The truth about the litter tray – are you doing it right?
July 8, 2019
Cats are particular about a lot of things, and the litter tray is no exception. Here are a few misconceptions about the litter tray and what you can do to make the ‘elimination station’ a pleasure for your pussycat to use.
Common misconceptions about the litter tray, explained
“Any style goes”
Litter boxes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs. From dome-topped to open-plan, you can find one that suits Sushi best. But remember, every cat is an individual. A rescue cat may appreciate the safety of a walled tray; a semi-feral adoptee may not like being closed in by it. A kitten might take to a rectangular box but not know what to do when faced with a door (and you don’t want to be using tasty treats to lure them in there, because hygiene). An older cat who suddenly stops using the tray might need one with a low entrance that is easier to step into. It’s important to consider each cat’s needs and try out assorted designs before settling on the one(s) that work.
“They can share one tray”
Cats are clean, and territorial too. They may not want to share their poop spots, especially if they compete for attention and dominance. Being forced to share may lead to them avoid natural elimination altogether. If you can, keep one tray per pet plus an extra one for variety. If it sounds like a lot of extra work, imagine if you had to use a toilet right after somebody who failed to flush…
“Just put it anywhere”
Although a box is its own space, it really does matter where you put in in the house. Cats are vulnerable when they go to the loo and appreciate a safe space just as humans do. Keep the litter tray in an area that is quiet and sees low traffic, with good ventilation. Don’t put the litter tray anywhere near where they eat. It must be protected from the weather like rain and excess sunshine to be comfortable to use and weather here means drafts and wind, too.
“Urine is sterile; I can leave it in”
It is, mostly, in healthy pets, but it’s also smelly, especially when it accumulates in the tray. If a pet is ill, the urine might NOT be sterile, but carry viruses/bacteria that can make other pets who use the same tray sick. Not only is it more hygienic to regularly remove urine and faeces, but your pets are more likely to use it. An unpleasant litter tray can discourage use and strain the bowels and bladder. Fussy cats may develop UTIs from avoiding a stinky indoor litter tray (especially if they prefer pooping in fresh garden soil and suddenly don’t have access to it). Best practise sees waste matter removed (and composted) as soon as it’s deposited.
“I can leave the poop there”
Certain litters do a better job of drying faeces and urine (think gel crystals) but the fact remains that bacteria and pathogens in poop and wee can, at times, survive very harsh conditions like desiccation, reinfect an animal through touch, or be passed along from one animal to another. One pet may be a carrier (not suffer from the disease itself) and pass it along, another may not show any symptoms of illness but be unwell and pass it along.
“Younger ones need a little bit of poop to know where to go“
First of all, pets have a sense of smell that far outperforms our own. They can pick up scents that we can’t, so soon after the litter tray is used the first time, they’ll know what’s been in it. Plus, plastic absorbs odours, and even if you clean it quickly and wash the tray with soap, it can carry trace elements of the scent that let them know where to ‘go’. It must be mentioned that while cats are instinctual about their toilet habits, kittens might need some training, especially if they’re newborn or very tiny, lost their mom too young and she’s not there to manually stimulate their elimination. Pay close attention and show your furry ones where you want them to go if they do it in the wrong place.
“Smelling her own scent in the tray will help kitty feel more at home”
Contrary to the popular myth that a cat’s own personal scent can be profoundly comforting, leaving poop in the tray can quickly make it unpleasant and unwelcoming for her. It might even have the opposite effect of attracting other cats who smell her scat and take the sign of another cat as a challenge to increase their territory. A dirty litter tray plus the possibility of being attacked while you’re squatting are not attractive to a self-respecting meower, and they may ‘go’ elsewhere, or even develop bladder or bowel-related medical issues like cystitis or constipation by holding it in.
Automatic, self-cleaning litter tray – is it for you?
To help with hygiene, some people invest in a self-cleaning tray that separates the waste from the litter so that you can be less hands on about it. Some hands-free designs need a power source (which raises the running costs and your carbon footprint); others are manual (which means you usually have to pull a lever). It doesn’t free you up forever – the tray still needs regular attention and engagement. What’s more, you’ll need to help your pets get used to it, which takes training, patience, and time, and it does have vibrations and sounds which some pets find difficult to adjust to. And it’s not like you can habituate baby animals to it, either. Auto-clean cat trays are not suitable for kittens under six months. It’s more a long-term solution than a quick fix but it can shave minutes off an already terribly busy pet-care routine. The more time you have for cuddles and play the better, right? Just make sure you test the self-cleaning tray against an ordinary tray, and it compares favourably.
Finally, some wisdom from Petco. “Your cat’s litter box plays a big role in their life,” they caution. “It can also be a useful tool that helps you recognize sudden changes in their health or well-being. If you still notice your cat not using their litter box after making changes to the size, location, cleaning routine, or sharing methods, you may need to seek professional help.” Always consult your vet if you notice a change in behaviour around the litter tray and rest assured that dotsure.co.za pet cover makes it easier to afford these visits.
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