Birds won’t do it, dogs won’t do it, and guinea pigs can’t do it. The cat is one of the rare pets to understand how to use a bathroom facility (litter box) almost from infancy. No wonder most people consider cats to be among the cleanest (and smartest!) animals.
Commercial types of cat litter have been around since the late 1940s. Prior to that, people filled litter boxes with plain sand, or they let their cats go outside to dig a hole in the dirt. Since that time there has been an explosion of cat litter products. The litter falls into a few basic types:
Cat litter choices are further split into scented or non-scented, multi-cat or single cat and whether the product contains baking soda. About 70 percent of the cat litter market consists of the clumping variety, most likely because of its convenience. This type is formed from Bentonite clay, which clumps together when it encounters liquids. Clumps and waste can then be scooped out without replacing the entire contents of the litter box.
For “green” kitties and their people, there are several types of biodegradable and natural cat litters to choose from. Like many green products, they tend to cost a little bit more.
There are dozens of brands of kitty litter to choose from and the prices vary depending on the vendor. One can generally expect to pay from $7 to $10 for a 15 lbs. container of cat litter. A few of the top brands are listed here, and each one comes in several varieties:
Litter boxes come in a variety of shapes and styles. At the least expensive end of the box spectrum are plain rectangular plastic boxes with no lids. Most boxes have covers now however, and some come with a flap door to let the cat in and keep odors out of the room. The newest addition to the litter box line is the “self-cleaning” or “robot” litter box. These units require a power source have mechanical parts that either sift or rotate to direct cat waste into a separate shelf or compartment. All the owner has to do is remove the compartment, and dump the contents. Daily scooping is not required. Not surprisingly these mechanical litter boxes are expensive. They can cost around $100-$200,compared to around $20 for a regular plastic covered litter box. For some owners, the convenience is worth the price.
Many cats and kittens know intuitively how to use a litter box. Outside or in the wild, it is their nature to dig a hole and cover their waste with dirt. However, if you have a new kitten that has not figured out how to use a litter box yet, kitten litter box training is relatively easy. Make sure you have a clean new litter box filled with two to three inches of cat litter. Place the box in a location that is easy for the kitten to locate and access. You may want to start with an uncovered box, so it is easier for the kitty to jump in. Place the kitten on top of the sand. If they don’t figure out what to do immediately, take a paw and simulate a digging motion. You will probably only have to repeat these instructions a few times. Make sure to clean the litter box at least once a day. Cats are very fastidious and they will sometimes refuse to use a box if it gets too dirty.
Sometimes a cat that has always successfully used a litter box will start missing the mark, leaving either feces or urine outside the box. This could be caused by a variety of issues, either stress or medical. If the behavior becomes chronic, a trip to your veterinarian would be advised.
Remember to provide multiple boxes if you have more than one cat. Some cats will absolutely refuse to use a litter box if another cat has been in there. The general rule of thumb is to have one box per cat if space allows. If you don’t have room for additional boxes, it would be best to plan to clean the existing box or boxes several times a day.