You’re not alone if you’re wondering how often to change cat litter. I recently became concerned that I wasn’t refreshing my cat’s litter box enough. I got some great insights after checking out what veterinarians and feline-wellness organizations had to say about the issue.
Get ready for the litter lowdown!
Why Is Keeping a Clean Litter Box Important?
I won’t claim that cleaning my cat’s litter box is my favorite task. During periods with multiple cats in my house, I really dreaded the task. However, I can’t settle in at the end of the day unless I have this chore checked off my list because I know what can happen if I don’t.
“A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times stronger than ours, so a stinky litter box can cause your cat to look for an alternate location to do their business,” shares West Hill Animal Clinic.
If your cat is constantly using areas other than the litter box to do her business, the cause might be that you’re not cleaning the box as often as you should be.
However, there are bigger problems than odor once a litter box starts getting out of control. A dirty litter box can put your cat at risk for sickness.
Health Risks Caused by a Dirty Litter Box
It turns out that your cat doing her business on your floor instead of the litter box is actually a best-case scenario. In a worst-case scenario, your cat will simply hold it in.
Cats are extremely finicky when it comes to litter boxes. You may not even realize that your cat is “holding it in” in response to a less-than-fresh box. That’s because many cats will still use a box even if it’s dirty. However, they may not use it as often as they should be. This is where risks for feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) and feline urethral obstruction (FUO) become severe.
Why do these illnesses happen?
If your cat is turned off by her litter box, she may only urinate once a day instead of urinating the three to four times per day needed for good health. When this happens, your cat’s urine becomes concentrated with red blood cells, mucous plugs, or dangerous crystals that aren’t getting flushed from her body.
Here are some warning signs of FIC or FUO:
- You’re only seeing evidence of urine in the litter box about once a day.
- Constant quick trips to the litter box.
- Noticeable strain while urinating.
- Constant licking the perineal area.
- Clear signs of pain that escalate when being picked up.
- Howling, crying, or excessive meowing.
- Urination in a tub, sink, potted plant, or other unusual location.
- Loss of appetite.
Health Risks for Humans
A dirty litter box is dangerous for the whole household. Everything your cat tracks from her litter box ends up on your floors, furniture, and more. Your cat’s paws are only as clean as the litter box she’s stepping into daily!
One specific health risk tied to litter boxes is a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that creates flu-like symptoms in humans. Due to increased risks during pregnancy, pregnant women are advised to avoid changing cat litter whenever possible.
Why Do Cats Need Litter Boxes?
The answer comes down to instinct. When you provide your cat with a clean, appropriately sized box, you’re helping her to live out her natural instinct to stay safe. Cats in the wild carefully bury their waste to keep their presence hidden from predators. By burying feces and urine, they ensure that wolves, coyotes, owls, and other predators aren’t on their tail.
As predators, cats find burying their waste helpful for staying hidden from their own prey. While they are symbolic in domestic households, these wild habits help cats to feel safe in their environment.
Here’s How Frequently You Should Be Changing Your Cat’s Litter Box
Remember the Toxoplasma gondii risk I covered earlier? It’s actually the reason why a litter box should be changed every single day in households with pregnant women.
The answer isn’t as definite for every other household. The type of litter you use, your cat’s tidiness level, and the number of cats in your household all count. Let’s break it down a little more.
How Often to Change Clumping Litter
If you use clumping litter, the Humane Society of the United States suggests that a full litter box change is needed about once a week. This is in line with what I’ve seen many veterinary clinics and advocacy groups recommend.
Cut that in half for every additional cat. That means that you might need a full box change every few days if you have two to three cats. Your cat’s “deposit frequency” also determines how frequently litter changes are needed. Some cats simply have larger outputs than others.
How Often to Change Non-clumping Litter
Non-clumping litters tend to use organic ingredients that are more vulnerable to mold. For this reason, it’s recommended that you do a full litter box change twice per week if you have one cat. If you have multiple cats, try it every other day.
How Often to Scoop a Litter Box
Try to scoop at least twice daily if you don’t have a self-cleaning litter box. If you have an automatic or self-cleaning litter box, empty the waste bin at least once daily. Never allow clumps to sit for more than 24 hours because this can be distressing for your cat.
Diligent scooping is not a substitute for a full litter change and cleaning. Even a litter box that appears immaculate needs a full changeover about once a week to remain sanitary!
How Do You Change Cat Litter?
The process is identical for both clumping and non-clumping litters. However, you’ll need to adjust the steps based on the style of your litter box.
Here’s the easiest way to change your cat’s litter box:
- To start, put on some gloves and a mask. You can even consider opening a window to ventilate the room.
- Next, place a garbage bag over one end of the litter box.
