i need litter box training.
September 7, 2007 1:55 PM   Subscribe

how to train a human to use a litter box?

i did it! i've adopted a kitten from a rescue shelter, and i'm picking him up tomorrow. the only part i'm apprehensive about is the litter box. this will be my first indoor cat, and while there are bazillions of resources on how to train the cat to use a litter box, I can't seem to find simple instructions for me! i feel maybe this is a dumb question, but in the interest of little rudy mancke junior (pictures to come, i promise!), i need basic, "talk to me like a five year old," litter box training.

how often do i need to scoop? how often do i need to completely empty it and wash it? can i flush the litter? if not, do i just put it in a garbage can? where does the filter go? do i even need a filter? is a liner really necessary?

any other litter box tips/tricks/recommendations welcome!
posted by kidsleepy to Pets & Animals (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You need to scoop as often as possible - at least twice a day.

You should completely empty and wash it once a week, ideally. Some people do much less, but if your cat is finicky you will end up with surprises outside of the box if you clean it too infrequently.

I'd recommend the Booda Dome (search petco or petsmart websites) as a litter box.

I also really love the Litter Locker, which is a box you keep next to the litter box. It comes with a scoop and you dump in the litter and turn this wheel to lock away the stink. Basically it's like a long, tubular plastic bag inside that you tie off and cut and throw away sections at a time as it fills up the box. It's just a convenient way to not have to keep taking small bags of stinky litter to wherever your garbage is picked up to keep the smell out of your home.
posted by twiggy at 2:05 PM on September 7, 2007

Best answer: Assuming scoopable litter and an average sized box: get in the habit of scooping daily. One cat, eh, you can go longer, but then it's not a habit, and kitten poo is particularly stinky anyway, and cats get picky about it and start going elsewhere if the box isn't clean enough, so do it daily or even morning and evening - that way you've only got a clump or two to deal with (barring kitten activity, which seems to be more frequent, but it'll slow down as he gets bigger) at a time.

There will come a point where clumping litter has enough old cast-off crumbs that the litter isn't a single consistency anymore; that's a good time to wash it. Or let it get low as you reach the end of a container of litter, and then wash it before you crack the new one open. You'll get to know by sight when you might as well start fresh.

Don't flush. Bad for plumbing. If you find yourself in the middle of a garbage strike, maybe then. I keep a tiny step-lid trashcan next to the box, with a grocery bag in it, and scoop into that and then tie it off and put it in the regular garbage the night before it goes out.

Liners are such a scam. Cats dig around in there and tear them up and just make twice the mess. You don't need a filter unless you have a covered box, and I don't think they really do much except soak up stink, so I leave the slot empty.

I have tried every scoopable on the market (I used to be a Littermaid user, and now I just want whatever will scoop the easiest), and hands down Worlds Best Cat Litter lives up to its name. I have three senior cats who do some pretty startling things in there, and it can handle it.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:07 PM on September 7, 2007

Welcome to cat parenthood. Scooping philosophy seems to depend on the owner, what type of litter you use, your cat, and life. I've seen daily recommended, know people that do it more often, but personally haven't brought myself to do it.

I wash my litter boxes once to twice a month, the cats will really let you know if they aren't happy with it (at least mine do).

For flushing, I think it depends on the litter. Personally, I just put mine in my garbage with my bills.

I've never used a filter or a liner.

Cats seem really good with letting you know if they're unhappy with a situation. Unfortunately, this will sometimes mean pooping outside of the box if they think it's too dirty.
posted by drezdn at 2:08 PM on September 7, 2007

I should add: Your cat may not be so picky you have to scoop more than twice a day, but definitely try to do it when you wake up and when you get home from work. I also scoop before bed.

As for your other questions I hastily skipped over:
- There is flushable litter out there. My cats don't like the one I tried, so I can't use it. If your cat likes it though - awesome!
- The filters out there are supposed to make the air smell less bad. I highly doubt they have any effect at all. Skip them.
- Whether or not to use liners is totally based on your cat. If your cat is really good with his/her claws and won't get caught on the liner, then they make emptying the box convenient. However, emptying and cleaning the box really isn't all that hard without a filter - just dump into a trash bag and take the thing into the shower/tub to rinse with soapy water for a minute.

