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Litterbox Training and Problems

Cats can have preferences about the location of their litter box as well as the type of litter box and litter in the litter box. The best way to avoid litter box problems is to follow the following recommendations:


  • Place the box in an area that the cat can easily access but does afford some privacy.
  • Make sure there is always access to the box.
  • Place the box in a quiet area, if next to, for example your washing machine, your cat might become startled and avoid using the box.

Type of litter

  • Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grained litters.
  • If you suspect your cat has a history of spending time outdoors and is likely to eliminate in your house plants, you can try mixing some potting soil with your regular litter.
  • Pellet-type litters or those made from citrus peels are not recommended. Once you find a litter your cat likes, don’t change types or brands.
  • Many cats are put off by the odor of scented or deodorant litters. For the same reason, it’s not a good idea to place a room deodorizer or air freshener near the litter box. A thin layer of baking soda placed on the bottom of the box will help absorb odors without repelling your cat.
  • Odor shouldn’t be a problem if the litter box is kept clean. If you find the litter box odor offensive, your cat probably finds it even more offensive and won’t want to eliminate there.

Number of litter boxes

  • The ideal number of boxes is one for each cat, plus one more. At a minimum there should be one box per cat.
  • Consider placing boxes in several locations around the house, so that no one cat can “guard” the litter box area and prevent the other cats from accessing it.
    Place at least one litter box on each level of your house.
  • Occasionally, a cat may refuse to use the litter box after another cat has used it. In this case, all of the litter boxes will need to be kept extremely clean and additional boxes may be needed.

To cover or not to cover

  • Some people prefer to use a covered litter box, however, there are some potential problems with using this type of box. You may want to experiment by offering both types at first, to discover what your cat prefers.
  • You may forget to clean the litter box as frequently as you should because the dirty litter is “out of sight – out of mind.”
  • A covered litter box traps odors inside, so it will need to be cleaned more often than an open one.
  • A covered litter box may not allow a large cat sufficient room to turn around, scratch, dig or position herself in the way she wants.
  • A covered litter box may also make it easier for another cat to lay in wait and “ambush” the user as she exits the box.
  • On the other hand, a covered litter box may feel more private and may be preferred by timid cats.

Size of litter box

  • The Litter Box should be about one and one-half times the size of the cat.
  • If you have a kitten or elderly/arthritic cat, the box should have low sides for easy access.
  • If you have an adult boy, tall sides are generally best so they don’t “miss” when they eliminate.

Cleaning the box

  • The box should be scooped out daily.
  • How often you change the litter depends on the number of cats you have, the number of litter boxes, and the type of litter you use. Twice a week is a general guideline for clay litter, but depending on the circumstances, you may need to change it every other day or once a week.
  • If you scoop the litter daily, scoopable litter can go two to three weeks before the litter needs to be changed. If you notice an odor or if much of the litter is wet or clumped, it’s time for a change.
  • Don’t use strong smelling chemicals or cleaning products when washing the litter box, as it may cause your cat to avoid it. Washing with soap and water should be sufficient.


  • Some cats don’t mind having a liner in the litter box, while others do. You might want to experiment to see if your cat is bothered by a liner in the box.
  • If you do use a liner, make sure it’s anchored in place, so it can’t easily catch your cat’s claws or be pulled out of place.

Depth of litter

  • Two inches deep is ideal for most cats.
  • More litter does not mean less cleaning. The box needs cleaned regularly and adding litter is not a way around that.
  • Some cats won’t use the box if there is too much litter.

Litter box problems

If litter box problems develop, review the preceding list for ideas. Litter box aversion can develop because:

  • The box isn’t clean enough. If you regularly clean and replace the litter, perhaps the box needs to be changed. Plastic can absorb odors over time.
  • Type of litter, type of box, or location has changed. Have you added a liner?
  • Your cat was startled by a loud noise while using the box.
  • Your cat was ambushed by another cat, a dog, or person.
  • Your cat associates the box with punishment, for example she was punished for eliminating outside the box and then placed her in the box.
  • Your cat has experienced pain while using the litter box because of a medical condition.

Medical problems

If a cat develops a medical problem that causes pain during elimination they can associate the pain with the litter box. Examples can be a urinary tract infection or crystals in its urine. Take your cat in for a check up to rule out a medical problem.

Location preferences

Your cat might have a location preference if:

  • She always eliminates in a quiet, protected place.
  • She eliminates in an area that her litter box was previously located.
  • She eliminates on a different level of the house than the litter box is located.

What you can do

  • Put a litter box in a location where she has been eliminating. If you need to move the box, wait until she has been eliminating in that box for at least a month and slowly start to move it – an inch a day.
  • Make the area she has been eliminating aversive by covering it with upside down carpet or foil. You must find an acceptable alternative spot for the litter box or she might soil another area of your house.
  • Put a litter box on every level of the house.

Surface preferences

Your cat might have a preference for a certain type of substrate or surface. Normally this preference is determined at a young age, but it can change for reasons that are not obvious to us. Your cat might have a surface preference if:

  • She consistently eliminates on a particular texture. For example, slick surfaces such as tile, cement, or in tubs or sinks.
  • She is or was previously an outdoor cat and prefers to eliminate on grass or soil.
  • She frequently scratches a specific texture after elimination, even if she eliminates inside the box.

What you can do

  • If it is a surface preference, put a thin layer of litter in one side of the box and leave the other part bare and put the box on a hard floor.
  • Add a bit of soil to her litter box. Reduce the amount over time.
  • Make the area she soils aversive by covering it with foil or upside down carpet runner. If you do not find an acceptable alternative place for the litter box she is not using she will probably just soil in a new area.