make Vet Answers my homepage

Top 10 reasons cats have people issues over litter trays!

Posted in Client Service @ Mar 12th 2014 - By Gillian Shippen, Nurse Manager & Director of Pets Need a Life Too

Really it's a wonder we don’t have more litter tray issues with what we consider to be appropriate for cats but which totally doesn't suit them!

Oh and just a quick note: as not all cats have read the manual, I'm sure someone somewhere is going to say to me “But my cat…….”!

So here they are, my top 10 cat litter tray 'issues':

1. Dirty Trays

Unfortunately once a week cleaning just isn’t enough as cats are very fastidious creatures and they like clean toilets – don’t you? Some owners clean the solids out daily and leave the liquid waste for a few days. However the liquid part is the worst for cats due to the odour.

So at  least once daily cleaning is necessary for both solid and liquid wastes. There are automated cleaning trays available, so if cleaning the tray daily is a problem then it might be worth investing in one which would only require you to clean the collection tray daily.(photo courtesy of Littermaid©)


However I must admit, I personally don't like the automated trays as I feel some cats may not like them (going high tech can have its problems) however I do have a friend whose cat has successfully used one.

There are also electronic self-cleaning boxes available but I feel these have so many downsides that I don’t even know where to start, but here's my list:

  • Many of them have motors that are frightening.
  • Some are so big but the actual surface area for the cat is too small.
  • Many self-cleaning boxes have covers as well and even though some of these boxes are timed to not activate the cleaning until 10 minutes after the cat has left the box it doesn’t account for another cat entering.
  • Some rakes in the boxes easily clog when there’s a large clump due to diarrohea.
  • Perhaps the major downside? The cat owner is prevented from monitoring what is or isn’t happening in the litter box. When you clean the box it’s an opportunity to check on your cat’s health. It’s during cleaning time that you may notice constipation, diarrohea, a larger-than-normal urine clump or no urine clump at all.

Whichever type of box you choose, it's also important to replace the plastic trays at least once per year as the urine can seep into the plastic causing the cat to no longer want to use it.

2. Not enough trays

The dirty tray leads onto the second top reason for litter issues....not enough trays.  The general rule is one tray per cat plus one extra. So one cat = two trays, two cats = three trays, three cats = four trays. If you genuinely don’t have enough room to accommodate all those trays, maybe you genuinely don’t have enough room for all those cats.  Although you could also consider letting your cats have some access to outside, which may help to alleviate a lack of tray options.

Why so many trays? Cats like clean trays; giving them an extra one enables them to have a clean one if the other hasn’t been cleaned since they last used it. In our boarding facility, it is not uncommon for the cats to be lining up waiting for the clean tray, which they will use the instant we put it down. For those cats that generally go outside to toilet, it still pays to have at least one tray inside…just in case.


In the image above, note not only the number of trays  (1 cat = 2 trays) but also the tray sizes.  The smaller one on the left is a large commercial litter tray and the large one on the right is a storage box sourced by the cat's owner

3. Too much or too little litter

The litter in a cat tray shouldn’t be any more than 2 - 4cm deep. Yes cats like to dig, but a tray with too much, loosely packed material, may give them a sinking feeling which they really don't like. Equally don’t be stingy as cats do like to have a scratch around. As you scoop out the dirty bits, place some new litter on top and replace the entire litter once a week.

4. Wrong type of litter

It is possible that your cat may just not like the litter type that you have chosen.  Cats do often have substrate preference just because well.. just because really! Then there are the elderly cats that suddenly take a dislike to the hard pellets because it hurts their arthritic paws. Another reason for changing preferences is illness – they may associate the litter with pain they had from an illness the last time they used that litter. Some cats may even prefer one type for urinating in and another type for defecating. Generally cat owners prefer clumping litter because it is easier to clean.  However cats hate clumping litter because it is harder to cover what they have done. It may even pay to make a soil concoction with some sand and regular dirt (the sand helps keep the soil easy to scratch up)…….

Then there is number 5.

