How to Help Your Cat Keep Litter Inside the Box

To start, consider your messy cat’s behavior and the type of litter box that suits her needs.

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Cats may bury their feces (kicking litter around) to show submission toward the household’s alpha cat. By: davebloggs007

My 13-year-old cat with silver-streaked black fur, Hawkeye, flings the cat litter far and wide. I step out of bed some mornings and the floor is, well, crunchy. It’s like living at the beach — without the view.

Titan, my ruddy Abyssinian, was also a kicker. He had a genius for getting litter in every corner of the room, and I usually needed a very narrow broom to dislodge it (a toy broom works beautifully for this).

Not all cats have made litter kicking an Olympic event. But if yours has, it’s definitely worth looking into ways to prevent it.

Think Like a Cat

A wild cat, that is. “Wild cats exhibit the same behaviors as pet cats, but they do not have to deal with the constraints of a litterbox,” points out Dr. Wailani Sung, PhD, DVM, DACVB.

Sung, who studied feral cats on a dairy farm, noticed that “they tended to dig in the finer substrates, such as sand and dirt, but they did not do this in grass or gravel. They were also able to fully extend their legs to rake the desired substrate,” something that house cats “are usually unable to do in commercial litterboxes.”

In the wild, the dominant cats mark their territory with both urine and feces. The “more submissive wild cats bury their feces as a way of ensuring that dominant cats do not feel challenged,” notes writer Remy Melina. So it’s a peacekeeping measure, and it’s also a precaution designed to keep potential predators at bay.

As usual, the domestic cat’s behavior mirrors that of its wild cousin. In a household with 2 or more cats, the alpha will not cover up in the litter box, and the subordinate cats will.

It’s possible that Hawkeye’s frenzied litter kicking might be his way of keeping a low profile among the bigger, burlier, younger cats. He is, after all, feeling his age and wants them to leave him alone for the most part.

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Litter can end up in the darnedest places, so try using mats to catch it before your cats spread it around the house. By: mathampson

The Right Box

The type of litter box can have a lot of bearing on the whereabouts of its contents (i.e., in the box or on the floor).

Covered Boxes

Many people choose covered boxes because these “can contain the litter quite well, preventing your cat from pulling any outside the box,” according to Wikihow.

But there are drawbacks. Because they are almost “completely enclosed,” these boxes retain odors, so not all cats like them.

And they’re probably not a good idea for elderly or disabled cats. Years ago, I had to remove the hood from one such litter box so that Kilah, our arthritic 15-year-old torbie (tortoiseshell with tabby markings), could get in and out of it easily.

Triangular Boxes

This type of box is fairly deep. “While it is the goal of every cat to spray litter about the floor,” observes longtime cat caretaker Barbara Galbraith Furbish, “using a deeper triangular box prevents a lot of spillage. The triangular shape also allows the cat more room to turn around, allowing a more satisfying ‘dig’ before choosing that special spot to go.”

The design keeps the litter pretty well contained. And the cutaway opening allows even a kitten to get in and out easily.

Looks like it’s just a matter of time before this kitty litter goes everywhere:

Giant Boxes

At first, these boxes look a lot like unwieldy potting shed sink basins, with “pockets” on the side for litter scoops and deodorizing sprays. But they work extremely well, especially in multi-cat households.

“I find having 3 large boxes easier to maintain than the 6 or so small boxes I used to have, [and] with less spillage,” remarks Sue Daury of the Siamese Cat Rescue Center. Yes, she admits, “they are heavy when filled with litter. But with 10 [cats] in the house, I can comfortably scoop once a day and maintain order.”

The boxes are extremely good for the fuller-figured feline. They’re actually “comfortable for all cats to climb into and yet somewhat protective for the ‘kickers’ and overactive diggers and standees,” Daury adds.

Litter Box Common Sense

Here are a couple of simple steps you can take to keep litter-free floors:

  • Put mats under the boxes that can trap the loose litter. You can shake them like rugs, vacuum them and sometimes even put them in the washer.
  • Do not fill litter boxes to the brim. There’s no way that a cat can get in and out of a packed litter box without creating a mini-sandstorm. Less really is more.

T.J. Banks

View posts by T.J. Banks
T.J. Banks is the author of several books, including Catsong, which received a Merial Human–Animal Bond Award. A contributing editor to laJoie, T.J. has also received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association, ByLine and The Writing Self. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul and A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love, and T.J. has worked as a stringer for the Associated Press, as an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School and as a columnist.

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