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Why do cats use a litter box?

Monday, August 13, 2012

The litter box: one of the best and worst things about owning a cat. Cats are great because they go potty in a box, and don’t have to be let out several times a day to “go.” Of course that means there is a box in your house full of cat waste. It can be a pain to keep the litter box clean, but still…it’s better than waking up at 2:00 a.m. to let the cat out!

Your child's sandbox is the ideal "litter box" for feral cats.
Photo credit: lowes.com
But why exactly do cats use a litter box? Well, it all goes back to before cats were domesticated. By burying their feces, cats break the scent trail and protect them from predators. It’s much easier to dig in sand or loose dirt than digging a hole in the regular soil, so they naturally gravitate towards those easier digging spots. Ever notice that feral cats will seek out a child’s sandbox to use as a litter box? Naturally indoor domesticated cats will seek out a place that is easy to bury their waste, and the best choice for them is the litter box. They prefer a finely ground litter that resembles sand, which is why fine grained clay litters tend to be the most accepted litter choice for cats.

In the “wild”, cats urinate and defecate in different spots. For this reason, it is always best to have 2 litter boxes in a single cat household. You may find that your cat prefers to urinate in one box, and defecate in the other. This is a call back to natural, wild behavior. In a multi-cat household, the rule of thumb is “1 box per cat, plus 1.” So if you have 3 cats, you should have 4 boxes. 4 cats, 5 boxes. And so on.

Mother cats teach their kittens how to potty properly.
Photo credit: pupsispups.blogspot.com
Most cats are taught by their mother how to properly bury their waste and where to do it, but some kittens raised from a young age by humans may have missed out on mom’s lessons. In that case, simply placing the kitten into the litter box after meals, play sessions, and other rigorous activity should be sufficient to potty train the kitten. The natural desire to ward off predators is in a cat’s very DNA, and they will naturally be inclined to use a litter box when provided.

Always remember, though, that cats are impeccably clean creatures. As such, they require a clean litter box that lives up to their standards. Try your best to scoop the litter box at least once per day, and sanitize the box frequently to get rid of the ammonia build-up from urine.

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