How Often Do I Really Need To Clean My Cat’s Litter Box?

How Often Do I Really Need To Clean My Cat’s Litter Box?

Cat Behavior

Litter boxWho knew there was so much to kitty litter? Dr. Justine Lee provides some valuable litter box advice. For more from Dr. Lee, find her on Facebook!

Last week, we talked about adding the appropriate number of litter boxes to your house. Well, just because you added n+1 litter boxes doesn’t mean you can clean less frequently! We neurotic types clean litter boxes daily. If that’s too much for you, litter boxes should be scooped out at least every other day. Of course, this depends on how many cats you have. The more cats you have, the more frequently the boxes should be scooped out. While it’s a dirty job, it really should be done for the best interest of your cat(s).

If you notice your cat scratching outside the litter box instead of inside (“What’s a cat gotta do to get you to clean the litter box? Helllllo!”), it’s his way of telling you that the litter box is disgusting and he doesn’t want to get his feet filthy while he’s “attempting” to cover up his poop inside. If you just cleaned the litter box and he’s still doing it, it’s likely from a bad memory of getting soaked or dirty while in the box, so unless you want a pet that poops in random places, get in there and scoop.

Some cats will “hold it” and urinate as infrequently as possible to avoid stepping into a dirty, filthy, full litter box. Instead of urinating two to three times a day, your cat will tighten up and only go once a day. This makes his urine get more concentrated and could make crystals and urine debris plug up and cause him to get a life-threatening feline urethral obstruction (FUO). With FUO, cats may have stones, crystals, or mucous plugs in their urethra that prevent them from being able to urinate. Not only is this painful, but it can also lead to temporary kidney failure, electrolyte abnormalities, vomiting, lethargy, cardiac arrhythmias, and death. So to help prevent problems like this or even diseases like feline lower urinary tract disease or sterile cystitis (e.g., feline urinary tract disease or FLUTD), scoop!

The other added benefit of scooping frequently is that it helps you detect medical problems earlier. If your cat isn’t urinating, you’ll notice when there’s no urine in the litter box for two days. If your cat becomes a diabetic, he may be making larger and larger clumps and your whole litter box will be one huge clump after its weekly cleaning. But you’ll never be able to tell this if you’re not scooping enough. If your cat is acting constipated or having diarrhea, you won’t find out until days later, and by then it’ll be a bigger (and more expensive) medical treatment! As tedious as it is, please do your wife a favor and flush, and your cat a favor and scoop.

So, how do you scoop? I realize that sounds like a stupid question, but I’m often shocked how people are erroneously “scooping.” Some clients tell me they dump out the whole litter box (and all that clumping litter) every week. Yikes – no need folks! You and your cat’s carbon footprints are contributing to the overfilled landfills and making Al Gore very angry. Not only is this expensive, but it’s really wasteful. If you really want to know, I only completely empty and bleach out the litter box a few times year or so.

My tip? Use clumping litter if you’re not sure what your cat prefers, since studies have shown that cats prefer this type of litter the best. (More on “Clay, clumping, and crystal kitty litter: Which should I choose?” next week!). Next, keep an empty container (e.g., a 5 pound bucket that used to contain kitty litter), line it with a plastic bag, and use a scoop to scoop out the urine clumps and feces every day. Dump the clumps directly into the empty container, and voila: you just have to dump the plastic bag once a week. It makes it oh so easy to scoop, contains the smell in the empty bucket, and saves a few plastic bags while making it more convenient to scoop. As the kitty litter box becomes emptier, just add in clean clumping kitty litter. No need to dump out precious, expensive, eco-unfriendly full boxes when cleaning – just scoop out the dirty and add in clean.

I’ll elaborate on this more in next week’s blog on “Clay, clumping, or crystals.”

Hate cleaning your box? Have any tips this dirty job?

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

How often should you scoop the litter box?

For many people, the idea of setting up a cat’s litter box is pretty basic. After all, isn’t it just a plastic box that you fill with whatever litter is the least expensive and then place the box in some corner where it won’t be seen? The cat should start using the box any minute, right? Oh, if only it could be that simple! In reality, your cat’s relationship with that little plastic box and the litter that’s in it is more complex than you realize.

There are numerous reasons why a cat may not use a litter box. We have several articles on our website here devoted just to that subject. The crucial part of solving the problem is to uncover the true underlying cause. The first place to start? Have your cat checked by the veterinarian to rule out any potential medical cause. Surprisingly, there are many conditions that can result in litter box aversion.

Is it Really Clean?

When trying to figure out why your cat is peeing on the carpet instead of in his box, you also need to take a long hard look at the litter box set-up itself. Your idea of clean and appealing conditions may not be up to your cat’s standards. That brings me to the subject of today’s article: scooping the litter box.