Other stuff to consider:
- LitterMaid automatic boxes used to be good, but have apparently gone way downhill. Stay away from them.
- There are other auto-scoop solutions that are supposedly better according to reviews. I haven't tried them.
- The CatGenie looks freaking amazing. $300 sounds like a lot of money, but I have 2 cats and to never clean litter again would be worth $500 in my eyes. See catgenie.com I think....
posted by twiggy at 2:08 PM on September 7, 2007

Also, as with all things cat-related... Opinions vary.
posted by drezdn at 2:10 PM on September 7, 2007

Best answer: I wouldn't bother scooping twice a day unless you have multiple cats or the litter box is right next to your bed. Once a day is plenty, and for one cat I'd say you can easily go with every other day.

Scoop all turds and clumps with the little plastic shovel, put in plastic grocery bag, tie plastic grocery bag, toss in trash. Top off with a layer of new litter. Do NOT flush it unless you have something that says it's a flushable litter, and even then I'd probably do the trashbag method anyway. Switch litters if your cat seems to dislike the one you pick, but my understanding is that kittens will like pretty much whichever one you start them on, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Empty the entire box once every few weeks. Wash it every few months. Using liners will obviously get rid of the need for washing. They also make doing the complete litter change-out easier.

That's about it.
posted by MsMolly at 2:12 PM on September 7, 2007

How old is the kitty? He may very well be litter trained. You should get your litter box and food area setup before you bring him home. Expect him to hide for a day or two after bringing him home.

Try to get in the habit of scooping daily (if you wait too long, then you have to scoop a LOT).
I completely change the litter and wash the box once /month (I have 2 boxes for two cats).
You typically can't flush scoopable litter. I use the plastic bags bags the grocery store gives you for litter.
IME, a liner is useless with clawed cats.

Don't spend so much money on litter boxes. I use Rubbermaid containers (or similar) and cut a hole in the top cover (they're typically $8-$10 each at Target type places). Having a top entry litter box also helps eliminate litter tracking.

Good luck with the new kitty!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 2:12 PM on September 7, 2007

Scoop once a day. Keep the food and water away from the litterbox so that the cat doesn't eat any of it accidentally (the clumping litter can dehydrate the cat if eaten, plus it is just gross). I like a covered litterbox with a cheap plush bathroom mat in front of it. It needs to be plush so that it actually traps the pieces of litter that get scratched and/or tracked out. Then you can shake out the mat once every few days and not have litter particles all over your floor.

Get a deep litterbox so that you can have about 5 inches of litter. It's a big mess when litter is too shallow such that the pee sinks to the bottom of the pan and sticks in a nasty wet clump. If you keep the litter deep enough, then you shouldn't need to do a thorough soapy/bleach cleaning very often.

As far as disposal, I always use a plastic grocery bag (check to make sure it doesn't have holes). Put the litter in, tie it off so that its airtight, and toss it in the garbage.
posted by gatorae at 2:18 PM on September 7, 2007

There's a growing body of evidence that suggests that flushable kitty litter is pretty bad stuff for the environment. The theory goes like this; in the wild cats bury their poop so it decomposes before being exposed to the watertable, but flushable kitty litter puts the poop and urine directly into sensitive environments, and release Toxoplasma gondii. A quick googleing of "flushable kitty litter otter" brings up a few articles. There's also some speculation that it's not very good for your pipes.

Personally, I'd suggest scooping every day, and dumping it in the trash. Do a complete litter change every week.

Good luck and enjoy your kitty!
posted by lekvar at 2:26 PM on September 7, 2007

If you have the space (a basement, etc.) put the litter box inside a washing machine overflow tray (you can find them cheaper than that). This helps contain the litter that inevitably escapes from the box, and is easy to clean up if your cat "misses the box." We just hose ours down along with the litter boxes once a month or so. Also, I would start with a covered box as most cats like their privacy. We have one cat that won't use a covered box, though. YMMV.
posted by Joleta at 2:35 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I tried the flushable litter for a while, thinking it would be better for the environment than all the plastic bags I was filling with scooped-out clumps. It turns out I needed several flushes to get the stuff to go down, and even then there was usually a bit of litter sitting at the bottom of my toilet bowl that wouldn't go down. I'm sure it looked awful to visitors, and I definitely felt like I was wasting a ton of water with all those flushes. Go with the normal scoopable stuff and a mini-trashcan next to the litter box, as others have recommended above.
posted by vytae at 2:36 PM on September 7, 2007

Get a box of baby wipes. Kittens are notorious for stepping in their own mess and then tracking it all over the place.
posted by cior at 2:40 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't fall for the self-cleaning box gizmos. An old roommate of mine got one and the presence of a lurking robot scared the cats so thoroughly she had to buy a whole new analog litterbox before they'd go back to using one.
posted by sonofslim at 2:40 PM on September 7, 2007

I scoop my cat litter box only about two times a week, and it's just fine.

