something about placing stuff so that the optimal energy flows in and out of the room or some crazy stuff like that. While I do believe in positive and negative energy, I don't believe that where you put your computer monitor on your desk has anything to do with it's flow.
With cats, however, litterboxes are a fine art, and feng shui is as good a name for it as
anything. Litterbox questions are probably the number one questions I get at adoption events and via email, and there's no simple or easy answer. That being said, I'm going to attempt to give what knowledge I have regarding the matter, in hopes that this helps someone that is having bad luck with a cat or cats and has reached the end of their rope. If you have a problem I haven't covered here, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or talk to me on Facebook and I'll do what I can to help.
WITH CATS, CHANGE IS ALWAYS A BAD THING
Cats hate change. They do. Just moving the ottoman from one chair to another is enough to stress some cats for days. They like order, routine, and changes stress them, especially as they get older. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule -- there always are. Cats that routinely travel with their humans, cats that live on the street, cats that transition from one household to another regularly because of divorce or other life-altering reasons among their humans -- but even in these circumstances cats will develop as much of a routine as they can within the changing situations. Street cats develop a regular route they travel. Cats that travel with humans will develop a favorite place to perch so that whether they are in a hotel in Cincinatti or Los Angeles, when you enter their hotel room you may find them at the right corner of the bed nearest the window.
That being said, it's best to put a lot of thought into litterbox placement and then leave it there. If possible, it should be a location with a smooth, non-porous floor like tile or linoleum. If you don't have a convenient spot like that in your home, then consider purchasing a large square of linoleum or having a board laid with ceramic tile to place under your litterbox. Some pet stores even sell large plastic litterbox mats with ridges that remove litter from your pet's feet as they leave the box.
LIKE THEY SAY, LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.
Finding a good spot can be crucial. If the cat doesn't like where you place the litter box, they aren't going to go there. One good clue -- if there is a place outside of where you have the litter box now that the cat likes to go, put the litter box there. If it's an inconvenient spot, start the box there, then after a day or two, move it a few inches in the direction you want it to be. Do this every day or two and you should probaby be able to coax the cat to go in a better place.
If you're choosing for the first time, the spot should be outside of traffic patterns in your home. Behind a piece of furniture, in a second bathroom, even inside a utility closet can work well. We once had a home with an almost useless closet in the hallway. It was under the stairs and you couldn't even hang coats in it. We converted to a litterbox room and it worked very well. We just cut the bottom right corner off the door so the cats could go in and out, and installed a small vent fan that vented through the wall down underneath the floor and then out through a crawl space vent. I laid heavy mil plastic on the floor and stapled it down, it could be swept and even mopped with ease, and the cats loved it.
If your home is small and none of these options work well, consider "cat furniture". There are beautiful plant stands and end tables that double as enclosed litter boxes, and you can't even tell that's what they are. A visit to your local pet store or a search online will net you the perfect hiding place for your cat's box.
OPEN OR CLOSED?
Most people, if given an option, prefer an enclosed litter box because it hides the evidence, helps reduce smell, stops litter kickout, keeps kitty from "missing the mark" (going at the side of the box and the waste ending up outside rather than inside), and when it's time to dump the box, you can just pick it up by the handle or handles and carry it outside.
The problem is, some cats don't like enclosed litter boxes. They have their reasons, and they can be many. If you have a cat that is soiling right outside the litterbox, or in other areas of the home but almost never uses the box itself (or, as sometimes happens, sleeps in the litterbox and goes outside of it), try an experiment -- take the top off of the box. Wait a couple of weeks and see if your cat starts using the box. You can always keep the top nearby and snap it on when it comes time to empty it. Some enclosed boxes are made so that the bottom nests in the top, so you can leave it that way until you need to move it. Either way, if this solves the problem, it's worth a little more mess and effort to keep your cat from using the bathroom all over your house.
If your cat is already using a tray but throws litter everywhere or likes to back up to one corner or side to go and the evidence keeps ending up outside the litterbox, your local pet store has high-sided trays that can help keep that under control. Also, check into a bunny litterbox -- these litterboxes are made to fit into the corner of a bunny cage. They are square rather than rectangular and come in a selection of sizes. The back corner sides are very high, while the front corner sides are very low. This is good for tomcats that like to spray their urine while standing but don't like enclosed units.
Another idea is one we use here a lot -- Take a 10-gallon Rubbermaid-style storage container -- these are most usually grey in color and can be purchased at any big or small discount store for around $5.00 -- and after removing the lid, cut a hole in the end of it on the upper part under the handle that is big enough for the cat to go in and out, and leaves about six inches or so of depth in the container for litter. If the cat doesn't like enclosed containers you can leave the lid off, but it will still contain the litter well and any waste will stay inside the litter box. Unless your cat is just huge, it fits almost any size of cat too. (Want more info? Go to www.petprojectblog.com/archives/cats/make-your-own-cat-litter-box/. Thanks to Pet Project Blog for the image.
