Got a cat with an indoor-only lifestyle? Great choice! But what does that mean for your litterbox?

The litterbox has got to be the single most undervalued feline health tool in the world. Few of us properly understand that where a cat "does his business" is every bit as important (or more, in many cases) than what he eats. 

Sounds like a stretch, I know, but then ... you’re not a cat. 

Some species place what we humans might consider to be an inordinate amount of import on the location of our urine and droppings. Nonetheless, it behooves us as their caretakers to understand that this is the case and to make concessions to their comfort in this regard. To that end, here are my tips for keeping your cats healthy, litterbox-wise.

#1 Cleanliness

Stay at least one step ahead of your cat’s litterbox-cleanliness needs. If you’re always just barely keeping up, the chances she’ll stray from her box increase exponentially should any other stress come to bear. Next thing you know, your mother-in-law’s visit will mean pee aroma everywhere––just because the slightly soiled litterbox was the last straw on that stressful day.


And if your cat’s got a potential litterbox issue, daily cleaning is usually indicated––at least until matters are back under control. That means real cleaning, not just scooping. Sorry. Suck it up. 


#2 Location, location, location


As in real estate, the location of the litterbox is critical to successful implementation. Cats control territories ... even cats who appear to get along without reservations. That’s why spreading out the litterboxes helps. While your house may begin to look like litterbox heaven, it certainly beats having a home that smells like it.


Consider, also, that boxes near windows or clear doors may be problematic for their proximity to outdoor cats. Beware the influence of those who don’t even reside in your home. 


#3 Multi-cat stats and your litterbox count


Here’s the key stat: 1.5 litterboxes for every two cats is considered the minimum. Sure, some can get away with less––and do for one or two cats––but once you have three cats, you’re risking your cats’ comfort and your household’s aromatic integrity. 


That’s why mo’ boxes is mo’ better. Even if it’s just temporary, consider offering a variety of litterboxes with a variety of litters, if need be. After all, not every cat likes to share and not all cats are going to be wowed by your choice of expensive litters. In fact, I even had one patient who refused anything but newspaper. She required her own special box. It happens. 


#4 Don’t go changing


Many veterinary behaviorists suggest picking a product your cats like and sticking with it. "Don’t go changing," croons Mr. Joel, and neither should you be playing round robin with the litters. I know the ones on sale look soooo tempting, but consider that your cats have to readjust significantly every time you make a change. 


Sure, some don’t mind so much–– but all cats care to some extent. While you might just happen upon the perfect litter if you mix it up a lot, you may also be courting disaster––especially if you make a drastic change after years of using one particular brand.  


#5 Size matters


Yes, it’s been proven. Bigger is better when it comes to litterboxes. Not only do cats feel more comfy and free in a sizable sand box, they also feel less threatened by invaders. More room ... ahhhhhh.


#6 Put a lid on it––or take it off ... take it all off


Lids and close quarters can be especially disconcerting for cats who have to compete with other cats over territory. After all, how would you feel if you might be ambushed every time you left the bathroom? I, for one, don’t ever want to go back to middle school ever again––and I’m sure your cat doesn’t need that kind of stress, either. 


That’s why large, clear plastic boxes, sans lids, can be so wonderful. Consider buying one of those large, clear Rubbermaid-style boxes with a kitty-sized opening above the litter level––and no lid, of course. This works! Should she spy an assailant, your cat can escape over top easily while still feeling comfy and protected when she’s not being harassed. 

#7 Litter characteristics


Yes, I promised I would not discuss litter brands and varieties but ... I lied. Studies show that cats prefer clumping litters. And odor-controlling litters can stretch the life of a slightly dirty box (crucial when your cat is extra-finicky about cleanliness). Though fragrances, in particular, have not been associated with elimination disorders, it seems cats prefer bleach and fish odors to floral and citrus smells––and the aroma of cedar over all others. 


The key, as always, is to be aware of your cats’ needs. Because they’re extra-picky about where they eliminate it’s critical to stay on top of your cat’s litterbox needs. It really can make the difference between a healthy, happy cat and an unhealthy, over-stressed kitty that ends up remanded to a shelter for the rest of her life.

Dr. Patty Khuly