Either I can tolerate more poo than most people in this thread, or it really depends on your cat, your nose, and your home.
posted by Ms. Saint at 2:56 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

my answers:

(I have 2 cats, and 2 litter boxes, by the way. Both litter boxes are covered & have the swinging door on. I use the bulk litter from the local petpeople store)

- I scoop once a week. My cats are fine with it, I can't smell it, so I see no real reason to scoop more often.
- I empty it out & clean it "whenever it needs it" which roughly tends to be once every other month. It's when i see a lot of little pieces that are too small to get with the scooper.
- I don't flush the litter as I hear it's bad for the environment (google "flush cat litter environment")
- Yep, it goes in the trash. Most of the time i just take it straight out to the dumpster because it smells.
- My litter boxes have built-in filters on the top, I haven't used any other kinds. They seem to work well, i guess, as i don't smell anything unless I'm nearby the box when the cat just did their business.
- I've never used liners
posted by escher at 3:11 PM on September 7, 2007

They make litterboxes with a lift-out grid that's supposed to do the sifting for you so all you have to do is dump it. We found that it did not work well at all, the clumps broke up too easily and if you'd let it go for a few days (oops) it was really heavy to lift.

Also keep in mind that a kitten may not be able to step easily into a deeper litter box such as the covered ones mentioned above. Get a shallower one for now and upgrade later.
posted by cabingirl at 3:16 PM on September 7, 2007

We'll really need a picture of the kitty to know exactly which approach you will need to take.

It all mostly depends on the cat, the litter, and your nose. Show the cat where you want, and the cat will catch on - just pick her up when you see her about to go, stick her in the box, she'll figure it out.

I second the advice to completely empty the box and scrub it every now and then, too, and scoop it at least daily, if that's the only box she has. Disposal options are determined, again, by what kind of litter you use. Oh, and once your cat gets used to one kind of litter, she may be difficult if you try to use something else.
posted by dilettante at 3:19 PM on September 7, 2007

If you want to switch from the kind of litter your kitten used before to one you prefer, try starting with the previous brand, then whenever you scoop, gradually mix in the one you like.

I agree with scooping at least daily; even if the smell doesn't bother you, your cat has a much more sensitive nose.

I don't recommend "flushable" litter. It's not really all that flushable. I also have tried Swheat Scoop and detested it - it turned the litter box into a solid mass of urine soaked.. ick, it was like plywood. My cat didn't care for it either. Every time she would go to her box, she would give me this look as if to say "Bitch, you're not my real mom." YMMV.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:34 PM on September 7, 2007

I tried litter liners and as others said, they just get ripped up by cat claws. The rule is supposed to be 1 litter box per cat, plus one extra. Having said that I only have 2 boxes for 2 cats, but they are pretty chilled cats. I only scoop about once every 4 days, replace all the litter once every month (we top up a lot) and completely wash the tray every few months. Flushable litter sounds great, but as other have said isn't very environment friendly. I have tried various covered boxes with filters, grids etc and they all ended up being more work than just a plain old open-top tray and a scoop. YKMMV, but enjoy your new friend!
posted by Joh at 3:53 PM on September 7, 2007

I got a Scoop-Free automatic box and it works very well. The downside is that it is pretty expensive. With two cats we've going through a $14 tray slightly more than twice a month. They're starting to go outdoors more, but even if we get down to one tray a month, it's not an insignificant cost.
posted by mzurer at 4:08 PM on September 7, 2007

A little life saver trick I love... Buy Scoop Away or any scoopable litter that comes in the container with the lift off type lid (as opposed to the screw top lid) once you have used all that litter, keep the container and use it as a diaper pail (aka dirty litter pail). I line it with a regular trash bag and put the dirty litter straight in it. With the lid on there is no stink so you don't have to make a trip the the outside trash every day, just when it is about half full.
posted by MayNicholas at 5:17 PM on September 7, 2007

