How many...litterboxes do I need?
Oh the cat box. If I could think of one downside to having indoor cats, it would be scooping this on a routine basis. Emphasis on routine, which is a struggle for me. I need a daily reminder that my cats, too, appreciate a clean toilet. Without it, they might resort to using my bed, couch, stairs, or other unsavory places in the house. So, how to we avoid inappropriate elimination? Well, there is an equation for that! Don't worry though, it's nothing too difficult. Simple math really.
The recommendation is 1 litter box PER cat, plus 1. My personal household has 5 cats, so by that math, I should have 6 litterboxes to keep the pee-ace (sorry, I felt like a pun was needed there).
Although, that seems easy. Perhaps, too easy. And your right, it is. It isn't just enough to have the correct number of litter boxes. We need to talk about the styles of boxes (covered vs. uncovered), the type of substrate (litter) used. Does your cat prefer scented vs. unscented? Clumping vs. pellet? Crystal or clay? Let's break down the options.
Litter box styles:
First things first, does your cat have any mobility issues that hinder getting in and out of a box? Are they older? Arthritic? Maybe you are like me, and rescued a cat with angular limb deformities on all four legs....no? Just me? Okay, well still, box size, and wall height matter a lot! If your cat has arthritic changes, they won't be able to climb over a high wall to access the toilet....perhaps consider a box that has a lower entrance to allow easy access, a quick internet search will give you plenty of options.
Overweight cats (no fat shaming here) also need extra thought when it comes to their box. They are more likely to have arthritis, and mobility issues, plus need the extra space to accommodate their larger size. For these guys, consider an under the bed storage container, I know, bear with me now. It's large, wide, low to the ground, and gives plenty of space for litter box activities. Some cats need higher walls, so if mobility issues aren't a concern, and your cat is like one of mine, you need height to protect your house from the urine! Good thing there is a plethora of high sided litter boxes out there, for those messy kickers, or high urinators in our life.
Now, if you are paying attention, you'll notice I haven't mentioned covered litter boxes. There's a reason for that, and honestly, I am not a fan.
1) Cats are both prey AND predatory creatures. As mid level predators, they are always on the lookout for what may be hunting them, in addition to what they may hunt. A covered litter box hinders their ability to keep an eye out on the surroundings, and traps them in.
2) Cats are jerks. We all know this, and yet we love them. Some cats will intentionally wait until their housemate goes into a covered litterbox to ambush them! This can lead to a litter box aversion, as the associate the attack with the litter box *not* the cat that actually attacked them...makes total sense, I know.
3) Covered litter boxes trap in smells. Cats have a highly refined olfactory sense compared to us. Think of a covered litter box like a porta-potty, need I say more?
4) Out of sight, out of mind. I am guilty of this one. If it's not right in front of me, screaming, flashing neon lights, I am likely to forget! That covered litter box is no exception.
Now that we have figured out the perfect box, lets discuss substrate options.
The type of litter used ultimately comes down to your cats preference. Why is that? Because if they don't like the texture, they simply won't use it. So don't invest a ton of money on bulk litter, until you find the kind your cat likes, then try to stick with it vs. changing up all the time.
Clay litter is the oldest litter style. It is cheap, comparatively, and readily available. It gets the job done, nothing extra. No clumping, no multi-cat odor elimination, no pH indicator, nothing but clay here.
Pellets are either paper or cedar based, and are compressed into pellet shapes. They expand when wet, and don't stick too much to solids. The cedar is naturally scented, and either are good options for cats that just had surgery or are undergoing wound care, as they don't clump or stick to open wounds/incisions!
Clumping litter is the kind most are familiar with, liquids clump, and it sticks to solids, if you cat actually buries them. They come scented and unscented, multi-cat is also an option. Clumping is easy to scoop out as the cat dirties the box, but for the sick cat that urinates frequently, or multi-cat households, you may go through this style more often.
Crystal litter can serve a diagnostic purpose, with a pH indicator, it changes colors when your cats urine changes pH, often the first sign of a impending urinary tract infection or obstruction. However, in a multi-cat household, telling which cat has the pH variance would be problematic. The upside about crystal litter is it doesn't clump on contact with urine, instead it absorbs it and allows it to get mixed into the substrate. Solids stay solid, and are easily scooped out, then you give the litter a good mix, and it's ready for the next trip.
Some companies make flushable litter, for those bathroom boxes, but use at your own risk! Certainly don't flush litters that don't specifically state they are plumbing safe down the toilet, unless you have a great plumber you love supporting!
Now that you have the right box style, quantity, and substrate, you need to strategically
place them around the house, 3 litter boxes in a row is just as useless as not having enough boxes or the wrong type of box/litter. Make them accessible, and think like a cat, "could I get ambushed here?"
Finally, make sure to scoop daily. No one wants to use a filthy toilet.