Litter Box Tips for Every Stage of a Cat’s Life


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.

My cat, Phillip, is a digger. By that, I mean he will spend what seems like hours digging the perfect spot in the litter box, then another few “hours” covering up his business. He is serious about this venture and rarely deviates from this routine.

Jack, on the other hand, is a dasher. His modus operandi is to conduct his business as quickly as possible and then race away from the litter box like someone is chasing him. Phillip often takes on additional digging duties on Jack’s behalf.

Thankfully, both 3-year-old Phillip and 7-year-old Jack use the litter box faithfully — and I encourage that behavior by scooping daily and completely switching out the litter every seven to 10 days. A few years ago, however, Jack started urinating outside the box. Because it was so unlike him, I immediately took him to the vet and learned that he had a urinary tract infection.

Luckily, Jack made a full recovery and was soon using his box again. I hope your cat uses his litter box regularly, too — but if he starts to stray, consider some of these age-appropriate litter box tips.


Most kittens use the litter box regularly by the time they are old enough to be adopted, said Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behavior consultant (The Cat Coach, LLC), author, and Catster contributor.

This little kitten has figured out the box already. (Photo by Gina Cioli/i-5 Studio.)
This little kitten has figured out the box already. (Photo by Gina Cioli/i-5 Studio.)

If your kitten seems unsure of what to do, confine him in a room with several shallow, uncovered boxes. After he eats, place him in a box and help him imitate digging. “Litter boxes need to be accessible,” Krieger said. “If the kitten spends time in the living room, place a shallow litter box in the living room. Don’t expect the kitten to reliably use litter boxes that are a distance away.”

Don’t worry if your kitten curls up in the clean litter box for a nap. It means he’s not afraid of the box, and that’s a good thing.

Be concerned if your kitten is eating clay-based litter. A few bits of litter might be ingested through natural grooming behavior, but actual eating of litter can cause intestinal blockages.

Adolescents and adults

By the time a cat is an adolescent or an adult, he pretty much has his litter box habits down pat. When he deviates from those habits, it could be related to one of these common reasons:

  • The litter box is dirty.
  • There’s been a big change in your household — such as a child moving away to college or the addition of a cat.
  • The litter box is in a new location.
Black and white cat using litter box by Shutterstock
Black and white cat using litter box by Shutterstock

Krieger recommended against moving a litter box, even if the box is in a less-than-ideal location. “Don’t move litter boxes from place to place,” she said. “Leave them, and add more boxes elsewhere. Cats become accustomed to the locations of their boxes.”

Don’t worry if your cat occasionally misses the box because of aim issues (misjudging where the edge of the box really is — Jack does this about once a month). Try a covered litter box or a larger box to address this issue.

Be concerned if your cat suddenly starts urinating outside the box, goes to the box multiple times per day with little results, or deposits blood in the litter box. As I learned with Jack, these can indicate that your cat has a urinary tract infection, and he needs to visit the vet right away.

Your cat's toilet preferences may change with age. (Photo by Gina Cioli/i-5 Studio)
Your cat’s toilet preferences may change with age. (Photo by Gina Cioli/i-5 Studio)


As your cat enters his senior years, his litter box habits may change because of physical limitations. “Some elderly cats may find it a bit more challenging to make it to the litter box,” Krieger said. “Arthritis and other medical issues may make it painful for them to walk far. Also, some elderly cats have incontinence issues.”

Help your senior cat be successful in his litter box chores by placing large, uncovered boxes throughout your home, especially in those rooms where your cat spends most of his time.

If your home has two levels, make sure there’s a box both upstairs and downstairs. “For those older kitties who can’t jump, make sure the litter boxes are shallow,” Krieger added.

Krieger also recommended placing night-lights throughout the house to literally light the way to the litter box. “[This] will help elderly cats navigate around at night, especially those who may have dementia,” she said.

Don’t worry: If you keep your senior cat’s litter box in the same location and continue to use the same litter, chances are he will continue to use it faithfully. Keep in mind, though, that as your cat ages, he becomes more set in his ways and will likely go on a “box strike” if you suddenly change the litter you use in the box.

Be concerned: Sudden changes in your cat’s litter habits or unusual bouts of incontinence may indicate an underlying medical problem in your senior cat. Take her to the vet as soon as possible to rule out any health concerns.

Read about more tips on litter boxes:

About the author: A lifelong cat owner, Stacy N. Hackett writes about cats, cat breeds, and pet-related topics. A big source of inspiration comes from her two adopted cats: Jack, a 6-year-old red tabby domestic shorthair, and Phillip, a 2-year-old gray-and-white domestic shorthair. Stacy also is “stepmom” to a Cocker Spaniel/Labrador Retriever mix named Maggie as well as two brown tabbies named Katie and Leroy.

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