Cleaning out your cat’s litter box isn’t much fun, but keeping it clean and hygienic doesn’t just avoid unpleasant sights and smells—it can also prevent behavioral issues, and is vital for both your health and your cat’s.
Maintenance of your cat's litter box depends on the type of litter you use, how many cats you own, and your cats' individual needs. Scoop solid waste twice daily; fully empty and clean the tray once a week if non-clumping litter and every two to four weeks if using clumping litter. Inadequate litter box cleaning can lead to parasite infections and behavioral issues, including not using the box.
Maintenance of your cat's litter box depends on the type of litter you use, how many cats you own, and your cats' individual needs.
Scoop solid waste twice daily; fully empty and clean the tray once a week if non-clumping litter and every two to four weeks if using clumping litter.
Inadequate litter box cleaning can lead to parasite infections and behavioral issues, including not using the box.
A good rule of thumb is to scoop out your cat’s waste deposits twice daily and clean the litter box out completely every one to four weeks. In this article, we will help you decide how often to change your own cat’s litter by looking at factors such as the type of litter, the health of your cat, and the number of cats and litter boxes in your household.
Does The Type Of Litter Affect The Changing Frequency?
Cat litter can be manufactured from many different materials including paper, wood, silica, clay, corn, sand, and wheat. There are two main types of cat litter—clumping and non-clumping—which differ in how they work, and how the litter box needs to be maintained.
- Absorb large amounts of liquid.
- Provide good odor control.
- Scoop solid waste out of the tray at least twice daily.
- Empty and clean the whole tray at least weekly.
- Empty more frequently if urine pools in the bottom of the tray, or there is a noticeable smell.
- Form solid lumps around urine and feces, which are easy to scoop out.
- Remove clumps at least twice daily, with fresh litter added to replace them.
- The tray can be fully emptied and cleaned less frequently with clumping litter, usually once every two to four weeks.
- Empty more frequently if you are noticing any odors, or if lots of the litter is wet or clumped.
What Litter Do Cats Prefer?
Guidelines on house soiling written by feline specialists advise that most cats prefer non-scented, fine, clumping, sand-like litter, at a depth of at least 1 inch. If you want to change the type of kitty litter you use, mix in the new one gradually over the course of at least a week.
Remember that cats are individuals though, and often have a strong preference for certain litter types, so you’d be mistaken to think you’ll have the final say on litter choice!
Also Read: Check Your Knowledge: Best Cat Litter
How To Clean A Litter Box
Cleaning the litter box properly is a crucial part of ensuring your cat uses the box. When it is time for a full clean of the litter box:
- Throw away all remaining old litter.
- Wash the litter box with hot water and mild detergent or dish soap.
- Avoid using strongly scented chemicals, bleach, and anything containing ammonia, as they might put your cat off using the litter box.
- Dry the box thoroughly.
- Fill with enough new litter for your cat to be able to dig and bury their waste.
- Don’t forget to regularly clean your scoop too!
- Ensure good hand hygiene.
Why Might Cat Litter Need To Be Changed More Frequently?
If you have more than one cat provide a litter box for each cat in the household, plus one extra. This should keep cleaning schedules the same as already discussed. However, you might find that several cats prefer to use the same litter box, in which case the litter will need to be changed more often—weekly if you use clumping litter, and potentially every few days with non-clumping litter.
Cats usually urinate up to four times daily and pass feces once. This will differ between individuals though, and can be affected by age, diet, ambient temperature, fluid intake, and medications. More frequent litter changes are needed for cats with medical issues causing them to produce more urine or feces than normal, such as diabetes, kidney disease, or inflammatory bowel disease.
Keeping a close eye on your cat’s litter box can alert you to changes in the amount of pee and poop they are producing, any change from normal should be checked out by their veterinarian.
Also Read: Top 10 Things Your Vet Wishes You Knew
Using Scents To Cover Up Smells
Cats have a very strong sense of smell, and have 40 times more scent receptors in their noses than humans do! This makes them very sensitive to strong odors from cleaning chemicals, litter deodorizing products, and scented litters, so using these products can put them off using the litter box completely.
Litter trays won’t smell if cleaned out appropriately, and no product can be a substitute for daily scooping and regular changes of litter.
A Dirty Litter Box Can Be Dangerous
Speedy removal of poop from the litter box can help reduce the chances of diseases spreading between members of the household. Feline feces can harbor bacteria, viruses, and parasites which can infect other cats, and sometimes people, too.