- Carefully tip the box upward as you neatly pour its contents into the garbage bag. Use the scoop to scrape excess litter stuck to the bottom of the litter pan.
- Tie the top of the trash bag to keep the litter content separate from the rest of your trash.
With the box empty, it’s the perfect time to create a clean slate for the next batch of litter with good washing. A little bit of mild soap and water should do the trick. Use a bristle brush if any litter is caked on the box.
Never use bleach, ammonia, or other harsh chemicals to clean a litter box. Many cat owners don’t realize that bleach products can mix with the natural ammonia in cat urine to create a toxic gas. What’s more, lingering chemical odors that are faint to you are major deterrents to the sensitive nose of a cat.
The naturally occurring ammonia in cat urine is another reason to clean the litter box often.
“Urine is a concentrate of metabolic waste and is comprised of urea, creatine, uric acid, various detoxified substances, sodium chloride and other electrolytes,” according to experts at McGill University.
This mix forms ammonia as it breaks down in the litter box. As a result, sitting cat urine is a lung irritant for both cats and humans! Exposure to it can exacerbate asthma and coughing in humans. It can also irritate a cat’s eyes, nose, throat, and skin.
You should also skip cleaners with orange or lemon-fresh scents. Citrus is extremely toxic to cats.
Finish up by drying the litter box with a towel! The final step is replenishing the litter. Just don’t get too “pour happy” until you read this next paragraph.
How Much Litter Should I Use When Refilling My Cat’s Litter Box?
You don’t need to fill your cat’s litter box to the brim! After cleaning your cat’s litter box, refill it with about 2 inches to 3 inches of litter. Most cats won’t use a box with any more litter than that. Shorthair cats often prefer shallow litter.
“Adding extra litter won’t reduce the amount of cleaning necessary for a litter box,” the Humane Society reminds cat owners. Filling a box with too much litter only wastes money. It can also increase the amount of litter that ends up on your floors when your cat kicks her paws in the air to bury her waste.
Best Practices for Your Cat’s Litter Box
Here are the best tips I’ve gathered for maintaining a fresh, inviting litter box that will keep your cat from looking elsewhere!
Have a Litter Box for Every Cat in Your Household
Did you know that each cat in your home should have their own litter box? This ensures that the main box doesn’t get overcrowded. It can also help to stop litter-box bullying.
Of course, designating personal litter boxes for each cat is impossible. You don’t need to police the litter boxes. The goal is simply to provide more choices.
A cat may sometimes refuse to use a litter box that’s been used by another cat. If this is the case, you’ll need to be diligent about monitoring box activity to make sure a freshly scooped litter box is always available for the “persnickety” cat.
You should also consider having more than one litter box even if you have a solo cat if you have a large home with multiple floors.
Find the Right Spot for the Litter Box
Litter box placement matters to cats. Here’s how to pick a winning spot:
- Keep the litter box away from food and water dishes.
- Choose a quiet, distraction-free spot with lots of privacy.
- Don’t put a litter box near noisy appliances. While putting a litter box in the laundry room seems convenient, the booming and tumbling of the washer and dryer could cause your cat to develop a litter phobia!
- Keep the litter box away from heat vents, heated appliances, or furnaces. Heated cat waste can quickly “perfume” the area with an unwanted stench that keeps cats away.
- Try to pick an area with decent ventilation. While cupboards, basements, or closets may keep a box out of view, they can bring odors and bacteria to the forefront.
- When placing a second litter box in a home, keep it out of view from the other.
- Try to offer at least one litter box for every floor of your home.
Pick the Right Size
The easy rule for choosing a litter box for your cat is that your cat should be able to turn around while standing in the box. A box always needs to be longer than the length of your cat!
Older or injured cats need entrances that don’t require a “jump.” Cats will avoid litter boxes if they cannot comfortably get in and out of them. Look for a low-entry litter box for senior cats if leaping is an issue.
Skip Litter Liners
I thought that litter box liners were smart when I first heard about them. While liners can make it easier to change out litter for humans, I learned that cats hate them because claws get caught in them. The pain and pulling caused by liners can cause an aversion to using the litter box.
Final Thoughts: Fresh Litter Boxes Create Happy Cats
Every cat deserves a dignified area for taking care of business. Clean litter boxes are instinctual safe havens for cats. Dirty litter boxes can throw a cat off her axis until poor bathroom habits lead to infection and illness.
The secret formula is to scoop daily, change cat litter at least once a week, and monitor box activity constantly! Your cat’s health truly depends on your ability to stay consistent with litter maintenance.
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Brian is a proud cat parent and animal enthusiast who lives in the Northwestern United States with two cats. In his spare time, Brian likes traveling around with his pets, exploring new places, and writing. Sharing what he learned over the years of cat ownership brings him joy, and the cats teach him something new every day.