Let’s Talk Litter (Boxes)


I love cats. I’m a self-proclaimed “Cat Lady”, and I’ve been that way all my life. In fact, aside from a few years living in the dorms during college, I’ve always lived with cats and that means I’ve always lived with litter boxes. Litter boxes, and their associated upkeep, are arguably the least-enjoyable part of having a cat. But rather than stick your head in the sand proverbially, of course, let’s take a few minutes to talk about the most important aspects of litter boxes.


The short answer: possibly more than you think. The standard veterinary wisdom is to offer 1 litter box for each cat that lives in your household PLUS one extra. (So, if you have 3 cats, that would be 4 litter boxes). The idea here is to always allow your cats the choice of where to “go”. Let’s say you have 3 cats, if 2 are currently using litter boxes, this would still leave 2 litter boxes unoccupied and open for the choosing should the 3rd cat need one as well. Allowing a choice will reduce feline stress and decrease reduce the chances of your cat developing inappropriate elimination behaviors.


This is another area where some confusion can arise. We need to consider each area or room of your home as one toileting location, regardless of the number of actual litter boxes in that spot. In other words, if you have 2 litter boxes directly next to each other in the laundry room, that counts as ONE litter box/location. Litter boxes need to be spread out in different areas of the home, again to allow for your cat to choose where they go AND to prevent scenarios of inaccessibility. For instance, if you have one litter box in the laundry room but your cat finds it stressful to eliminate with the washer/dryer noise, you might give them the choice to use another litter box in a guest room down the hall.


There are SO MANY different litter boxes to choose from, and the “best one” will depend entirely upon your cat(s) and your household situation. Here are some of the more commonly used types:


  1. Uncovered litter boxes: Uncovered litter boxes usually have relatively low sides, making them easy for older cats and those with mobility issues to step in and out. They are also the easiest for you to keep tabs on, as you can quickly see when the box has been used and needs cleaning. For cats with a chronic cough or Feline Asthma, these are usually the best choice, because they allow for more air flow and reduce your cat’s inhalation of litter dust. However, this type of litter box can be a bit more messy — it’s easier for your cat to accidentally kick litter over the side or even urinate/defecate over the side if their “aim” is off. This litter box and mat are top choices that we have seen work well.
  2. Covered litter boxes: For cats without lung issues, these are usually my go-to recommendation. The high sides help reduce litter spillage, and for those cats who tend to not squat well, it does a better job keeping the waste inside the litter box. For older cats or those with mobility issues, the entrance to a store-bought covered litter box can be a little too high. But not to worry! You can visit your local big box store and get a covered Rubbermaid storage tote, and use a box cutter (carefully!) to make your own entrance at whatever level your cat can tolerate. Voila!
  3. Automatic/self-cleaning litter boxes: These are all the rage, and I can definitely see the allure, a litter box that cleans itself?? Yes, please! Just keep in mind, they still require some upkeep on your end. I’d also be cautious with these if you have a cat who tends to be skittish or dislikes loud noises; for these cats, an automatic litter box can be quite scary and may even lead them to avoid all litter boxes (and we certainly don’t want that!).

Cats prefer to use a clean litter box, just like we prefer to use a flushed toilet. Most cats will still use a litter box that’s been slightly soiled, but the dirtier the litter box, the more likely your cat will choose to go somewhere else. For that reason, it’s recommended that you scoop the litter box 1-2 times daily and do a full replacement of the litter every 1-2 weeks. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I’m not able to live up to this advice, but I sure do try my best. I’d much prefer to take a few minutes to scoop the litter boxes rather than having to clean cat urine out of my carpet.


There are MANY reasons why your cat might be urinating and/or defecating outside their litter box. First, make sure you’ve followed the guidelines above with regard to number and placement of litter boxes, and litter box hygiene. Also make sure your cat isn’t suffering from a medical condition that could be causing this behavior. (I’ll discuss this in-depth in an upcoming article)

Litter box logistics are not a fun part of owning a cat, but with a little thoughtful planning on our part as owners, we can spend less energy on litter box problems and focus on what really matters, kitty cuddles!