Cats and Litter Boxes (Part 1)

Cats don't usually need to be "litter box trained" the way dogs need to be housetrained. But if the litter box doesn't match your cat's preferences for a comfy toilet, she may find somewhere else to go. In Part 1 of this 2-part series, the Dog Trainer explains what makes an attractive litter box for your cat, and what doesn't.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #219

Many of you like it when the Dog Trainer has something to say about cats. Who knew? So that's why I’ll be turning my attention to them more often. In fact, this week I’ll start off my very first cat two-parter, on what makes a litter box appealing to your cat, and what sends her off to pee and poop anywhere but in it.>

Tip #1: Everybody Likes a Clean Toilet


Some cats will let you get away with slacking off, but in that case, you may find your human friends making excuses to meet up with you anyplace other than your house. Scoop the box at least twice a day. Come on, it takes 5 seconds.

A bigger project is dumping out the litter entirely and washing the box. I have to admit, this is nobody’s favorite job. On the other hand, finding cat pee on the rug is even less pleasant. And since plastic absorbs odors, it’s easy for a never-washed litter box to get rank even if you scoop it 5 times a day. Recommendations vary, depending on the type of litter you use and how many cats you have, but it’s probably good to plan on washing the litter box with unscented soap and warm water every two weeks or so. My wife and I have found that letting the washed box dry in sunlight makes a big difference in how much smells linger.

Litter box liners sound good in theory – just strip the box, dump the litter, and you’re good to go. In practice what usually happens is your cat tears holes in the liner while she scratches. I’ve never found liners to save much work, and there’s always the risk of spooking your cat if her claw gets caught in the plastic. A cat spooked in the litter box is not far removed from a cat spooked by the litter box. Bad direction to go in.

Tip #2: How Many Litter Boxes Should You Have?

Rule of thumb: You should have as many litter boxes as you have cats, plus one. I don’t think this is hard and fast – we have the same number of boxes as we do cats, and that works fine – but let those two numbers diverge much, and you might be looking at a situation where Kittychai is crossing her legs while Fluffy and Catawhompus monopolizes the available toilets, and Sylvester and Muffin are already on line. Here comes trouble.

Plus, if you don’t have room for enough litter boxes, the lack of available space may be trying to tell you something about how many cats you can have and still hope that they can share the space peaceably. More about intercat conflict later.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).