Litter Box Placement & Type
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When a cat or kitten joins your family, one of the biggest questions is what type of litter box should I buy and where should I place it. It’s the primary concern for most cat parents, but especially first-time cat owners.
Over the years, I accumulated many different litter boxes, with fostering cats and kittens. Plus I own a small herd myself. My oldest cat is 10 years old. So I say I have 10 years of experience in litter box placement, issues and anything else you might like to ask. My primary advice is to do what works for you. There are many “by-the-book” rules for the number of litter boxes, placement of litter boxes, etc. But if it doesn’t work for you and your cats, it’s not the right thing to do! Knowing you should do what works for you, I’m going to list some of the rules. Try them out for yourselves and see what works and what doesn’t.
Litter Box Placement
The first thing to consider is what you want from the placement of your litter box. Do you want it easily accessible for cleaning? Do you want it hidden from sight? Bringing a cat to your home is brand new for you and your cat. If this is your first cat or first one after a long break, this is your opportunity to start over and develop good litter box habits from the beginning.
Try out what you want first. The new cat or kitten doesn’t know what to expect as your house is all new to him or her. If your cat is easy and laid-back, what you want will be what you get. Cats are creatures of habit so do try to plan ahead. Good habits start when the kitten or cat is younger.
Many cats do not deal well with change and this condition only gets worse as they age. I’m not saying that all cats have issues with litter boxes because most do not. But for anyone who has dealt with litter box issues, it is a long tedious process to determine what the cat doesn’t like. And your first action, if there is a litter box issue, is to take your cat to the vet to eliminate any medical issues.
Hiding the litter box
If you are most concerned about hiding your cat’s litter box, place it in a closet or a confined space that your cat has access to. You may also try a covered litter box or a piece of furniture that hides the litter box in plain sight. I purchased a living room side table to hide my 1st-floor litter box. No other room on my first floor was available to place a litter box into, so this was the compromise to allow the cats to use one on the first floor.
See my notes below on the considerations of a covered litter box.
Accessing the litter boxes for daily cleaning is always my primary concern. When it’s difficult to clean, I tend to push it off. I do push off cleaning the litter box in my hideaway furniture because it’s not as easy to access, but then not as many cats use this one.
My other four litter boxes are out in the open in specific ‘cat rooms’. Two in the basement and two on the 2nd floor. I have designated ‘cat rooms’ because I also own two dogs. Each doorway to these two rooms has a gate where the cats can come and go as they please through the smaller cat door, but the dogs cannot access these rooms. My puppies know not to go into these rooms even if the gate is open. Nonetheless, Elliot still makes a break for the food when a gate is left open and unsupervised. Lexi is better at rules so she doesn’t go in.
Two things are solved by keeping the dogs out of the ‘cat rooms’, the dogs do not eat the cat’s food and the dogs do not eat what is left in the litter box. Plus the cats gain a safe space for them to go if the dogs are bothering them.
Adjust for the needs of your cat
Listen to your cat. Don’t think that what you decide in litter box placement is the final word. Your new cat or kitten may have something to say about it too! Cats want to feel safe and secure at all times but especially when they are using the litter box. They feel most vulnerable when doing their business. Don’t you?
Tips for litter box placement
Here are a few general tips to consider for you and your cat.
- A hard cleanable surface is always best. But if you must place it on a rug, purchase a litter catching mat that can be washed.
- Place it somewhere that your cat can easily access.
- Don’t place it next to anything that might scare or frighten him or her. Take notice of the surroundings of the litter box. Sometimes, loud noises come and go, like a furnace or an air conditioner. Anything that makes loud noises may spook your cat into not wanting to use the litter box.
- Have multiple litter boxes and place them in different sections of your house. I believe this is key for multiple cat households. If one is occupied, your cat can move on to the next box. Or some cats prefer to be the only one to use a specific box. They work it out eventually, but having multiple options for them goes a long way in them figuring it out.
- Have one more litter box than the number of cats that you own.
Special note on placement
One note on the number of litter boxes: I don’t follow this rule. It does not work for me in the spaces that I have in my house. This rule is the primary rule everyone will cite when you explain your household has litter box issues. But adding another litter box doesn’t always solve your issue. You still have to decide what works for you.
