The “Perfect” Litter Box

Does it matter if your cat really likes their box, as long as they are using it? With all of the litter box products and marketing out there, how can you tell what’s right for your cat? How about letting your cat tell you what they prefer? The right litter box setup can prevent and solve issues – everybody wins!

Why Does “Perfect” Matter?

Many cats tolerate a litter box situation that they won’t choose if asked. They continue to go in dirty boxes, find their box in tight, dark spaces, and put up with strong smells and sharp litter pieces. This says more about the strong instinct that cats have for going in the box (really, in a place with a surface they can scratch and cover their waste), then about their love of our human choices. On the whole, most cats prefer large, uncovered boxes with unscented, clay clumping litter. But your cat isn’t just any cat! They are special and amazing and have their own unique opinions. 

White Cat Sticking Out Tongue
This is what I think of my litter box!
Photo Credit: Deedee86/Pixabay.com

Identifying your cat’s “perfect” litter box isn’t just about loving them and wanted them to be as happy as possible (which you do). It is also about preventing health and behavior problems that come from discomfort and stress around the litter box. Litter box issues are one of the most common problems reported by cat owners and one of the most common behavioral reasons that cats are surrendered to shelters. A litter box setup that is more than just tolerated can prevent some of these issues before they begin. For cats that are already having issues, the right litter box setup can be essential to resolving the problem. Discomfort in the litter box can also lead to health concerns like urinary tract infections and more.

In Search of “Perfect”

One of the great things about going to a food court or restaurant with a large menu is that you can get something that you actually want. Even if you always get the same thing, you appreciate that you have the choice to do so. You can recreate that sense of choice by giving your cat some litter box options to see what they really prefer for their bathroom.

A litter box seems simple – a box with litter in it – but there are actually many ways you can vary to setup to see what your cat would like. This includes:

  • Size of the Box: A cat should be able to stand up and turn around but some cats love a giant box.
  • Covered vs Uncovered: Most prefer uncovered but what about your cat?
  • Self-cleaning vs Not: A simple box is usually a cat’s favorite but some cats like an extra clean box.
  • Box Entrance: Can they just walk in or do they need to jump down from above?
  • Litter Type: One study shows cats prefer clay clumping but individuals vary. Unscented litters are best for most.
  • Litter Depth: Have you considered how deep you fill the box? Your cat notices!
  • On the Ground or Elevated: Cats like to get off the ground, sometimes this includes their box.
  • Location Around the House: Tucked away or with lots of escape routes? Your cat may prefer a box that’s closer to where they nap or further from other pets.

Don’t just switch up your cat’s box; instead, grab a second cheap litter box and place it right next to the old one. Ideally you would vary only one thing at a time. If your old box is self-cleaning or covered, add a simple uncovered box in the same room. After you determine your cat’s preference between the two, then try varying a different factor like location or elevation. Keep scooping all of the boxes each day if they are used. You aren’t trying to force your cat into one box or another (which can seriously backfire). 

It doesn't look fancy but most cats prefer this.

Each time you clean the box, mark down what your cat used. You’ll be able to tell if your cat has a strong preference pretty quickly. In a multi-cat home, you may even discover that the cats have different preferences. If they only use one box for a few days, you can remove the other box or try varying a different condition. Always leave the preferred box the same until they show you they have a new favorite. If you make changes to all of the boxes or suddenly eliminate an option that was being used, your cat might choose to go somewhere inappropriate. 

The goal is to find what your cat (or cats) like best while still being able to live with it. If you don’t want a litter box in your bedroom (and your cats don’t have litter box problems that you are trying to solve), then don’t offer them a box there. Try a few other locations where you won’t mind having a box to see what their favorite is and you’ll both be happy.

Who Is Your Litter Box For?

Our homes are shared places. We want our cats to be happy and well behaved but we also want to feel comfortable and proud of our space. Often our litter box choices can be driven more by our wants and needs, plus the litter company’s marketing, than by our cat’s wants and needs. When you choose a litter box setup, think about whether it is for you or for them and why. It’s okay to make some choices that limit litter tracking or keeping the box out of main spaces. But at the same time you can choose a box that is easy to get in and out of, has the “right” amount of litter, and feels nice on delicate paws. A little for us, a little for them!

Also consider that your cat’s preferences and needs may change over time. As they age, a litter box that requires jumping out through a hole in the top may get harder. When a new family member comes into the home (human or animal), your cat may prefer more openness around their box. Being alert to changing needs will help you prevent problems before they start. 

If the “perfect” litter box doesn’t solve your cat’s litter box issues, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.