I'm not going to get into other styles of litter boxes because there are as many as there are people. From a dollar dish pan to a thousand dollar cat toilet that washes itself, if it can be pooped in by a cat, someone has thought it up. When it comes to litter box styles, what you use is up to your budget.
THINKING INSIDE THE BOX.
Once you've gotten the location and the shape correct, the next thing to consider is what you're going to use inside the box. There are so many different types of litter that I recommend most people start out with what they can afford. One of the cheapest and most economical cat litter you can buy -- and one of the most enviromentally friendly if you're into composting or live where you can dispose of your litter outdoors -- is pine wood shavings. It's what we use in our rescue, and it works very well to control odors and contain liquids. It does not clump liquids, but solids are as easy to scoop and remove as they are with any other litter. The best part is that, even sodden with liquid, pine shavings are extremely light compared to almost any other litter, so carrying the litter box or trash bag is much easier. Storage of pine shavings can be an issue if you're in a reduced space such as an apartment, but you won't have to purchase anywhere near as often either -- a standard bale of pine shavings from your local Tractor Supply, Southern States or feed and seed runs around five dollars and you can generally get 20 or more litterbox changes from it.
Clay litter of all sorts of types is the most common and readily available, and most people and cats do fine with this. Both clumping and non-clumping varieties are available, they have scented, unscented, infused with enzymes that break down waste, etc. There is even a special type called Cat Attract for those who have cats with litter box issues -- it has a smell to cats that makes them want to go in the box, or so their marketing claims. I haven't had to use it but I've had people tell me both ways -- worked great or didn't work at all. Cat Attract is extremely expensive though, so unless price is not an issue I personally would work on other factors before I resorted to that.
The biggest problem with clay-based litters is silica, which can cause silicosis in the lungs in both humans and cats. This is a severe and incurable disease and if you already have breathing issues you most likely want to avoid clay litter for this reason.
Also, some cats don't like clay litter becaue it sticks to their feet and gets in between their paw pads, requiring extra grooming. If you suspect this is the case, you may want to go for something with a coarser feel.
Pine pellets are a good option for that, and like pine shavings are compostable as well. You can purchase a small pellet kind usually called pine cat litter (one national brand is marketed as Feline Pine) or you can go to your local Tractor Supply, Southern States or feed and seed and get horse pine pellets (one brand is Equine Pine, but there is usually a store brand that is less expensive). These pellets are much, much larger than the feline variety but work under the same principal.
The great thing about pine pellets is that you use very, very little. a depth of an inch or maybe two with larger containers is plenty. This is because the pellets are hard when you put them in, but as the cats urinate on them, they fall apart and produce a fine sawdust. As the cats continue to use them and scratch, the sawdust fluffs up and gets deeper, but also dries, so the litter doesn't become sodden as quickly as clay, which absorbs urine but doesn't dry back out. Pine oil in the wood naturally neutralizes the urine odor, and solid wastes can be easily scooped out of the sawdust.
If odor control is your bag the new crystal litters are said to work very well in that regard. They are quite expensive as opposed to regular clay or pine cat litter, but they are marketed to last much, much longer than traditional litters. They come in various forms from tiny, sand-like crystals to large pearls and while some people seem to love this litter and swear by it, others believe it doesn't work any better than regular clay or pine to control odors and since it is so much more expensive it isn't worth the extra cost. There are even a few people that mix pine pellets and crystals together. The gel crystals are very light so if it is difficult for you to lift heavy things you might want to consider this litter for that reason.
Crystal cat litter is not compostable and some believe it's very hazardous to the environment (the jury seems to be out on this) so this is a consideration as well.
A stroll down your big-box pet store aisle will reveal cat litters made from compressed recycled newspapers, from ground walnut shells, from ground seashells -- if it's absorbent, relatively safe and can be packaged, it's probably been tried. Most of these are far more expensive than traditional litters and cater to a very small market. The newspaper pellets might be the exception to that - I tend to see those in grocery stores as well and some chains even have their own store brand. I'm sure it works well but I'm a fan of pine and I just can't see how processed newspaper pellets would work better to control oder than the less expensive pine pellets, which contain natural odor-controlling ingredients.
A few other alternatives though, if you don't mind more dust or mess -- the old standby, sand, still has a few fans. It can be purchased very, very cheaply from any big box home store (usually marketed as playground sand), it doesn't control odor on it's own but mixed with a few tablespoons of baking soda will do the trick on a tight budget. Sand has been used for decades, if not longer, to allow kitties to go indoors and is still a reasonable alternative.