I only have 5 litter boxes for 5 cats. But they are spread out over three different floors. Placement of litter boxes and more specifically placing them in different areas of your house is the key to my pets. In my previous house, all the litter boxes were in the same room and I had tons of issues. My current setup consists of two in the basement ‘cat room’, two in the 2nd-floor‘ cat room’ and one hide-away litter box on the 1st floor in the family room.
Type of litter box
My number one suggestion on the type of litter box to use is to make sure the box is big enough for your cat. Larger cats need larger litter boxes. A small litter box is fine for a tiny kitten. But as your kitten grows, the size of their litter box needs to grow too. Eventually, they stop growing, but by this time you have accumulated a few litter boxes.
No more store-bought litter boxes
Several years ago, I gave up buying litter boxes from pet stores. My two large cats, Alex & Sam didn’t do well in any litter box I bought. Alex is 20 lbs and Sam is a hefty 15 lbs. I call Alex my mad ‘cover-er’. He wildly tries to cover up his business, but scrapes his paw on the wall, on the litter box, anywhere but the actual litter. Even the ‘fat-boy’ litter box wasn’t large enough for him. He was always pooping over the side or scraping the poop out of the box in his wild covering. A larger box was needed for him.
My girl Ham is only a mere 10 lbs, but she can dig all the way to the bottom of the litter box and throw everything around while doing it. Low back litter boxes didn’t work for me and her, as every day I would have a mess to clean up. Litter was thrown halfway across the room and I didn’t have the time to clean this up every day or even every other day.
Since all the cats are free to use whatever litter box they come upon, I changed to my own type of litter box to cover all scenarios.
DIY litter boxes
My four main litter boxes consist of large storage containers with a hole cut into the side in a U shape to allow them to walk in. I leave the top open without using the container lid. My cats are much taller than the storage container and the big boys do not like being confined while peeing and pooping. The sides are high enough for my mad digger and only a little litter sneaks out when they vacate the box. Plus the high sides prevent any ‘pooping over’ situations that stink to high heaven because they didn’t get covered by the scented litter. And my big boys have plenty of room to find the correct spot and still have a chance to try and cover it.
The drawback I found for this type of litter box, is that most store-bought litter boxes have a coating on them. The coating hides the ‘stink’, a little better than my storage containers. Over time, the odor builds up, and the container will need to be replaced. But the cost of this container is much cheaper than buying a store-bought litter box. I take care to keep enough litter in the bottom of the container so that the pee and poop do not stick to the bottom. The sticking seems to catch the odor and hold it. And I’m not talking about a stench everytime they do their business, I’m just talking about a build-up over time. Store-bought litter boxes are the same way. Over time you will still need to replace store-bought litter boxes. You must way the difference between buying a cheap container that may need to be replaced more often compared to buying a more expensive litter box that still needs to be replaced eventually. If you have large cats, I would seriously consider trying the storage container. Plus, your big cats will thank you for it too.
Let me point out, that I buy the cheapest storage containers that I can find. I buy them at Target or Walmart or you can buy in bulk on Amazon. At this price, eight storage containers cost approximately $7 a piece. Buying one litter box at a pet store can by 3 times or more than that. The cheap storage containers that I buy do not contain any handles or heavy plastic that can prevent you from sawing through to make your hole. My husband graciously used his saw to cut holes in all of my storage containers. I recommend cutting as shallow a hole as needed for your smallest cat. Many cats can jump right into the storage container without making a hole, however, your lazier ones or older individuals may need a little assistance. The hole I like to have in each litter box is where the litter can be filled at the bottom without fear of spilling out.
Other litter boxes
Besides my five litter boxes (four main litter boxes & my hide-away one in the family room), I have a stock of litter boxes not in use. I use these for foster cats or kittens or visiting cats. I purchased these long ago and each one was retained for a specific use.
High Back & Sides
I have a high back and sides litter box, that I use for my foster mommas. Many of my most recent foster mommas have been litter throwers so this box suits them well. It also keeps the kittens out of the litter box until they are old enough to climb into it. The kitten’s litter box consists of little low cardboard boxes that I retain from buying wet cat food. These are low enough for even the smallest kitten to climb into and can be thrown away after a few days.
