Kitty Litter Box Basics: How To Set Up A Box Your Cat Will Actually Use

1. Use the right container
The size of the litter box is crucial to its success. Larger is better; many of the containers sold as litter boxes are barely bigger than a shallow dishpan, and that’s just not big enough. A good rule of thumb is that the box should be at least large enough for the cat to turn around in, to dig in, and to situate himself in comfortably.

The depth of the container is important too, but deeper isn’t necessarily better. If the side of the container are too tall, very young or very old cats may find it difficult to get into (and will therefore do their business elsewhere).

2. Use the right litter
Most cats seem to prefer fine-grained litters, which are softer and less dusty. All scoopable or clumping litters have a fine-grain texture, and though most clay litters are more coarse-grained, high quality non-scoopable litters are fine-grained enough to suit most cats.

Cats can be very fussy about what litter they will or won’t use, and one of the deciding factors is often smell. If you switch from a standard type of litter to a scented type, your cat may very well stage a boycott. A thin layer of baking soda on the bottom of the litter box will do a lot to keep odors down, but regular scooping and cleaning is the real answer.

3. Use the right amount of litter
More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to filling the litter box. Cats prefer a relatively shallow depth of litter, usually in the 2″ to 3″ range. If your litter is at a depth over 4″, your cat may not be comfortable using it. Long-haired cats in particular sometimes seem to prefer a shallower litter, and may try to dig down to the bottom of the box.

4. Have the right number of boxes
The expert advice is to have as many boxes as you have cats, plus one extra. While that’s not always practical, you should definitely have more than one litter box if you have more than one cat. Even if you only have one cat, it’s a good idea to have a litter box on each level of your house.

5. Put the boxes in the right locations
Cats like their privacy, and one of the keys to getting a cat to use the litter box is to put it in a place that’s quiet and out of the way. But resist the temptation to put the box as far away from “living quarters” as possible – for instance, in the garage or in the far corner of the basement. For one thing, if the box is so far away that you forget about it, you’re less likely to keep it scooped and clean. And if it’s so far away that it’s inconvenient to get to, your cat is going to find alternative places to take care of business.

6. Most important of all: clean, clean, clean!!
Cats vary a great deal in their tolerance for soiled litter, but eventually every cat will reach the “no way!” point and simply refuse to use a box that’s too dirty. Scoop the litter box daily, and add litter as needed to maintain a depth of 2″ to 3″.

How often you need to do a complete litter change (emptying the box, disposing of the used litter, washing the box and refilling with fresh litter) depends on the size of the box and how many cats are using it. If there is a noticeable smell around the box, it’s time for a litter change. Scoopable litter usually only needs to be changed every two or three weeks, while standard litter should be changed at least once a week.

Don’t use strong or potentially toxic cleaners or chemicals to wash out the box – the could be harmful to your cat. And even if they’re not harmful, if they leave a noticeable smell behind, your cat may refuse to use the box.