5. Inappropriate additives

Cats HATE perfumes. So no deodorisers please.  The smell may be pleasant to us but cats really, really hate it.

Also don’t use harsh chemicals to clean the tray. Strong-smelling household cleansers may leave enough of a strong scent on the plastic box that it drives the cat away. When you clean the box use bleach that is heavily diluted in hot water or you can even use dish soap that is very diluted. When you've finished cleaning you don’t want to have any traces of scent on the plastic. Just to give you an idea as to just how sensitive a cat’s nose is, he has 67 million scent receptors compared to the 5 million that humans have.

6. Forget the plastic liners too

While we're at it - forget the plastic liners as well.  Not only do cats generally not like the feel of the liner, but the plastic also has a horrible smell to a cat. Litter box liners are created for the convenience of the cat parent but they often tear from the cat’s claws. It’s also easy for urine to form pools in the folds of the plastic also creating an odour problem. Since cats are very tactile you also have to keep in mind how the plastic may create discomfort when a cat is trying to dig and cover his waste.

7. Tray size

Generally speaking the commercially available litter trays simply are not big enough for the average sized cat. If you watch a cat toilet outside you would notice they use a lot of space to go about their business. The best thing to use for a litter tray is a large storage box from one of the cheap shops which you can cut an entrance into.


8. Location, Location, Location

We often put litter trays where they are convenient or preferable to us. And in some cases space may well be an issue; however in most cases we place trays in totally inappropriate places for our cats. For example: in the laundry next to the washing machine.  Often right next to that great big, white box which can be terribly noisy and shakes about.  That has to be a bit scary for some cats.

Other cat owners may place the trays in  a major thoroughfare and cats like privacy when they are toileting (lets face it, who doesn’t?).  If you live in a multistorey building you may also have all the trays downstairs and nothing upstairs and..."When ya gotta go, ya gotta go!” It’s not really very nice having to run all the way downstairs when you're desperate. They may not use all the trays but at least you have them in place just in case.

9. Bullies!

Sometimes in multi-cat households there may be some subtle bullying going on whcih you may not even be aware of  as it can be oh-so-subtle. This is where the multiple trays from Point 2 and the various locations suggested in Point 8 really come into their own. And it doesn't even have to be interspecies bullying, the family dog could be lurking in the shadows just waiting to get into those “kitty krunchies” -  hence the whole privacy thing from Point 8.

10. Covered litterboxes

You may think a covered box is a good idea because it gives the cat some privacy and also confines the litter odour inside the box. The truth is, a covered box isn’t cat-friendly as it can often make the cat feel confined. They can also make it more inconvenient for you to scoop on a regular basis (out of sight…out of mind). Covered boxes also create more odours because air can't get in to dry the soiled litter. But my biggest complaint with a covered box is that it limits the cat's escape routes. In a multi-cat household this can be a crucial issue because a cat may avoid the box if he feels he’ll get ambushed while in there. BTW: my cat uses a covered in tray – his box is in its own special cupboard and he seems to tolerate it although he also has access to outside.  So although some cats may prefer the privacy a covered tray provides, others won’t. 

And one extra just for good luck

11. Medical reasons

Naturally we have to remember that there may always be some medical reasons behind litter tray issues.  For example stress, diabetes, renal insufficiency, arthritis or UTI (urinary tract infection – or blockage) are all reasons why a cat may have a sudden aversion to the litter box.

And just for a bit of a laugh….this is actually a cake….any takers?

Gillian Shippen is not only a Nurse Manager, but has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs' AND she runs her online website 'Pets Need a Life Too' where she sells a range of enrichment toys for pets.

Gillian is also currently studying 'Veterinary Behaviour Medicine' at CVE Sydney with Dr Kersti Seksel.

Click here to visit the 'Pets Need A Life Too' Page in the Vetanswers Business Directory


There are currently no comments.

Add Your Comments

All comments will be submitted to the administrator for approval.

To prevent spam, please type in the code found in the red box to verify you are a real person.
  Required fields

Blog Categories


Recent Blog Entries


Tag Cloud

follow us on twitter