My last foster litter had many issues: How to Deal with a Foster Kitten’s Death & How I Dealt with Ringworm in my Newborn Foster Litter. But besides all of this, my momma cat threw the litter over every square inch of the foster room. She was so bad that I just gave her a storage container without cutting the hole in the side. She jumped in, did her business and jumped out. Being picked up as a stray, I can only imagine that she wasn’t familiar with a litter box. She attacked the kitten’s litter, throwing it around each time I cleaned it up. I could not wait until the kittens could climb into a larger litter box. Her litter box habits were the worst that I ever saw, however, I’m just grateful that she used the litter box at all. Who knows how long she was out on the streets.
I also own various sizes of a standard low back litter box. Each kitten litter is different in the size they need or the height of the sides when they grow out of the cardboard boxes. Sometimes I need a larger box because of larger litters and sometimes a smaller one with only one or two kittens. Low back standard litter boxes are used when the kittens show an interest in using a litter box when they are extremely young. I love those litters!
Covered Litter Box
I retain one covered litter box. Most cat people are against covered litter boxes. I usually hear ‘Would you want to go into a bathroom and have to smell your poop from the last time you were in there?’ I think this is projecting people’s views on a cat issue. Cats lick their undersides to clean themselves! Do you really think they care if they smell poop that’s a few hours old? Anyway, I used a covered litter box for a while. The boys are too big to get in and walk around, so I tend to only use it for special instances or if I am cleaning the others. My girl Nomay seems to really like the covered box. She usually hangs out on my 1st floor and uses the hide-away litter box all the time. So, SOME CATS LOVE Covered Litter Boxes. I think she prefers it since she’s not out in the open while she’s pooping. She may get greeted while entering or exiting the hideaway furniture, but she doesn’t get bothered while she’s going.
However, in general, out of all of the cats and kittens that I have seen, it’s not the most popular option.
Litter Box Scooping
After splitting up your litter boxes onto multiple floors, the next most important thing is making sure that each box is scooped daily. I have fewer problems with my cats since I started scooping every day. When you have two cats and three litter boxes, you think do I really need to do this every day? When you scoop and only find one or two turds each day, do you continue doing it daily? The answer is yes! It gets you in the habit of doing it. Cats attitudes change as they get older. They get more stubborn and set in their ways. Sounds similar to how people age! Your once care-free kitten that could just poop right on top of his sister’s pee, doesn’t seem to like it anymore.
If you go away for a night or maybe two leaving the cats home with enough food and water, sure you don’t need to send someone in to scoop the poop. But make this the exception rather than your normal routine. But again, you do what works for you and your cat. Just make sure you listen to what your cat tells you. Sometimes, my Alex comes and cries at me, so I clean his litter box. Most cats don’t tell you in such as direct manner, but they ARE talking to you. It’s up to you, to listen.
When bringing home a kitten for the first time, decide on the placement of the litter box. Then confine your kitten to the room with the litter box, any time that you are not paying attention to it. Kittens are easily distracted and they go to the bathroom more often than an older cat. Some may not realize they need to go and it could be too far to get back to the litter box. Or they could be new to the litter box situation. Keeping the kitten close to the litter box helps to strengthen good litter box habits. Playing with them and loving on them outside of the litter room is totally acceptable. But if you go to work for the day or at night when you sleep, place them in the litter room and close the door. This also keeps them out of trouble when you aren’t around. I truly believe using a litter box is a natural instinct with most kittens. I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve seen 3-week old kitten use a tiny litter box.
After a week of being confined, slowly introduce them to more space or more time outside of the litter room. Make sure that you keep reminding them how to get back to the litter box, by placing them in the litter box often and letting them run back out to you. If any accidents do occur, take a step back and confine them longer with their litter box. They will get the hang of it. As habits improve, increase their space and time.
Keeping your Cat Happy
The type of litter boxes and the placement of litter boxes are an important part of keeping you and your cat happy in your home. Not all rules work for everyone and owning a cat means the cat’s needs may supersede your wants. People with cats know this to be true. But that doesn’t mean that you have no say in the matter. Keep trying different things until you and your cat come to an agreement. But keep in mind, that any change of litter box placement, type of litter box or even the type of litter should be tried out for a period of time. Several weeks at a minimum. Cats are slow to adapt to change and their ability to adapt takes longer the older that they get.