If you can count yourself as one of the lucky cat owners who has never had the misfortune of walking into a room and smelling “cat,” then you very likely have a cat that is fastidious about going in the litter box every time, and you are indeed fortunate.
One of the most alarming scents known to humans is the scent of a home that has been sprayed or otherwise saturated with cat urine, and it is one of biggest complaints amongst cat owners who relinquish their cats to the outdoors or to animal control. Few humans will tolerate a cat that refuses to use its litter box, and yet many expect their cats to willingly use a box that is littered with old feces and clumps of urine soaked clay. Imagine how you might feel if you had to use a toilet that looked like that? And you don’t even have to put your feet in it!
With that in mind, know that a clean litter box is a welcoming litter box. The cleaner the litter in the box is, the less likely your cat is to get fed up with putting her feet in it and going on the nice clean floor.
A favorite type of litter among tidy homeowners is a clumping type of clay granule. It has been found that most cats prefer small loose granules that can be easily pushed about with their feet and that shakes off easily as they exit the box; nothing too fine or soft. Unless you have been using a scented litter since your cat was a kitten, you might not want to experiment with changing from an unscented litter to a scented litter. If you do decide to try a new litter, mix it slowly with the old type of litter – a half and half mix – to get your cat used to it. Some cats will stop using the box if the litter is changed abruptly.
Using a litter scoop with smallish and closely set holes, clean the clumps out of the litter at least once daily – more often if you have more than one cat. To keep the smell to a minimum after cleaning, add some litter to replace what you removed while cleaning and sprinkle a small amount of baking soda into the litter before using the litter scoop to turn the freshened litter.
Once a week, dump the entire box and soak the box in hot water for a few minutes. It is not necessary to use detergents or cleaning chemicals, hot water will generally do the trick, but a small amount of liquid dish soap added to the hot water will help loosen any “dirt” on the interior sides and bottom, and will refresh the box without leaving a toxic residue behind. Avoid products that have ammonia, bleach, or any type of caustic ingredient. If you want to go a little further, you can mix a small amount of hydrogen peroxide or vinegar in the hot water to remove any bacteria or smells.
If the box needs more than a simple washing out, use disposable gloves (which can be found in bulk at your local drugstore) and a cleaning rag, scrub brush or sponge that is set aside just for cleaning the litter box (and only the litter box) to clean the box thoroughly. If you are pregnant or have lowered immunity, always wear gloves for cleaning the box, along with a dust mask to prevent breathing in any of the litter dust. And always wash your hands and arms thoroughly after you have finished.
Once the box has been cleaned, dry it out with a paper towel or cleaning towel and then sprinkle the bottom with baking soda. It is best not to use anything scented in the box, or even in the same room as the box, since chemical smells, even the kinds of things that smell good to us, can repel cats and cause them to avoid the box or the room. Some scented products can be toxic for cats just through inhaling them in the indoor environment, so the best method is to neutralize and remove the odors rather than try to cover them up.
Finally, if you have more than one cat, many owners have found that having multiple litter boxes – one per cat – is the best method for preventing, or ending, turf wars. Likewise, if you live in a home with multiple levels, one litter box per level will make a big difference for a cat that has to go now. Just don’t forget to clean all of the litter boxes in the house!
Image: Mr. T in DC / via Flickr