Monday, July 16, 2012

The Litter Box Is Not A Poop Storage Device. It Is Merely A Waystation.

The litter box is not a storage container for poop (or anything else that comes out of a cat).

The litter box is, rather, a place for cats to deposit their, er, business. After which said business should be removed in a timely manner. NOT allowed to accumulate until it becomes disgusting.

The fact of the matter is that a properly maintained litter box will not smell any more than a regularly flushed human toilet will. Which means it's best to scoop at least twice a day, and that if you have multiple cats, you should have multiple litter boxes.

I admit I've become a bit of a zealot about this, but only because I know how many cats are given up to shelters and subsequently killed due to "litter box issues". When in reality, I'm sure that many of those "issues" were probably either medical problems (undiagnosed UTIs, etc.) or matters of protest due to improper box maintenance.

That said, I realize sometimes people have problems cleaning the box due to illness, disability, etc. And if the box isn't getting cleaned in that sort of a situation, it's due to the cat's human not receiving adequate support. Which of course is a problem in and of itself. This post is NOT meant to denigrate anyone who cannot scoop litter themselves -- again, if you can't scoop, you should absolutely be getting assistance from someone who can -- but rather, to note a few things that might help whoever is supposed to be cleaning the box do it more often.

And it just occurred to me tonight that perhaps part of the reason litterboxen often get neglected far longer than is right or healthy is because too many people think of the box as a kind of....poop reservoir, or something, where basically you only clean it out when it fills up completely.

I've also met a number of people who believe that catboxes "just smell" and that this is normal/acceptable/okay. Even when their cats are suffering from ear ulcers due to having to enter a covered box reeking of ammonia fumes I've seen people baffled that I think something is wrong. And so I figured something like this post was in order.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that I am myself a reformed catbox-neglecter. When I was younger, I would basically wait until my parents nagged me to clean the box -- the consequence of which was that my poor cat Tim ended up with a box so nasty he eventually got fed up and decided to use my acid-washed-denim-look-neon-paint-splattered beanbag chair instead (seriously, I was all about to sit down and play Zelda one day when I was around thirteen, and very nearly sat in the middle of a tidy pile of feline feces!).

After that I got a little better about scooping, but it wasn't until I was an adult, with 4 cats of my own, that I figured out the actual meaning of litterbox cleanliness. And I am so glad I did figure it out because, well, my house doesn't stink, and my cats are so happy with their bathroom facilities that they use them regularly and perfectly. And I would never dream of going back to my preteen method of "wait until something bad happens, then clean the box". It's much, much more pleasant for everyone when the box is treated as a temporary waystation for waste as opposed to an accumulatorium (if that's even a real word) for same.


  1. It is actually fairly easy - make it daily routine to clean the litterbox, and you don't have to deal with anything nasty/smelly/obnoxious.

    I clean the litterbox once a day (in the evening), and give the whole box a good clean (changing litter, etc) once a month. I discovered a great cat litter that is compostable, and does not smell at all.

  2. Agree that boxes must be kept clean for them and for us! We have two boxes for three indoor/outdoor cats. We clean twice a day (can be more lax in summer vs other seasons as young ones now take care of business outside during the day - yeah!).
    We found Dr Elsey's Precious Litter to be the best. The lesser brands have too much dust and we were choking, wheezing and sneezing even in other rooms.
    The precious litter clumps very well, doesn't smell and last forever - I really mean forever. We buy a 40 lb bag about once every 2 or 3 months - really. They offer $5 off coupon or 1st bag free on their website at various times. I am not affiliated with them, just found something that works well.
    I came across your website after looking up gooseberry green eyes. I have a Mau mutt named Lucy with many attributes of an Egyptian Mau, namely the green eyes, the back stripe, the extra skin flange on the flanks, the tail twitch/foot dance and the shorter front legs that make her look like a racoon when she walks.
    We have two other cats, 1 year olds that are black fur oriental/siamese mutts that have been a blast.
    I enjoy your website.
    Thanks, Kit

  3. streepie: Yep, exactly...a daily scooping routine makes it super easy to maintain litterboxes, MUCH moreso than if the stuff is allowed to build up over a course of days or weeks.

    Another thing I've found helps me keep the routine is using UNcovered boxes. I know some cats like covered boxes, but many don't, and but I cringe every time I hear someone say they use a covered box in order to "keep the odors in". All three of my litterboxes are actually extra-large plastic storage containers (without the lids). I just used a hacksaw to make a cutaway on one side of the container to make it easier for the kitties to step in. The result does a great job of minimizing litter-scatter while still allowing the box-user to keep an eye out for ambushes (which can be very problematic in multi-cat, covered-box-using households). Mind you, most covered boxes wouldn't work in my household anyway as my boys are too long and tall to be able to turn around in any of the pet-store models I've seen, but still. The storage container thing is something I've become kind of a zealot about because it works SO well.