The ultimate litter: 1 part Worlds Greatest, 2 parts Swheat. Worlds Greatest lives up to its name, but is expensive, and the clumps' integrity weaken as they dry. Swheat is more affordable and mighty good at odor control, but the clumps are very sticky when wet (tracks EVERYFUCKINGWHERE -- we're talking several rooms away!) and turn to mortar when dry. Combining them trims the price per box while achieving just the right balance of clumpy goodness and odor control. Very easy to lift clumps out completely, which keeps the remainding stuff fresh much much longer.

Don't underfill the box. Cats like to scratch. If it's too easy to dig all the way to the bottom, you'll wind up with wide layers of fossilized pee stuck to the bottom. These are harder to remove cleanly.

The reason you need to scoop every day is not because of the poop, but the pee. Poop smell decreases rapidly as the litter dries it out. Whereas pee comes out mostly odorless and then rapidly decomposes into ammonia. The ammonia smell is obnoxious to cats long before it's even noticeable to people. Removing a nice solid clump quickly ensures that there's no ammonia fumes developing.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:29 PM on September 7, 2007

I use an extra large, extra thick garbage bag as a liner - it works a treat ( don't open it, just lay it unfolded under the litter, and use the cover of the litter box to keep it in place).

I think everything else has been said!
posted by Andorinha at 6:34 PM on September 7, 2007

I use World's Best cat litter, and find that it has the least offensive odor. Scooping daily is good, but twice a day is better. Get a scoop, pick up the clumps and then deposit it into a plastic bag (be sure the bag has no holes!). My cats sometimes like to hide their poop, so sift around in the box.

Get one of those mats to catch litter that's kicked out, and keep a broom or a mini-vacuum nearby to pick up loose litter.

If you're pregnant, get someone else to empty out the litter box as there's a chance of getting toxoplasmosis.
posted by hooray at 7:00 PM on September 7, 2007

I've heard recommendations that you always have 1 more litter box than you have cats.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:20 PM on September 7, 2007

I was told (and this is what I did) that before you pick up your kitty, have your litter box filled and all set up the way you want and where you will keep it (at least for the near future). Then, as soon as you bring the kitty in, before you do anything else, take the kitty over to the litter box, and just kind of put it there (I just had an open box, so I just set them on on top of it). My cats never failed to use litter their whole lives (maybe I was just lucky?). Personally, since I had two, I scooped at least twice a day, and I'd probably do it at least once with one cat. Depends on how far away from you the litter is and also on your nose!
posted by la petite marie at 8:57 PM on September 7, 2007

I try to scoop every day. I have an old-fashioned plastic diaper pail (with deodorizer lid) lined with a kitchen trash bag beside the litterboxes, into which the clumps and poopies go. I only bag it every two weeks. But yeah, for sure the ammonia can be a problem if you don't scoop often, and covered litterboxes will magnify the problem for kitty's nose. I also use very large Rubbermaid bins (without lids) - it's high enough that the alpha cat can't pee over it.
posted by fish tick at 9:14 PM on September 7, 2007

Congratulations on your new buddy! Thank you for your shelter adoption.

I've enjoyed the company of many adopted Cats indoors. Once you bring him/her inside, gently plop him/her within the litter box. If he/she has had a car ride or other scary captive situations, his/her instinct to go in loose matter will take over. There may be accidents before, during, and after the trip if the dear has parasites, poor diet, or stresses. For the most part, my adoptees have taken to using litter immediately.

As far as litter goes, I avoid clumping litters because most of my cats have been play-in-the-water fanatics and I've read about blockages that could possibly occur in feline digestive tracts. The theory goes that wet paws + clumping litter could result in kitty grooming and consuming constipating matter.

