Cats are naturally clean creatures and given the right tools they will naturally use a litter box with no coaxing. Cats have a natural instinct to use a sandy area to eliminate waste. Their instincts urge them to dig a hole, eliminate, and cover it over. This instinct is tied in with self preservation; On an instinctual level cats (and most other animals) know they can be tracked by odors, and therefore they feel something just short of anxiety, urging them to cover their waste.
There are certainly cats who have inappropriate elimination issues, but typically this is not a conscious behavioral issue. It is because we do not fully understand their needs. When you add a kitten to your home they usually come ready to use the box because their parents and litter mates have already taught them by example. This is learned as early as 3 weeks of age.
Whether you have never owned a cat or you have ten cats this article will set you and kitty up for inevitable success. The elements to ensure success include the litter box, the litter, strategic placement of the litter box, proper cleaning, and proper maintenance.
The litter box:
Every cat has it's own concept of what an ideal litter box would be. Your job is to "listen" to your kitty and find that box! If you have kittens, special needs cats, or older kitties, a box with a lower lip on one side can help them get in and out without pain or discomfort. A covered litter box is great for hiding odors but does your kitty like it?
If you have a herd of cats like me, it is a general rule to have one box per cat plus an extra (call it a community litter box). Experimenting with many different types is a good plan, you will find your kitties generally sticking to the type of litter box that makes them feel secure.
If you have one cat buying two boxes is perfect. Male cats, whether they are neutered or not, tend to spray urine higher up than females. A higher backed litter box is a great option for preventing leakage on the floor.
The best choice would be litter that controls odors. Cats do not like their litter to have any odor. In fact, litter with perfumes or deodorizers can actually encourage your kitties to find another place to eliminate that may be less than appropriate.
Scoopable, "clumping" litter is a must. It's easier to clean up, contains odors more effectively and for longer periods of time, and cats tend to prefer it to the non-clumping variety. You or your family may me tempted to stick with the non-clumping litter simply because of the slightly cheaper price; This is a common mistake - while the non-clumping litter is cheaper, it will also get used much faster, typically at 2 to 3 times the rate of your average clumping litter.
The litter itself can be made of corn, clay or wheat. Using the litter that your kittys were originally trained on will be the best way to ensure they continue to use the box. If however you are determined to switch, it is advisable to do so slowly - mix the new litter in with the old, gradually replacing the old litter so your cats have a chance to adjust to the new litter.
Location, Location, Location:
When it comes to a location there are specific things you want to avoid:
- Noisy areas
- High traffic areas
- Areas near food and water
Finding a secluded area or an area outside of the main traffic pattern of your home is your best bet for success. If you are introducing an additional cat into your home try to create a litter box area in the most secluded spot you can find. Most if not all cats adjusting to a new home with cats they aren't familiar with will typically avoid community litter boxes (at least at first). They tend to feel that these litter boxes are the territory of the cats already living there.
Clean, clean, scoop, scoop. For houses with more than one cat it is advisable to do this every day or every other day. Cats deplore dirty litter boxes and a clean one encourages kitty to use it.
This may sound like a lot of work, but just like people, cats have their preferences and comfort zones. It's your job to find out what your cat's needs are and help them to think inside the box!