  4. Kit: Yeah, with indoor/outdoor cats it's not necessary to scoop QUITE as much, unless you have one of those very particular kitties who actually comes *inside* to do her business (I've met a few of those). My guys only ever go outside when I can be around to watch them (we live directly parallel to a very busy road) so they don't normally go to the bathroom outdoors, but it's still very easy to keep their 3 boxes clean with 2x-daily scooping. [It also helps that the younger ones are mostly raw-fed...this tends to minimize poop volume due to the high digestibility of the meat they eat.]

    And regarding Dr. Elsey's litter: I've heard a lot of good things about that brand. I don't currently use it, as I've had fine luck with Swheat Scoop Multi-Cat (which I initially got as a "kitten-safe" litter but kept using because everyone got used to it and it's much lighter to carry than an equivalent volume of clay). But if I had to switch to clay for whatever reason, I'd likely try Dr. Elsey's first. It's supposedly less dusty than a lot of clay brands and exhibits good clumping action. (The Swheat Scoop has only moderately good clumping, but it's fine so long as I don't try and pick out the pee clumps too soon after they've been deposited...they tend to fall apart unless you let them congeal for 10 minutes or so).

    ...and all that said, welcome, and glad you found the site! That would be Brodie whose gooseberry-green eyes you came across. Mutt cats are so neat...they look like all different "kinds" of cats depending on what feature/angle you're focusing on. Brodie has the Mau-eyes in conjunction with Oriental triangle-ears and an overall Maine Coonish size/scale. And your kitties sound beautiful and awesome, which no doubt they are. :D

  5. I have an automatic litter box and a covered on for 2 cats. The automatic one runs about 10 minutes after the cat uses it. I admit I don't clean out the covered one as often as 2x a day - but at least there is a moderately clean one at all times. (I'd have 2 automatic ones, despite the price, but one of the cats likes the covered one and likes a lot of litter. I don't have a covered one because I want one, I have one because one of the cats likes it.) Unfortunately because of the "rake" the automatic one will leave small clumps behind.

  6. Anonymous: Hey there, if you plan on commenting here in the future could you please sign your posts with an initial/letter/nickname/etc.? The vast, VAST majority of unsigned anon comments I get are spam, which tends to compel me to auto-delete them most of the time, and plus it generates a lot of confusion if more than one unsigned anon comments on the same post.

    But that aside, yeah, some cats do prefer covered boxes. It's an individual preference thing and some kitties apparently value privacy over being able to see what's going on around them mid-business. Using a covered box because it's what your cat wants is a perfectly good, valid just (for me, at least) makes maintenance rather more difficult because it puts an obstacle in the way of both seeing the contents of the box and scooping them out.

    Regarding automatic boxes: do you find yours easy to maintain? They always looked to me like more trouble than they were worth, as there are moving parts that will inevitably get worn out or gunked up, and it seems like they'd be very annoying to clean. Yet some people swear by them (I've heard good things about the Litter-Robot, for instance).

  7. This is Anon @ 1:42 pm. One of the websites I visit was hacked by Anonymous/LulzSec a while back, and I'm still leary of logging or leaving an email because of it.

    The cat who like the covered box had a bad kittenhood, and was probably abused and then abandoned in the middle of winter, so he has a tendancy to hide. He likes to sleep in hidden spots, or under something, or somewhere not easily visible, which explains the liking of the covered litter box. He also doesn't like being picked up, and usually only comes around people for feeding, a little petting, or sometimes to play with toys like a feather wand like Da Bird. I know for some people this wouldn't be their ideal cat, but my family has a habit of rescuing animals, even semi-feral ones (like Bella) so having an anti-social cat is normal for me.

    As far as automatic litter boxes goes, we have a Littermaid (I think it's an LM900, or LM980 is the new model). The moving parts, except for the rake, don't come in contact with the litter, so unless the cat is really messy, nothing much usually gets in the wheels. And it comes apart, so the bottom where the litter is can be easily washed, and then the upper part which has the electronics and moving parts can just be wiped down. After going through the cleaning cycle, there can be little bits left behind, so sometimes I have to go through with the scoop to clean it out. I like it because I'm just bad at remembering to clean the litter box out (not so bad it ever smells tho). There are some cons. None of the automatic litter boxes I've seen are very big, so a big cat doesn't fit completely in it, but my cat doesn't mind he has to step on the edge to use it. It's noisy too, so cats who are easily startled might not like it. However when we first got it and it would go through the clean cycle, both cats would run over and watch it. The only major problem I've had with them is the motor eventually dies so every 2-3 years I buy an new one. I wouldn't actually recommend one if someone didn't have the disposible income to buy it; while it's nice it's not a great solution to cleaning the box out.

