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Litter and Box Preferences

The best type of litter and litter box is what your cat likes best! Most cat litters and litter boxes are designed to be attractive to the humans in the household who are purchasing these items. In an effort to reduce odor associated with the litter box (especially when it is not cleaned frequently enough) many litters have deodorizers. Some litters are manufactured to tap in to the  environmentally friendly market by using recycled newspaper or wood shavings. Other litters are manufactured to produce firm clumps and heavier grains to discourage particles from being scattered around the litter box by cats digging in the box to cover stool. Some newer litters are designed to appeal to an upscale clientele with an attractive crystalline appearance or a tray and filter set up..

 Covered litter boxes are designed to prevent the unattractive odor and appearance of a dirty litter box to offend the human inhabitants of the household. Some uncovered litter boxes  have special elevated rims to catch "flying" litter. Recently mechanical self cleaning litter boxes have arrived in the marketplace, with some using traditional scoopable litter and the newest using washable recycling litter.  You need to use the type of litter and litter box that your cat prefers, not what you prefer or what brand is on sale this week at the store.

Heavily soiled litter boxes with inadequate amounts of litter will be avoided by many cats.
Scoop the litter box every day and replace litter as needed! The cat has an exquisitely sensitive sense of smell. Using a soiled litter box to them is equivalent to a human using a "Port-a-Potty" that hasn't been cleaned for a month! Some cats are much more sensitive to the amount of urine and stool in the box than other cats. Some cats will not use a box with any urine or stool present- these cats benefit from having a large number ( four boxes for a single cat) of litter boxes to avoid having to use a box they used earlier in the day. Some cats refuse to use a box that another cat previously used- they consider the other cat to have marked that box as it's territory.

Some households have found the use of an automatic litter box helpful. These boxes typically have a use sensor and trigger an automatic scooping 10 minutes after use. They are not maintenance free, and can have clogging issues. In addition, if a malfunction occurs and the scooping mechanism starts while the cat is in  the box, the cat may thereafter be too frightened to use the box again.

To find the litter your cat likes best:

Perform your own litter preference test on your cat:

1. Offer multiple litters in open boxes at the same locations and same time for your cat. Offer the current litter you are using, a former litter that your cat seemed to like, and a clumping soft unscented litter.

2. Observe which boxes she or he uses preferentially over the course of 3-4 days. Scoop the litter boxes daily.

3. If necessary, this preference test can be performed while the cat is confined to one room if house soiling has been severe to prevent the cat from avoiding all the boxes in favor of carpeting or bedding.

4. The depth of the litter in the box can also "make or break" the litter box's appeal to cats. Certain cats prefer shallow litter while others prefer a deeper layer. Try putting less litter on one side of the litter box and more on the other. Watch to see what side is used the most and then continue with that depth. Some cats even prefer a box that has no litter in it at all!

5. Once you find the litter your cat prefers, stay with it! Do not purchase alternate brands that are on sale as they may be enough different from your cat's preferred substrate to re-trigger house soiling.

What to do if your cat does not like any of the litters you have offered:

1. Try a litter attractant like Cat Attract and add into the box with softest clumping litter.

2. Try play sand in a litter box. Some cats need the "desert".

3. Try potting soil in the litter box. If the cat likes it, you may be able to gradually put soft clumping litter under the potting soil and reduce the amount of soil in the box.

4. If carpeting has been the favored substrate, try cutting out a piece of soiled carpeting to fit the box. Gradually put soft clumping litter on top of the carpet. As the cat uses it, cut the size of the carpet smaller and smaller until there is no carpet left in the box.

5. Positive reinforcement for using the litter box- praise your cat for using the litter box! Always reward the behavior you want to have continue. Give praise, play, and food treats when the litter box is used.

6. Confinement in a single room with multiple litter boxes can help encourage litter box use via multiple avenues. Several acceptable locations are offered that are not being used by other cats.  They do not have to interact with other pets in the households for access to food,water, or the litter boxes. Usually the litter boxes are being kept pristinely clean by the owner in the confined space to reduce odor and the chance of further accidents.

7. The use of antianxiety medications to reduce stress short term or long term may be necessary.

8. The use of pheromone sprays or plug ins in the household can reduce marking behavior. These need to be replaced or resprayed regularly. Although not inexpensive, these pheromones can be very useful at urine marking due to stress especially in new environments or when multiple cats are in the household.

9. Always, always, always have your cat evaluated by your veterinarian to look for underlying medical causes for the litter box problems!!!

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Cats evolved in the desert using sand and soil for urination and defecation. Consequently, most cats prefer litter that has a smell, texture and consistency to sand and soil (which is why many cats enjoy using the potted plants and outdoor sand boxes for elimination). Litter substrate research has shown that 90% of cats prefer a soft unscented clumping litter. The remaining 10 % varied in their preferences.

Location of the litter box(es) is important for many cats. most cats prefer a quiet private location to urinate and especially to defecate. Occasionally a cat will prefer an "audience" and choose a more central location. Avoid loud and sudden noises in the area of the litter boxes- even a suddenly activating furnace or washing machine can startle a nervous cat and make them consider that area an unsafe location to eliminate.

Litter or substrate aversion occurs when the cat does not like the litter being offered  due to texture, odor, or appearance. Many cats will balance on the edge of the box or fail to cover their stools when they have an aversion to the litter being offered. In addition, some cats may develop a litter box aversion when they have experienced a traumatic event in the litter box, such as being attacked by another pet,  being given medications while in the box, or experienced cramping from diarrhea or constipation or pain on urination from cystitis.

 Many newer forms of litters are less attractive to cats because they have very different textures or odors from sand or dirt. Recycled paper litters, litters made from aromatic woods such as pine or cedar, crystalline litters, and plastic bead type litters may not be perceived as normal litter substrates by the cat and their use may encourage the cat to find other litter substitutes. Litters that are advertised as "less tracking" litters often have larger particle sizes and discourage cats from digging. It is normal behavior for cats to dig where they eliminate and discouraging that  behavior makes the litter less attractive.

Avoid these crystal, paper, cedar and other aromatic litters when litter box problems are occurring.

Deodorizers, whether added to the litter during manufacturing or as an additive in the box itself, are often overpowering to the highly sensitive noses of cats and may deter cats from using the litter.  Most multiple cat litters are deodorized and should be avoided when litter box issues have occured.

All cats prefer a clean box, but using strong cleaners to disinfect the litter box may leave an unpleasant aroma for the cat and cause it to avoid the box. Simple dishsoap and water are ideal for box cleaning. If possible, let the box air dry in the sun for additional odor protection. Avoid bleach as it neutralizes the ammonia in cat urine . In essence, you want the cat to return to the box and having a very slight scent of urine detectable to the cat helps attract it back to  the box for future uses.  

Most cats prefer an open box rather than a covered litter box.  Most regular sized litter boxes, even open boxes, are too small for large, obese, or arthritic cats to use easily.

Large cats can have difficulty getting into voiding positions comfortably in normal size litter boxes.

 Large plastic storage boxes are available in multiple depths and make excellent litter boxes.  Deeper storage boxes can be used for cats that tend to urinate over the edge of the box by cutting an opening on one side to allow easy access into the box. Tape the edges of the cut opening as they can be sharp and cut the cat or the litter box cleaning human.

Liners were designed to aid in keeping litter boxes clean by being able to remove all the litter at one time from the box. Some cats do not like the odor or texture of the liners and avoid boxes with them. The use of liners also tends to encourage owners to avoid scooping waste from the box daily in preference of dumping all the contents of the box at one time. The increased amount of urine and stool in these boxes can make them unpleasant to the cat.