Designing the Optimal Litter Box


The design and management of the litter box are critical for encouraging acceptable toileting habits.When house-soiling occurs always evaluate the litter box.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners in partnership with International Cat Care (ISFM) have produced an document to help provide cat owners with useful information about house-soiling. The document, sponsored by Ceva can be found here. Goodnewsforpets focuses on the design and management of your cat’s litter box as the first step in controlling feline house-soiling. Below are some tips from the cat owner brochure to help new cat owners with their litter boxes.

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The general rule of thumb is to have one litter box for each cat, plus one extra box in multiple locations around your home. Socially affiliated cats, which are two or more cats that are familiar to each other,share a territory, and exhibit behaviors such as grooming, playing, or resting together, may be more willing to share litter boxes. Because more than one social group may occur in a home, providing adequate resources for each group is important to decrease the chance of adverse behaviors.


  • Take a look at the floor plan of your home and where your litter boxes are located:
  • Avoid placing food and water close to the litter box.
  • Cats usually prefer quiet, private places. Avoid busy areas of the home and locations where a cat could be cornered in, blocked off, or unable to flee. Cats can be cornered in the litter box so they are unable to flee (e.g. if the box is in a closet or small room where another cat can block the exit). If one cat prevents another cat’s access to the litter box (e.g. the box is down a hallway or in a room where another cat can block entry), it can be very stressful and cause the cat to house-soil because the victim is avoiding or cannot get to that location.
  • Keep the litter boxes apart in different locations because your cat considers boxes close to each other one large litter box.
  • If a cat is toileting away from its box, try placing an additional litter box at the new site (temporarily or permanently) to get the cat using a box again.
  • In a multi-level home, place a litter box on each level. If you have an older cat, place a litter box on the level where the cat spends the most time, as it may not be easy for the cat to go up and down stairs each time it needs to use the box.

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In general, bigger is better and many commercial litter boxes are too small. Litter boxes should be 1.5 times the length of the cat from the nose to the base of the tail. Suitable alternatives can include concrete mixing trays or storage containers.You can place the lid behind the box to protect the wall (Photo A). Older cats need a low entry so you can cut down the side but inspect for any sharp edges (Photo B).


If your cat is exhibiting house-soiling behaviors, you may need to try different types of litter until the cat indicates its preference. For preference evaluation, provide multiple boxes with different litters and variable litter depths (Photo C). Many cats dislike aromatic or dusty litters, litter deodorizers, and box liners. Most cats prefer soft unscented clumping litters.

Managing the Litter Box

Remove waste at a minimum of once per day and add litter as needed. Wash the litter box every 1-4 weeks using soap and hot water only. Avoid strong chemicals or any ammonia-based products.


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