Another alternative which one friend of mine swears by is pure baking soda. You can buy large bags of baking soda at pool supply stores or big-box retailers in the spring and summer. My friend places several layers of newspaper in the bottom of a large tray litterbox, then a one inch later of baking soda over the top of that. She swears it will last a week, and other than scooping and flushing the poo takes no maintenance and there's no odor. She keeps a dustbuster nearby to suck up tracked baking soda on her bathroom tile floor but says there usually isn't very much. I would not recommend this for a long-haired cat though, as the fine baking soda would most likely cling to the fur. The good news is that if it does, it's completely non-toxic, something you can't say about clumping litters.
If you have a home paper shredder and you really like doing things on the cheap, shredded office paper and newspaper will work. It won't control odor though, so you'll need to add a few tablespoons of baking soda or change litter daily to keep the smell down.
Finally, there's good old-fashioned dirt. My friend Ed rescued a cat that had been living on the streets but the cat hated the litter box. Ed would come home from work every night to find a big pile of poop right in front of the front door, and it made Ed crazy. He tried every litter imaginable, tried every location he could think of for the litter box but had no success. Finally, in frustration he bought a harness for his cat and started walking him, and the cat would immediately make a beeline for the bushes near the front door, dig a little hole, do his business and then cover it back up with the dirt. After a few days this gave Ed an idea, and the took the litter box out to his back yard, dug up some dirt and put it in it. That was the trick.
After that, the cat always used the litter box as long as it had dirt in it. Ed took to buying potting soil as it didn't have critters in it, and after some research on the internet found that his cat wasn't the only stubborn one by far. There's quite a few people out there using dirt as a cat litter. The best part is that it's definitely compostable and biodegradable, if you have a decent sized yard you can pick a secluded spot to dump the used dirt and over time it can be used as garden soil or composted for fertilizer or mulch. If gardening isn't your thing, one of your neighbors might be interested in taking it off of your hands.
ELIMINATE THE EVIDENCE.
After you've finally gotten kitty to go where you want, make sure they don't revisit the scene of previous crimes. Even after you've cleaned the spot, they can most likely still smell the evidence, and as long as they can, there's a risk that they might go there again. If you're not sure of where they were going exactly, a small black light will quickly bring the evidence to light. These can be purchased at almost any big box discount or pet store very inexpensively, and are good to have for finding secret spots where kitty likes to go that you may not have discovered yet.
Stores sell a lot of stuff billed to "destroy pet odors" but many just cover them up, and the cats are on to this. Look for something with enzymes. Enzymes break down the biological leftovers from cleaning that the cat can still smell, and will over time destroy them. If your cat was soiling on wood, carpet or other porous surface, soak the area well with enzymatic cleaner where the cat went and then put a layer of either newspaper or baking soda over it. Leave for a few hours -- overnight is better, then remove and clean as usual. You may have to do this several times if it was heavily used before the cat stops returning to the scene. If it was on linoleum or tile, a good mopping might be all that is needed. I personally recommend Nature's Miracle cleaners. I've used a number of other brands and Nature's Miracle just seems to work better than anything else I've used.
IT'S A NUMBERS GAME.
Okay, this has been long but we're nearing the end. You've finally got the right litterbox style, the perfect location, the right litter -- but do you have the right number? If you only have one cat and live in a relatively small or medium size house or apartment, one litterbox will probably be fine. However, if you have multiple cats, have a cat with a chronic elimination issue, have an elderly cat or young kitten, or live in a large home or a home with multiple levels, you want more than one litterbox. The rule of thumb is one litter box for each cat plus one, and for multi-level homes, one litter box on each level. Some cats in multi-cat environments claim a litterbox for their own and will not share with another cat. Cats that have urinary tract infections or have issues with incontinence will want a litterbox close to whereever they are, and kittens "forget" where the litter box is so having several nearby is good to help them remember. If you have four cats finding places for five litter boxes might be a challenge, but in the end you will be happier and your cats will as well if you do. Remember what I said earlier about cats liking order? They tend to run on schedules, and in multi-cat households they will usually coordinate their schedules -- they usually eat at the same times, sleep at the same times, play or move about around the same time every day, and yes -- they go at about the same times. So you want to make sure there's no need for waiting in line. Cats aren't good at that.
Once again, I hope this has answered some questions about helping you and your cat to co-exist peacefully and reducing stress to both of you. If it allows the good energy to flow, so much the better. As I said earlier, any questions, don't hesitate to email me or talk to me on Facebook. Look for Denise Lane Painter, my profile is public so you can always post on my wall.