    I would however recommend a water fountain, especially for people with cats that drink out of the faucet or toilet, or those with kidney/UTI problems. Ours love the fountain, and do drink out of it more than just a bowl. Fountains come with a filter, so at least some of the gunk is cleaned out as the water circulates, meaning it doesn't have to be cleaned every day. Because it circulates it's often a slightly cooler than room temp too. And of course the water moves, and just like when we first got the automatic litter box, they used to watch it. If someone were to get one I'd say to get a large, metal or ceramic one. A large one gives the cats plenty of room to drink, even multiple cats. They can drink where the water comes our if they want moving water, or out of the bowl part if they want to drink still water. A metal or ceramic one is easier to clean, especially if you have hard water. Even using filtered water I still have lime build up, but I can just scrap that off with a knife. Like with the litter box the pump does die, but I think that's actually because of the hard water and lime build up, not because it dies every 2-3 years like the litter boxes. We've got a Pioneer Big Max fountain, I think I paid around $40 for it.

  8. darchole: Hi, no problem re. the not logging in thing....I have it deliberately set so people don't HAVE to log in because I know some people have accessibility/privacy/security concerns. I just find it less confusing when people sign their messages with an initial or even a number or something if they prefer. Just something to keep track of who is who in a thread. What you've done re. putting in a name/nickname in the posting field is fine, and it would also be fine if you kept that as "Anonymous" and then just put a "-d" at the end of your message or something.

    But! Enough about that. Back to the reason for the existence of this blog, which is cats! :D That's awesome that you are comfortable living with semi-feral kitties. A lot of people (I was just talking about this subject elsewhere) unfortunately have this thing where they judge cats as "good" or "bad" based solely on how much they're willing to put up with random and frequent unsolicited physical contact with humans. My 3 younger cats started out as *completely* wild (as in, they were 2-3 months old when I adopted them and had had no human handling at all at that point) and when I took them in I basically just worked from the perspective of "I am trying to give these cats a good home" as opposed to "I am bringing these cats here FOR ME TO ENJOY AND CUDDLE WITH". I had no idea how "domesticated" they would end up, but I was totally okay with the idea that they might never be "lap cats". Lo and behold, nearly three years later they actually do enjoy lap-sitting. It just has to be on their terms, which is absolutely fine with me. They don't immediately go sit on guests, but heck, neither do I!

    ...but back to the world of litter boxes, if you don't find the maintenance of the automatic box to be too annoying, then it's probably better to have it than not have it if it means the box stays cleaner. Different things work better for different households. I (and my cats) happen to prefer gigantic uncovered boxes but that's just us.

    1. Yeah, I dont understand people who have that kind of good/bad definition for cats. One of the hidey cat's littermates went to someone else, who got rid of it because it "hid all the time". It took a lot of work to get him socialized so he doesn't hide all the time, but he will never be a lap cat. And that's OK with me.

  9. Sort of late - I just had a conversation with my mother about this issue. She insists that litterboxes are essentially required to stink, and I explained how you handle them (from reading posts a year or two ago) and she wouldn't believe me. I should show her this post.

  10. *waves at Lisa Harney*

    Heya! No problem re. being late to the discussion, that's the nice thing about blogs...conversations can be totally asynchronous. And yeah, a lot of people have the idea that litter boxes stink no matter what and it's impossible to keep them truly hospitable. I have to wonder if maybe they don't realize there's even such a thing as clumping litter. :/ It really does make maintenance WAY easier when you can actually remove the pee clumps.

  11. Yes, clumping litter is a godsend for this sort of thing, and while expensive I think over the long-term it might be cheaper because you're not constantly dumping the whole litter box out.

    I think that the problems people have with litter boxes are: Not large enough, not enough for the number of cats, not able to take care of the litter boxes as often as they should be. My mother had too many cats in the house several years ago and only allowed one litter box that had to be changed daily, and that was pure hell. So she thinks cats just make messes everywhere as opposed to making messes when the litter box is too much of a mess.

    I used to have one of those automatic litter boxes, and I ended up seriously hating the thing. I don't remember which brand it was, but the motor wasn't very powerful and kept getting stuck on clumps so I'd have to clear the rake to let it continue. A friend of mine had one as well, but I think he had better luck with his.

    Oh, and mostly I just wish I could remember to keep up more - you've had a lot of great posts here lately. :)


This blog has been archived and can no longer receive comments.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.