Time to be very honest here. Are you really keeping up your end when it comes to scooping the box? Ideally, the box should be scooped twice a day. I know you’re probably shaking your head at the thought. Some of you may not even sneak a peek at the litter box more than a couple of times a week. Well, if your cat isn’t already exhibiting a litter box aversion problem then it’s just a matter of time. A dirty litter box is a ticking time bomb.

You’d be surprised how many times I visit a client’s home and discover the cause of the cat’s inappropriate elimination is inadequate scooping of the box by the cat parent. Cats are very clean and it isn’t comfortable to step over mounds of urine-soaked litter or dried up old feces in order to find a clean square inch for elimination. Scoop the box at least twice a day to ensure your cat will be able to find enough clean, dry space.

 

 

If you’ve been stocking up on room fresheners, covered boxes, litter additives or have located the box in the most remote part of the house in order to avoid the odor, then you’re missing the most important tool in odor control: the litter shovel. The best way to control odor is to get rid of soiled litter as often as you can. Some cat parents wait until the odor in the box wafts its way throughout the room and at that point they toss the entire contents into the trash. The result is a very clean box that remains appealing to the cat for about one day — if he even wants to venture in there again based on any negative association he may now have, due to its usual stench.

Scooping = Health Monitoring

Scooping serves another extremely important but often overlooked function. It’s a valuable diagnostic tool. When you scoop you are alerted to any potential problem in its earliest stages. Even though scooping the box isn’t the high point of your day, it will afford you the opportunity to see signs of diarrhea, constipation, blood in the urine, or an unusually large or small urine clump. Scoop regularly and you’ll become more familiar with the normal size and amount that your cat eliminates. Should the size of urine clumps change, it could indicate a urinary problem or other medical condition. Catching this early can make a big difference in terms of treatment success. If you don’t scoop regularly you don’t have that advantage of early detection.

It’s a Small Task that can Make a Huge Difference

Litter box scooping may not be something you look forward to but it’s a valuable way to control odor, monitor your cat’s health, and keep kitty happy with the conditions of the litter box. If you don’t think it makes a difference, try not flushing your toilet for a day or two.

How often should I wash my cat’s litter box?

Any time you do it feels too often, doesn’t it?

Cleaning the litter box, the chore nobody wants to do…


Please don’t let your litter box look like this. Unless you like your cat flicking that stuff EVERYWHERE. Because they will.

How often you should clean your litterbox or catbox, I use both terms interchangeably, depends on a number of factors:

  • What kind of litter you use (clumping, non-clumping)
  • Does your litter control odor (added odor absorbing agents)
  • Is your cat litter dusty (litters with clay tend to create more dust)
  • How many cats you have (each cat should have one box)
  • How often you scoop (daily, every two days)
  • Do you amend your litter (odor charcoal, baking soda)
  • How inexpensive is your litter (cheaper litter may cost more in the long run since you may change it more often than a more expensive brand you change once a month)

Different people do it different ways. I am going to tell you how I do it.

  • I have three cats but only two boxes. I am partial to unscented, odor absorbing products. My boxes are pretty large so my cats don’t seem to mind that there is one less box than their should be. All three are fourteen years old so it hasn’t seemed to hurt them either.
  • I don’t like strong scents and my cats don’t seem fond of them either. Plus, it makes it easier for me to know when my litter is starting to loose its effectiveness.
  • A box of cat litter lasts 25 to 30 days in my house if I am diligent about cleaning the box every day first thing in the morning. (My cats make night deliveries so its best to tag in first thing in the morning, lest odors linger all day.)
  • I clean my boxes on average once a lunar month, every 25-30 days.

 

Process

Both of my boxes are rather wide and long 16 x 14 inches. They are made of a durable plastic which has lasted about five years. I will be replacing them soon as one has developed a crack from my vigorous cleaning regimen.

  • Clearing your litterbox daily is the best, most conscientious way to do it. No buildup of odor, no lingering of scent and thus your litter has the longest life it can, given its occupation.
  • You cat could tolerate every other day, but you may also get the feline side-eye if you were more dutiful in the past.
  • Your cat won’t explode if you miss a day because you woke up late for work and had to bolt out the door. Be dutiful and you will find your litter simply lasts longer.

 

Equipment and Supplies


Cat Litter

  • I use Arm and Hammer Clumping Cat litter (unscented): I find it grabs and holds the cat urine nice and tight so I can scoop it out and get rid of any nasty odors before they get to settle in.
  • Remember to buy a decent litter scoop. Something with a strong handle and good wide slots for litter to slide through. The less dust you can kick up, the better.
  • Arm and Hammer has an odor control formula, but I didn’t find it much more effective than the standard clumping formula. If I can get it on sale for the same price, I will otherwise, the standard formula with clumping is fine.
  • When it’s time to clean, I dump whatever litter remains into a heavy duty plastic bag for my hazmat cleanup.
  • I hose out the plastic litter containers and using a long handled scrub brush, remove anything stuck to the bottom. There isn’t usually much there due to my dusting process. (Explained later.)