Cats are at risk of picking up infections when they groom their paws after using the litter box, people are at risk when they empty and clean litter boxes. Some examples of infections that can be passed on in cat feces are:
An important disease to be aware of is toxoplasmosis, caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasmosis in people and cats is usually a mild illness that can go completely unnoticed, but it is particularly dangerous for people with suppressed immune systems, and unborn babies if women are infected during pregnancy. Cats can be infected by hunting, eating raw or undercooked meat, or having contact with contaminated feces.
Eggs (oocysts) are passed in the cat’s feces, and take a few days to change (sporulate) to the infective form of the parasite. You can help keep everyone safe by scooping feces daily, so the oocysts don’t have a chance to become infective in the litter box. To be extra cautious, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems should still avoid handling litter trays if possible.
Can Not Changing Cat Litter Enough Cause Behavioral Issues?
Imagine the flush is broken on your toilet, but you have no choice but to use it for several days—not a pleasant thought at all! This is the situation faced by cats when their litter boxes are not scooped and cleaned out often enough, and remember, they have to stand in the litter when they do their business.
Cats are well known for being fastidiously clean, so if their litter boxes aren’t up to scratch they might opt to go somewhere else more appealing instead (known as inappropriate elimination, or house soiling). Unfortunately, the alternative location in the house is rarely acceptable to their owner, so keeping their trays clean is vitally important.
Are There Any Easier Ways To Maintain A Clean Litter Box?
We all know that life can be busy, so are there any ways of maintaining a clean litter box for your pet without spending a lot of time doing it? Some people use polythene tray liners for the litter box to make emptying it quicker and easier; however many cats don’t like these as they catch their claws in the polythene, and it might put them off using the tray altogether.
Another option to consider is investing in a self-cleaning litter box. Some cats can find the noises and random movements these make off-putting, but they can be a useful addition to some households.
Cleaning The Litter Box: Final Thoughts
Cats are meticulously clean animals, and it is the responsibility of cat owners to ensure they keep their pet’s toileting area clean and tidy by regularly changing the cat litter. Regardless of litter type, the litter box should have any waste scooped out at least twice daily. Clumping litters only need a full clean and complete change of litter every two to four weeks, unless you have several cats choosing to use the same litter box.
Non-clumping litters are good at absorbing cat urine, but require the litter box to be fully emptied and cleaned more frequently (usually once a week). Failure to change the litter often enough can result in cats toileting in other areas of the house and can risk passing on infections to other members of the household (including people).
Using strongly scented litter or litter deodorizers is no substitute for good litter box maintenance, but some owners may find self-cleaning litter boxes helpful to save time in their schedules.
Also Read: The 6 Best Non-Tracking Cat Litters
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I make my cat litter last longer?
To make your cat litter last longer you could consider using a type that clumps rather than non-clumping litter. Clumping litter sticks together when your cat goes to the toilet, leaving easy-to-remove clumps, resulting in litter that stays fresher for longer.
Top up the litter box with fresh litter to replace any removed, and the whole tray should only have to be emptied and cleaned every two to four weeks.
How often should a litter box be scooped?
Ideally, poop should be removed as soon as it is deposited by your cat, however, we do realize that this isn’t always possible. Litter boxes should be checked, and any waste scooped twice daily to keep them clean and appealing for your kitty.
What happens if you don’t change cat litter?
Cats are very clean creatures and don’t appreciate having to stand in a dirty litter box to do their business. If you don’t keep their kitty litter clean, then you might find that they choose somewhere else in the house to toilet (e.g., your bed, the bath, laundry basket, or a plant pot).
We’re sure that you agree that meeting their feline needs for a clean litter box is better than having unwanted pee and poop around your house.
Dirty litter boxes also risk passing on infections to other pets or people in the household. Although hygiene is always important, pregnant women should be especially careful around dirty litter boxes as they could harbor Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause serious issues in unborn babies.
Carney HC, Sadek TP, Curtis T, et al. AAFP and ISFM guidelines for diagnosing and solving house-soiling behavior in cats. J Feline Med Surg 2014; 16(7):579-598
Dubey JP, Ferreira LR, Martins J, Jones JL. Sporulation and survival of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts in different types of commercial cat litter. J Parasitol. 2011 Oct;97(5):751-4. doi: 10.1645/GE-2774.1. Epub 2011 May 3. PMID: 21539466.