All his life - he's 10 now - Mugen, an exclusively indoor cat (except for his spacious wire run, accessible via the bathroom window,) has used the litterbox with impeccable manners. He has never had a "mistake." But today he is showing signs of considering a faux pas... Why? Two words. Scented cat litter.
For the last few days Mugen has indeed used his litter box, but he shows a high disdain for it, and he rockets out as soon as he finishes - without pausing to cover that which he produces in there. I find this worrisome. I fear an indiscretion could well be imminent.
Spoiled? No. Why do you ask?
A few days ago I opened the litter bucket, confident that I would find a significant amount of litter there. Alas, I was mistaken. Litter bucket empty.
So I beetled down to the local grocery and discovered that they only had two types of cat litter, and both were scented. I don't like scented cat litter, or tissues, or candles, or Glade plug-ins, or any of that other horrid chemical abomination family. And like any sensible creature, I don't think my cat does either.
I was right.
Mugen gave me such a look when I added the foul stuff to his box.
So the next day I caught a ride to Walgreen's with a friend, (I don't drive, nor will my agoraphobia let me ride the bus) where I purchased two containers of clumping litter. I was unfamiliar with the brand, so I searched the labels for words like fragrance-free, or just fragrant, "Fresh Scent" or any of those other insipid code words that might suggest gag-inducing chemistry set affiliations. It seemed OK.
When I got it home I opened it, and guess what. Yup, scented. Swearing ensued. Have you ever heard a cat swear. I assure you, they can. And with great venom.
Today I'm going to the doctor for a check-up, and I have extracted a promise from my friend who is driving me, that we will stop at Pet Food Express and get some sensible, non-offensive unscented cat litter.
I will scrub the litter box, and fill it with "the good stuff" and all will be well.
I am truly sorry Mugen. I promise, it will never happen again. If I run out unexpectedly, I'll get a cab to the pet supplies place. if necessary.
The Type of Litter Most Cats Favor
A cat litter study conducted in the early 1990’s uncovered the fact that hands-down, kitties preferred clumping litter (also commercially marketed as scoopable litter) made of very small granular material similar to sand over large granule litter made from, for example, recycled paper. The kitties in the study also preferred clay based substrates over other types.
More recent research can help cat owners and caretakers narrow down even further the kinds of litter most kitties would choose given a selection.
First on the list of litter options is the scent. Scented cat litter is very common, since manufacturers know most cat owners want to control litter box odor as much as possible.
Recent research in the last two years has revealed that many kitties dislike litter with a floral or citrus scent. And since most of the floral or citrus-scented litters on the market today are synthetic, I recommend steering clear of scented litters altogether. That way you can avoid litter box aversion and exposing your kitty to non-natural materials at the same time.
Now here’s the downside to using an unscented litter. Your kitty, like all kitties, doesn’t like a dirty box. Even if you’re removing all the fecal material and clumps of urine daily or more often, the scent that remains in the box can be enough to deter your cat from using it.
Cleaning the Litter Box
Especially if you use unscented litter, which I recommend, you must be fastidious about scooping the box. I recommend twice a day scooping of all feces and urine clumps.
I also recommend you dispose of all used litter and clean the box at least weekly. It’s important to wash the container thoroughly to remove as much odor as possible so that your kitty does not become averse to using her litter box due to a lingering smell.
Wash the box with plain hot water. If you use soap, choose a natural, fragrance free variety. Avoid any cleaning product that is scented or contains potential toxins.
Odor Control Additives
Another study concluded that odor control additives can also create a littler box aversion in many cats.
Most commercial litters contain one of two odor control additives, either baking soda or activated charcoal or carbon.
Kitties in the study preferred carbon to baking soda additives. So if you’re using a litter with a baking soda based odor control additive and your cat is not using his box appropriately, it could be he’s reacting to the additive.
My recommendation is to switch to a litter with no odor control additives in order to provide your kitty with as natural an environment as possible in which to do his business. Again, remember to keep the box very, very clean to eliminate a lingering smell of urine and feces.
Alternatively, you can try a litter with a charcoal or carbon based odor control additive and see if your cat prefers it to the brand with the baking soda additive.
Litter Box Sizes
A third recent study was done on cats’ preferences for certain sizes of litter boxes.
Kitties in the study were given access to small, medium and extra large size litter boxes. As you might guess, the cats preferred the largest size boxes and used them more frequently than the smaller ones.
Many cat parents have had great success eliminating litter box aversion by switching to the largest box they can find. Rubbermaid makes an extra large litter box. You can also find other brands of large boxes at pet specialty stores.
Another option is to create your own large litter box.
Another very important factor to consider is the number of litter boxes vs. the number of cats in your household. If you have a kitty that is soiling your house, you need to make sure you have at least one box per cat and that all boxes are kept very clean.
So to review – you must remember your cat is an individual with her own litter box preferences. If you have more than one feline in your home, each will have his or her own inclinations regarding litter box size and location, and the texture, smell and feel of the litter.
If you’re having problems with a kitty that is urinating inappropriately, I recommend you provide several litter boxes representing a variety of options (different sizes, placement, type of litter) so you can determine what your wayward feline prefers. This is also a good idea if you bring a new cat or kitten into your family.
The small additional expense and trouble caused by trying out different options will be well worth it to solve litter box aversion problems and prevent future or potential house soiling.
As a general rule, I recommend unscented clumping litter with no odor control additives and as large a litter pan as you can find. However, your kitty might prefer otherwise and you should follow his lead.
Regardless of what type of box and litter you decide on, the most important feature for your kitty will be the cleanliness of the box. It’s crucial that you keep all litter boxes fastidiously clean to encourage your cat to use them without fail.
Think about your own reaction when you’re forced to use a dirty restroom. Now imagine how it would feel to have no choice but to use that dirty restroom every day. Eventually, you’d find an alternative – right? Another bathroom in your home perhaps, or the locker room at the gym, or maybe the restroom at the coffee shop on the corner.
Same principle applies to the feline members of your family. If you take the time to discover your cat’s toileting preferences and you keep her "bathroom" very clean, you can prevent or eliminate most if not all litter box aversion problems.