¤ Have at least as many litter boxes as you do cats.
¤ Litter boxes with covers and doors offer cats security as well as contain immediate odors. I've always left off the door flaps so I can more readily observe the condition of the box without lifting the whole cover as well as (when I suspect a medical issue) be able to observe the critter "go."
¤ I've never used the scented filter packs that are sold for some brands of sheltered litter boxes because feline noses are sensitive and I don't want to "mask" a box that needs changing. It might smell acceptable outside the box, but inside...? Unsuitable/smelly conditions can make a cat refuse to use the box.
¤ Litter box liners have been a complete failure with all of the cats I've raised...the liners get shredded and the cat(s) became so involved with "mining" the lining that they kick out the litter.
¤ All of the litter goes into bags that are added to my curbside garbage collection.
¤ Don't use bleach on cat items.
¤ My current setup: a small efficiency apartment (kitchen, living/bed room, bathroom) with one 11-ish-year-old cat who had kidney infections/soiling in inappropriate places issues.

In the year and one-half I've had her here, she hasn't "gone" in any spot aside from her box. I use a generous layer of Tidy-Cats (Multiple Cat) Odor Control litter (red label) that I buy from Wal-Mart and I scoop out the solids every day-or-two and dump the entire contents of the box twice a week. The litter is kept in a rectangular litter pan with a fitted, semi-transparent lid, a pocket for a small scoop, and an optional cat flap that isn't used.

I wash the cat box every few weeks with mild dish detergent and a water hose. If your cat is prone to digging and digging and digging in the litter, the box bottom may become scored and might warrant a new litter box from time-to-time.

Good on you and ENJOY.
posted by bonobo at 10:47 PM on September 7, 2007

I use an Omega Paw Roll-Away litter box. I roll it and empty it twice a day when I am in the bathroom either after I wake or just before I am going to bed. Works with clumping cat litter, and my cats have no problem with it. You'd just definitely need a floor mat or something to catch the litter that gets tracked about.
posted by angeline at 11:35 PM on September 7, 2007

Congratulations :)! Cats are great pets. I've had two cats now for 8+ years - you have a lot of advice here already but I'll add my 2 cents if it's helpful:

how often do i need to scoop?

I find once-a-day is fine. I actually do this each night right before I have my shower so there's no risk of smelling like kitty litter box :)

how often do i need to completely empty it and wash it?

I'd recommend once a week, if you leave it longer than this the strong scent of cat urine can get on your nose. Take the box outside (again try to do this before a shower as you'll get litter box dust on you) and tip all of the litter into a big garbage bag. Bin the litter and wash the litter box out thoroughly under your garden tap, give it a bit of a scrub too if you can. Then shake it dry and take it back inside to refill - don't wait to do this as your cats may be busting to use the loo and your carpet may start to look very attractive :)

can i flush the litter? if not, do i just put it in a garbage can?

I've never used flushable litter, but you can definately just bag and bin litter. I always put mine straight in my big outside bin in a standard garbage bag (definately use a bag to contain the litter or your bin will *stink* for all eternity).

where does the filter go? do i even need a filter? is a liner really necessary?

I've never bothered with filters or liners either, I tried them both a few times but they made very little difference. Spend your money on a higher quality kitty litter instead.

any other litter box tips/tricks/recommendations welcome!

Bi-carbonate soda is your litter box friend as it helps contain urine smells and also disinfects the litter. I always sprinkle half-a-cup on the bottom of my litter tray before refilling it (after it's just been washed), and I'll also mix through a bit more every day or so using the scooper. Just buy the biggest cheapest box of bi-carb you can find from the supermarket.
posted by katala at 2:06 AM on September 8, 2007

I have two cats, usually live in small places, and Feline Pine litter pretty much changed my domestic life. It never gets that stinky, peed-upon-cat-litter smell, it doesn't scratch hardwood floors when the overenthusiastic kitties flip pieces out of the box, and, since it turns into sawdust when it gets wet, the litterbox itself stays clean and only needs very rare washing. It's supposed to last two weeks, but I change it every week (aforementioned enthusiastic kitties tend to break things down a little faster). You scoop the poop out, flush it, and then either throw away the old litter when it's time or do one of the environmentally friendly things it tells you about on the bag (mulch or something). If your cat will use it, that stuff is awesome.
posted by paleography at 10:00 AM on September 8, 2007

Response by poster: thanks for all the advice! after a few tense hours worrying that i had somehow messed up, little rudy had a huge poop and settled right in. and as promised, here's a pic of the li'l stinker.
posted by kidsleepy at 7:32 PM on September 9, 2007

Awwww. What a cute kitty!

Very thoughtful looking, too - he'll have you trained in no time.
posted by dilettante at 3:04 PM on September 11, 2007

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