In Defense of Litter Boxes

Alice’s note: This story first appeared in my blog The Bright Lights of Muleshoe on January 16, 2013. The cat population in our household has dwindled to four right now, but my theory about litter boxes hasn’t changed.

I thought about taking a picture of one of the litter boxes referred to in this story, but a picture of the cats that use them seemed a better choice!
I read a newspaper story the other day about a man and his wife visiting a woman who had 32 cats. His wife warned him that a distinct aroma would greet him when they entered the house. And the rest of the article was about all the cats they encountered in the house and ended with the lighthearted observation that they had added yet one more kitten that they really didn’t need into their household. The irony of going home with another kitten was that the husband who couldn’t believe anyone would have 32 cats had actually added the kitten to their count, which bumped it up to a whopping three or so.
I didn’t think much more about it until I was cleaning one of the litter boxes in our household.  My six cats pale by comparison to this woman’s 32, but I am here to tell you that cats and their bathroom habits aren’t the problem; it’s their owners’ litter box cleaning habits, or lack thereof, that gives cats a bad name. Four of my cats use litter boxes in the house. The two cats that stay outside have one box in the garage, where they have beds with heat lamps, and one at their disposal in the heated barn when the weather is cold, and on rare occasions lately, wet or icy, and they would rather use the facilities than go outside. But my house and garage and barn do not smell like cat urine and feces because I keep their boxes clean.
My kids tease me that I’d better watch out, that I might soon turn into one of those crazy cat ladies with stinky houses who keep, well, something like 32 cats in the house. And I tell them it will never happen, no matter how many cats I wind up with, because all of my cats are spayed (or neutered when we have a male) have had their shots, and have clean litter boxes. So there.
Even before there was such a thing as clumping cat litter, I tried to stay on top of keeping the boxes clean. But then I discovered clumping litter, and I am convinced that is the way to go. It is so much easier to keep it scooped than to constantly be carrying the box outside, dumping the litter, wiping out the bottom of the box, and starting over with clean litter. Using a plastic liner under the litter doesn’t work well, either, as they usually tear the bag and it makes a mess anyway. And I do think that regular, old-fashioned litter never absorbed the smell like clumping litter does. All you have to do with the clumping litter is keep it scooped daily and throw away the bag of clumps you have just collected. The nice side effect of that is that this is also a way to recycle those plastic bags from shopping that seem to always find their way home with you after a shopping trip, even if you are a firm believer in the reusable canvas ones. I do take the plastic bags full of clumps to the dumpster rather than putting them in the big trash can in the garage, which also helps keep the smell away.
The other key to this working, I have also discovered, is to invest in a good, heavy duty aluminum scoop. Mine came from PetSmart and cost about $13. Worth every penny. Those flimsy little plastic things you can buy at the grocery store are useless. I use the Arm and Hammer Multi-cat Litter, and I promise you it works-if you scoop every day. Clumping cat litter only works if you do. It can’t possibly work if the clumps pile up and the cat has no choice but to desperately try to cover its business by having to break up a previous clump to have something loose to scrape over the pile. As the clumps use up the litter, I just add more litter. None of this dragging the whole box outside and finding a place to dump it and then cleaning out the bottom of the box and starting over.
I have also learned that if I systematically pick up each side of the box and tip it so that the litter all slides to the other side, the clumps become visible and it makes it really easy to scoop them all up. And if there is a clump stuck to the side of the box, I lightly thump the side of the box and the clump becomes unstuck and also easier to scoop out.
I won’t ever have 32 cats to test my theory, but if my number does go up, I firmly believe my house still won’t smell bad. It’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.
You don’t like using a dirty bathroom; your cat feels the same way.
Buy that scoop and get busy.

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