / viable option, all the time and every time. You will also get about 30 days of usage out of one bag!

Avoid clay litter that keeps urine trapped and lingering, until you have to change the whole box.

Scoop the box twice a day and adjust the litter depth to your cat’s preference. Some cats prefer less litter than others do, but keeping your depth between one and three inches is ideal for most.

Out sight, out of mind.

Out sight, out of mind.

  1. Out of Sight. Out of Mind

Cats are less likely to retreat back to an isolated location to eliminate. Move hidden or tucked away boxes into open spaces, common rooms and any room that you and your cats spend time together in. Select an area or areas of your home or apartment that have clear vantage points and ambush-free zones. A box that’s hidden away in a less trafficked room will also be scooped less!

Do not place boxes in busy hallways, hard to reach corners or underneath tables or cabinets if they seem hesitant to enter or exit. If you opt for a stylishly camouflaged box to go with your décor, remember that the tips above still apply.

Does Your Senior Cat Really Want to Live with a Kitten?

Oops I Did It Again!

By Daniel Quagliozzi

Seriously, I could devote my entire career in cat behavior to diagnosing litterbox avoidance problems. It seems that cats miss their litter boxes more often then any other behavior issue and it’s apparent that we humans are having a hard time trying to figure out why this is happening in such sacred places as our bathroom sinks, tubs , beds, couches or kitchen floors. What motivates a cat to suddenly designate your back pack as the place to leave a present? Look to the litterbox. All of the answers lie in your environment.

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Let’s talk about expectations first. Is it just me or do we all just EXPECT a cat to enter our home and know where to poop? Technology, human convenience and laziness on our parts has made it almost an assumption that if you put a litterbox in your home, no matter what size, shape, type of litter or location…the cat will go there. This is obviously not true.
Cats are picky and vulnerable when it comes to dropping their guard and going to the loo. They look for safe and easy places with no complications. Most likely, your litterbox located in the far back washroom, tucked under the sink, filled with colorful, scent fighting crystals will not be as attractive to your cat as it is to you. Kitty is looking for a basic bathroom with an easy entrance, no frills. un-scented, sand-like substances to cover up with and an escape route. The more complicated the picture, the less likely a cat is to be successful in your home environment.
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Cats are sensitive to change. They can react to sudden changes in environment by making some adjustments of their own. Ever go away for three days and come back to find that your cat pooped on your bath mat? Discovered a smelly gift on your pillow? When routines suddenly break, cats fall apart at the seams. Some adjust and roll with the punches, while others tend to just go south. What can you do to avoid such surprises? Don’t ever leave your home! Just kidding. No seriously, it’s all about keeping things consistent. Try to have a friend check in and maintain your routines. Sure it’s a lot of work, but no one ever said having a cat was going to be a low maintenance partnership.
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Don’t be fooled by gimmicks! No offense to the manufacturers of automated litter boxes, but cats don’t generally want a robot to clean up after them. That’s your job! Cats need efficient housekeepers that are ready to clean up on THEIR schedule. Also, some of these fancy boxes inadvertently make the box dirtier!
Keep your litterboxes simple. Have more than one! Clean them like it’s an OCD of yours. Your cat doesn’t want to sit on a dirty toilet and neither do you.
Ok, lets review:
    • Find a litter that is appealing to the cat. NEVER use scented litter. Perfumed, chemical scents repel cats. Use a mild dishwashing liquid or hot water and vinegar for cleaning—not ammonia or other harsh chemicals which will leave an odor.
    • Texture is important, too. Generally speaking, the clumping type or gravel type of litter is most acceptable. The sand type is very popular, but as a health precaution for kittens under four months old, it may pose a problem as they may ingest the litter.
    • Cleanliness is absolutely essential! The single most common reason for a cat’s refusal to use a litterbox is because the box is dirty—no one likes a dirty bathroom. Clumping litter should be scooped daily, and the litterboxes washed weekly. Non-clumping litter should be scooped daily and the box emptied every week or bi-weekly depending on the frequency of usage.
    • How many litterboxes do you need? Having one box per cat in the household, plus one extra is the best formula for success. Being the individuals they are, some cats prefer to urinate in one box and defecate in another. Some cats will refuse to use a box that another cat has already soiled.
  • Litterbox liners—they are often irritating to cats because their claws catch in the plastic. Covered litterboxes, or ones that are too small for the cat, may cause litterbox avoidance. Think about size too! Cats need to be able to spin around and sit upright when eliminating.
    The best location for a litterbox is a quiet, private place where they will not be disturbed by people or other pets. Noisy areas near washing machines, furnaces or under stairs may frighten the cat away from the box. Never place the litterbox close to food and water dishes.
    So remember, remove your expectations and think like a cat. Sometimes the writing on the wall…bed or carpet…is a message telling you to pay attention to the space you are sharing. Don’t take it personally!