Monday, March 31, 2014

When it comes to litter boxes, size matters -- among other things

One thing that I've learned over the years with my cat Silver, is that the way to make a cat upset is to either move their litter box, or replace it with another that's unfamiliar to them. And, oh, will you pay if they've become unhappy with something you've done.

Litter boxes are touchy subjects to cats. Our feline friends have definite preferences with regard to taking care of business, from the type of litter box, the size, where it's placed and even the kind of litter that's used.

Inappropriate elimination is a common issue that I'm approached about often, and the root causes can be complex. Whittling down the list of what could be causing discontent can be troubling and painstaking on the part of the human -- especially if one has a multiple cat household -- but the findings of recent research supports what those in the know have been suggesting for years: pay attention to your cats preferences, but most of all, give them privacy and space.

43 households took part in the study, "Litterbox size preference in domestic cats", with some of those being multiple cat households – 74 cats in all. The purpose was to evaluate how cats would respond when given the choice of using one of two plastic litter boxes: a large one that exceeded the size of what is normally found in stores (86 cm in length), and a smaller but average-sized one. At the start, the 2 boxes were placed at opposite ends of the same room in the owner's home. After a 2-week period, the boxes were emptied completely, refilled with clean clumping litter (which the households were given an unlimited supply of), and replaced, this time in the opposite location.

After analyzing data that consisted of entries in a log book kept by the pet owners with how many fecal and urine deposits their respective cats made on a daily basis, the researchers found that urine deposits were more more frequent, and that the larger-than-average litter boxes were preferred. Authors of the study, Norma C. Guy, Marti Hopson and Raphael Vanderstichel noted that another preference, location, seemed to have weight as well.

For years, I've recommended the following formula in keeping felines happy: have at least one litter box per cat in the household (and two for one pet), know where they prefer to have their litter boxes placed — and yes, ensure that they are the right size and type. In the latter case not all litter boxes are created equal.

There are many litter pans on the market, but some are not appropriate depending on the sex or age of the animal.

For senior cats, consider a box with a lower entry point so that they can get in and out with more ease since arthritis can make mobility challenging.

As for the sex of the cat, I find that females do just fine with most types, but male cats for obvious reasons need boxes that are higher in the back so that urine doesn't get deposited outside of the box, even if it has a lid.

My top pick across the board is the Whisker City High Back litter pan — and one version comes with a hood to minimize litter scatter. The large size of this box (according PetSmart, where it's exclusively sold, it measures 18.7"L x 15.5"W x 15"H) can accommodate even the largest cats comfortably and with it's high back, your days of cleaning up urine from behind the box are over. The lid can be a bit unwieldily, but it lifts easily on a hinge for ease of daily cleaning, which I might add is an important detail that all cats appreciate and will help them maintain good litter box habits.

Click here to read the study, which was published in January.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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