The Art of Choosing a Right Litter Box (Part-II)

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Dr Reeja
In continuation of the article in previous issue on choosing a right litter box for your kitty, we further tell you how to select a suitable type or model for your feline fellow and effective use of it.
There are different types or models of litter boxes for your cat that you can choose from.
 
Models & choices
Open Boxes—giving more head space: These boxes are the simplest of all as they have four sides and free top. Relatively cheaper and generally more acceptable by most cats, open boxes give more ‘head space’ besides being airy which allows your pet a good view of the surroundings so that she can exercise her natural instinct of verifying that she is safe and secluded. These boxes have the added advantage of mimicking the natural tendency of the cat to avoid enclosed or covered spaces for relieving herself. However, there are issues with odour and accidental spills.
 
Covered or Hooded Boxes—ensuring minimum odour: With enough space for the cat to scrape to her heart’s delight as she covers her waste, these covered or hooded boxes also ensure that odour is minimum. These boxes also come with carbon and coal filters that further control the odour problem. These boxes can have the opening on top—the top entry boxes with four sides and an opening on top with a lid that is hinged and can be opened and closed. Hooded boxes are very good in limiting both spillages of the cat’s waste remnants and soiled litter. However, kittens and older cats, especially those with joint problems like arthritis, may find the top entry box difficult to navigate.
 
Sifting Boxes—with additional features: These boxes come with a number of stacks or racks that can be taken out. A sift allows the untouched litter to sift through while leaving behind the soiled litter and waste that can be removed by pulling out the sift that can be replaced in the box. So, you are free from using a scoop to clean up. These boxes also come with additional features to control odour, like a filter or lid. The major problems with these boxes is generally concerned with the sift which could break at times, get clogged with debris, or sometimes it’s just inefficient in separating the clean and soiled litter leading to an increased wastage of litter material. So, you will have to keep changing all of it, if the sift doesn’t work well.
 
Automatic/Electric Boxes—automatic & advantageous: These are expensive, but come with the advantage of automatic scooping of litter leaving you with less work. However, these boxes work on power connection and they may sometimes make a small noise that could be disturbing to kitten and older cats.
 
Need for secluded placement
Cats are essentially very private and they like to have their restrooms in places away from chaos, in a secluded place, away from the area where they usually play, eat and sleep, or their ‘core territory’. So, litter trays or boxes should be placed in discreet corners, preferably next to a wall, without a window so that the cat feels secure because she has 180 degree view of any approaching danger from the front and is at the same time protected by the wall behind.
 
Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid keeping the litter box near a window overlooking a busy street amidst the blaring horns of traffic or behind a noisy washing machine or in places where there are chances of a draught or rough weather. You should also remember that the litter box should not be placed very far from her core area and she should never have to climb a spiral, winding staircase to reach it. Last but not the least; never change the place where you have kept the box, once the cat has accepted it.
 
Understanding the litter materials
There are two types of litter materials—clumping and non-clumping. Clumping litter material clumps or becomes a lump when it comes in contact with cat waste material. Its advantage is that cleaning becomes an easy business and you can do it quickly by just scooping out the clump of litter material. The non-clumping type also absorbs cat waste material but doesn’t clump up so you will have to change the whole litter tray once it is soiled.
 
Mineral-Based Litter: These include bentonite, lime quartz and sand or silica-based litter. These are generally heavier and have higher dust levels as compared to non-mineral based litter. But the most significant issue is that these mineral-based litters are non compostable. The different types of mineral based litter that are available in India include the following.
Clay-Based Litter: The vast majority of the cat litter sold is of the clumping variety and most of it is made from bentonite clay. Traditionally clay based litter is most popular because of low cost, high absorbency, and clumps easily which means easy to clean as well. However the clay based cat litter waste is not bio degradable and remains in the environment.
 
Silicate-Based Litter: These are non-clumping and come in the granulated or pellet form and consist of silica gel. The advantage over clay based litters is that this does not generate harmful dust particles that clay litter produces. Silica gel litters also bind well to moisture. It is lighter than bentonite-based litter. Since this a non clumping type of litter, you will have to change the litter more frequently. Silica gel litters however are non-degradable and this kind of cat litter waste ends up in the environment.
 
Organic/Plant-Based Cat Litter: This is available both as the clumping and non-clumping types and are readily available in India. These litter materials are made from grass, corn, corn products, recycled newspaper, wheat and pine. This kind of material exploits the absorbent effect of plant fibres. It absorbs both moisture and unwanted odours besides having the additional advantages of being light weight. It is environment friendly and can be composted to be used in gardens and in plants. A special area of caution is with regard to kittens as they have a general tendency to nibble litter material or anything for that matter.
 
How much litter should one use?
Another issue that would confront new cat parent is how much litter should be used in the litter box. Generally, it’s best to give your cat a depth of 3–4 cm of cat litter. But here also there are exceptions to the norm. As you get to know your cat, and you feel that she would like some more to cover up, you can try a little more so that your furry friend buries to her contentment! Some cats are extra shy and want to cover their waste deeper. Allow them.
 
Cleaning rituals
Changing the litter: The number of times that you have to change the litter tray will depend on whether you use the clumping or non-clumping type. Both cats and kittens dislike dirty restrooms and smell of their waste. An unclean litter box will be ignored by the cat. So you should keep it clean. Ideally, clumps of soiled cat litter should be removed at least twice a day and you can remove non-clumping litter from the soiled areas and refill the respective spots with fresh litter.
 
Weekly cleaning: Other than daily litter change, you will also have to make a weekly inspection and cleanup of the litter box. If you use the non-clumping type of litter you will have to change the litter completely and refill the box with new litter every week. In case you use the clumping type, a complete change of litter would be required once in a month. Every week however you will have to clean the litter box thoroughly by emptying it. Fill it with warm water and a neutral non-perfumed cleaner and allow it to soak for at least 20 minutes. Empty the water and give the box a good scrub. Don’t forget to wash the lid or hood as well in case you are using the hooded type. Wipe the box dry with a clean towel and it’s always good to sundry it.
You should remember that cats have very sensitive nose and they will not accept any lingering scents of ammonia or vinegar. You can use a weak solution of bleach to disinfect the boxes. Whatever you use, take care to rinse the box thoroughly to get rid of any smells that could turn the cat away. Once you get the litter box and its accessories in order, your cat or kitten is trained, a major area of your pet care issues is bound to be settled and you are in for some great paw time!
(Dr Reeja George P is Associate Professor at Department of Veterinary and AH Extension, College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Mannuthy, Thrissur, Kerala.)