How to choose the right litter tray, litter and tray position for your cat

Litter trays are a necessary evil, absolutely essential if your cat is housebound or has limited access outdoors and highly recommended even if your cat is free to roam.

Litter trays or boxes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There are two basic styles:

  • Open trays with a rim of varying depth but no cover
  • Covered or closed trays with a removable lid and, in some models, a cat-flap entrance

Within these two basic designs are size and shape variations (for example, small and suitable for a kitten or triangular to fit in a corner). Many owners choose the covered trays as they have the notion that these will offer some privacy while a cat uses its toilet with the added benefit that odour and visibility of soiled litter is kept to a minimum for the human occupants. While many cats adapt easily to a covered facility there are some who feel vulnerable confined in a small space with only one available exit point, particularly if they share their home with other cats prone to using bullying tactics.

Self-cleaning litter trays are becoming increasingly popular but, once again, these could be marketed for you, the purchaser, rather than your cat. They often make random movements or noises that can be disturbing and may even deter your cat from using it.

Polythene litter tray liners and litter deodorants are also available to aid tidy removal of the soiled litter and maintain floral-bouquet freshness but the overpowering odour and constant catching of claw in polythene can be unpleasant for your cat and may lead to soiling problems.

Litter is now manufactured in a wide variety of materials including paper, wood, silica, corn and fuller’s earth. Many of these are lightweight, biodegradable and have excellent odour-neutralizing properties. Providing these litters are maintained properly and cleaned regularly they can be acceptable to your cat, particularly if you maintain the particular material that he or she was weaned to as a kitten. The ideal substrate to meet your cat’s preferences would probably be the fine sand-like litters because they best mimic the material that your cat instinctively favours.

Litter tray tips

  • Research shows that cats favour a depth of approximately 3cm litter in their tray
  • Cats would prefer a litter tray that gives them ample space to move around; the ideal length of tray being one and a half times the length of your cat from nose to the base of its tail!
  • The position of the litter tray is important. It should be located in a discreet corner, away from food and water and busy thoroughfares
  • Cats are often reluctant to use trays that are located near cat flaps or full length glass windows due to the perceived threat from outside

The litter tray must be kept clean and emptied regularly. Some disinfectants (like Dettol) which go cloudy in water are toxic to cats, so use only hot water and detergent when cleaning out the tray or ensure you use a cat-friendly disinfectant such as bleach which has been diluted as the manufacturer recommends and the tray rinsed thoroughly before use.

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