Odor Control

  • Once the containers are clean, they either “air dry” in the summer sun or get wiped dry in the winter. If I can let them sit until they are dry in the sun, its an added bonus because the UV light from the sun can break down any organic compounds (ammonia) which might escape being washed or scrubbed. A half an hour works for me, longer if I have the time.
  • Once they are dry, I take Arm and Hammer Baking Soda (my personal preference, though I suspect any would do) and I dust heavily the bottom of the litterbox. This allows a nice odor absorbing layer to bind with any urine which reaches the bottom. It also allows the litter to move around instead of sticking to the bottom which my cats hate.
  • Then I layer on top of that dusting about a three quarters of an inch to an inch deep deposit of cat litter spread out and a second light dusting of baking soda across the top. The cats will work this into the litter and it helps with odor control.
  • About ten to twelve days in, I may add the rest of the box of litter along with a light dusting of baking soda. This will usually take me until the 25 to the 30 or about a lunar month without any issues with smell or even awareness that I have a litter box, as long as I am diligent in my daily retrieval operations.

 

Some things I have learned along the way:

  • I tried putting a bag liner in my litter box. My cats seem to think anything at the bottom of the box which didn’t yield to their claws needed more scratching. So box liners didn’t work for me. But if your cat is a kitten and doesn’t know any better, you might have better luck with them than I did. But even if you scoop daily, your litter will need refreshing at least every 11-25 days depending on the quality of the litter.
  • I tried non-clumping litter. It doesn’t work as well for me and requires me to clean the box after only ten to twelve days as the urine settles to the bottom and is harder to remove.
  • I don’t use scented cat litters. They are unpleasant to me and I am never sure what the scent is supposed to be. I tried Fresh Step. My cats hated it and voiced their displeasure with vigorous kicking of the litter from the box.
  • Cats hate dirty litter. If you forget to clean the litter, and your cats feel distressed, expect to find litter everywhere around their box. Some flicking is unavoidable, but you will know when they are unhappy because litter will be everywhere. Hopefully that’s all you’ll find. Really unhappy cats leave retrieval missions anywhere they feel like it until your cleanliness improves.
  • I tried some of the more natural, organic or biodegradable litters. Unless you are willing to buy it by the ton, it will require you to replace it more often since their odor-absorbing/trapping capacities seem much less effective than standard litters. You can get a variety of them made out of corn, wheat, pine, walnut shells and even recycled newspaper. For some people there is no substitute, so I included a bit of amplifying data on organic cat litters. See Also: 5 Best Types of Natural Cat Litter – How to Choose, Reviews

  • I don’t like bargain litter (anything not the Arm and Hammer variety). Their effectiveness varies widely. Some seemed a little more effective but the cats hated the texture, some were too coarse, or too fine.
  • My cats seem very particular about how the litter feels to them. Too fine, they tunnel right through it and when they reach the bottom of the box, they seem annoyed. Too course and they stop burying their delivery, perhaps it feels too much like work.
  • I think cats base their preference for litter, on what they learn from when they are kittens. So if you want to use more organic litter, you need to condition them to it when they are young. More work for you, but if environmental friendliness is your thing, the only way you get your cat to participate is if you train them to it.
  • I tried layering the litter box with newspaper. It didn’t work for me. I found my cats seemed to just enjoy shredding the paper and it just made more work for me. Not to mention making it harder to scoop with newspaper shreds everywhere.

Takeaway:

  • Nothing beats clearing the box at least once a day. Your cat will be happier and healthier for it. Your friends who visit won’t make that “I don’t smell your litterbox face” when they come over, either.
  • Keep a calendar of when you change your litterbox. Once you figure out how long it takes for your cat litter to go bad, it won’t change too often as long as your cat eats and drinks on a regular schedule. If your cat is ill, that may change and necessitate cleaning their box more frequently.
  • When you smell your catbox even when you scoop daily, that smell is from the ammonia in your cat’s urine. You can mitigate that smell with baking soda or activated charcoal (but baking soda is so much more affordable). Basically, if you use odor control and still smell litter, its time to clean the box.
  • Pregnant women: Stay away from the litterbox unless you have already been confirmed to be immune to a parasite which causes toxoplasmosis. While the chance of a pregnant woman getting the infection and passing it on to her baby is low, there’s no sense in taking the risk.
  • Toxoplasmosis is a common infection found in birds, animals, and people. For most people, it doesn’t cause serious health problems. But for a pregnant woman’s growing baby, it can cause brain damage and vision loss.
  • There are lots of other technology out there for cleaning cat boxes, from automated litter scoopers to technological reusable litter washers. Your mileage, of course, may vary. I may experiment with such technology one day and tell you how it works out. I can also be convinced to review technology…

 

 

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